Friday, July 31, 2009

July 31, 2009 - Powder Point Bridge, Duxbury, Massachusetts

No, it doesn't take 30 minutes to walk across the bridge and back. You have to work at it. You have to linger.

No problem.

It's especially easy if you have things to think about, like the history of the bridge itself. First, there had to be something on the beach opposite Powder Point that one wanted to get to. In the early days, that was salt. In fact, the earliest names for the beach are "Salt House Beach" and "Salter's Beach." But it's not as if Duxbury Beach is an island. It could be reached from the Marshfield mainland, even before the first bridge was built in 1892.

But it was a hike. Building the bridge subtracted seven hours of travel from the trip from Duxbury Center to the Gurnet.

And the Gurnet, by 1892 home to Revolutionary War Fort Andrew, the twin Gurnet Lighthouses, the Gurnet Life-Saving Station, the Gurnet House and more. The fun started at a dance hall called "Old Sebastopol" in the 1840s and just grew from there. So beyond the raw resources of the beach and bay, there was enjoyment to be had, too.

The first bridge had so many stories tied to it, of plans for beach development, the economic panic of 1893, of repairs and ultimately of failure and fire. The new bridge is exotic, made from basralocus wood from Suriname - marine borer-resistant - and bongassi wood from West Africa. The former barely escaped its home country before a civil war broke out, but the whole deal was wrapped up by August of 1987, and 500 people walked across the bridge that day to make it an official member of the Duxbury community.

I wasn't there. I was 16 at the time, more worried about grades and baseball and girls than seeing history unfold, although by that time I already had that bug. So I walked it today, and will walk it again.

Time: 38 minutes,

New species: (Birds) white-rumped sandpiper, black tern (272).

Stranger hellos: 12 (476).

What else is going on: led our weekly 3 1/2 hour Friday bird walk at work; went on a Boston Harbor cruise on behalf of the Quincy Beaches Commission.

July 30, 2009 - Major John Bradford House, Kingston, Massachusetts

My travels brought me in a circuitous path today, dropping me straight into the home base of the Jones River Village Historical Society, and a conversation with a dear old friend.

The Major John Bradford House is one of those many historic sites on the South Shore of Boston with Pilgrim connections. Built in 1714, it wasn't owned by the first American Bradford, Governor William, but rather by a descendant. But it still has that allure, that unmistakable connection with the settlement at Plymouth.

The house is the scene of merriment of all kinds throughout the year, from pumpkin festivals to lobster boils to summer breakfasts al fresco to a classy and enjoyable harvest time candlelight supper in the barn. The barn wasn't always there, but was rescued from West Bridgewater and reconstructed as representative of something that would have been on the property two centuries ago.

There is no Galluzzo Homestead in America. Perhaps I'll have to start one. What an interesting feeling it must be to know that not only could I return to a home where my family started in the New World, but that it's a museum open to the public, telling my family's story. Talk about cache. The Bradfords have their "shrine," their gathering place when they return to their roots from around the country. I think the Galluzzos would settle for a bocce pit.

And the Bradfords were no fools. The house is built on a rise above a turn of the Jones River. This was still Plymouth when they built here, eventually to become a breakaway parish of its own. It was all about the church back then. For me, it was all about the bacon today, but sadly, there was none to be found. The Bradford House breakfasts are on Sundays.

Time: 33 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: 3 (464).

What else is happening: led the Duxbury Beach program on the history of the Powder Point Bridge; did some research at the Plymouth Public Library; tried to attend a CPR class at the American Red Cross in Quincy, but the instructor never showed up.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

July 29, 2009 - Ivy Island, Marshfield, Massachusetts

Stragglers. We had a bunch of 'em this year. Today we rounded 'em up.

Despite our best laid plans, our osprey banding project does not always end up falling on the perfect date. It can't. By June 30th each year, some osprey chicks are ready for their first flight, while others are barely a week old. In one case this year, when many were five or six weeks, one chick wasn't yet a chick - it was still in an egg.

So we returned today to the Gurnet Road Pole out on Duxbury Bay. As one of the first off the boat into the saltmarsh, I took a muddy header. Great way to start the day, but what the hell. At Bare Cove Park in Hingham, we found our single egg had reached a pretty healthy state as a four-week-old chick. Very nice to see.

Out at Ivy Island, we had yet a third adventure. Deftly thwarting the machinations of the greenhead flies with quick wrist flicks, we slowly approached the pole. When we had banded here a few weeks ago, we had three chicks, one just too young to support a band on its leg. Sure enough, one flew away when we arrived, and a second took a short dash to the ground, waiting there to see what was going to happen. The third, though, the little guy, was still on the nest.

And not very healthy, sadly, but that's what happens in the osprey world. The chicks hatch as much as five full days apart, meaning the oldest has more strength than the youngest when it comes time to fight for food. This little one was struggling a little bit, while her sister - or brother, it's impossible to tell at this age - was loaded with fat, so much so that we surmised she was having trouble carrying her own weight.

A fighting chance is all they ask for, and that's what we wanted to give them. Actually, had we had a fish on us, we would have given it to them (well, probably not, as whenever possible we don't tamper with the natural order). Would we ever see these young birds again? One can only hope, and keep watching the skies.

Time: 36 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: 3 (461).

What else is going on: car inspection; magazine and book work.

July 28, 2009 - Attleboro Springs Wildlife Sanctuary, Attleboro, Massachusetts

Well, soon-to-be sanctuary, anyway. Mass Audubon has acquired some of the land behind the La Sallette shrine in Attleboro and is now working on laying out trails, creating a parking lot, designing interpretive materials, all the things that go into building a new publicly accessible and open natural space. I have the privilege of being a part of that process this time around.

My reputation got me into this trouble. As a practicing historian, I'm keeping some skills sharp that I learned in high school and college. I'm a researcher, always digging deeper for another layer of information. The question here is what happened on this land before Mass Audubon made the acquisition?

Some of it's obvious. Prior to the seminary, there was a hospital led by a Dr. Solomon. He believed in natural remedies, being part Native American, and as such had greenhouses where he grew his raw materials for his curatives. I think we found those foundations today. There were - and are - two springs on the property that give it it's name. There's a pond, known as Brothers Pond, where the young men attending the religious school in preparation for the priesthood, played hockey. And, my word, were there deer flies.

But there's more. There are odd, mortared stonewalls in strange places. There is an old well, seemingly well removed from the rest of the property. There are three obvious straight passageways that went through the woods. There's another excavated area that is now quite swampy, never becoming a pond. There are old concrete platforms, and rusted old buckets.

These are the items raising the questions I'm supposed to answer. I had better get to work.

Time: 61 minutes.

New species: (Mushrooms) spindle-shaped yellow coral, jellied false coral, crested coral (28).

Stranger hellos: 9 (458).

What else is going on: visited the Oak Knoll Wildlife Sanctuary in Attleboro; flipped 40 salamander coverboards; interviewed a gentleman in Norwood who grew up next door to the Attleboro Springs property.

July 27, 2009 - Route 3A Bridge, Scituate, Massachusetts

Well, there was no doubting where I was going to get out of the car today and try to snap a photo or two. As I left work and crossed "Little's Bridge," as it was once called, across the North River on Route 3A, I looked to my right and saw that a gathering was taking place. A few dozen great and snowy egrets and great blue herons had flown in and found a bonanza. With the tide on the move, fish were on the move, and the gang of gangly birds had staked their positions for the feast to come.

So I jumped out.

One would think that a bird that size might be afraid of an automobile, but there's something in the deep recesses of the mind that tells the birds that no, cars are not to worry about. They stick to their little corridor. So as traffic whizzed along on Route 3A, the congregation continued to grow.

I walked to the other side of the road, dodging that traffic. I surveyed the roadside scene, the bushes, the shrubs, the guardrails, and planned my approach. I sidled into position and turned on my camera.

No luck. As soon as one great blue heron saw me - about two hundred feet away - it flew. Mass hysteria broke out and soon all of the birds were aloft, flying farther out onto the marsh, closer to the mouth of the river. I snapped and snapped, but mostly got retreating bird butts.

I never said this was easy. I walked on.

Time: 33 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is going on: gave lectures on ospreys at both the Marshfield and Duxbury senior centers; dinner with Michelle's family.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

July 26, 2009 - Plymouth Waterfront, Plymouth, Massachusetts

There's a serenity to early mornings on the waterfront. And I don't mean just in Plymouth. There are communities up and down the coast - probably from Florida to Nova Scotia - where the locals know that the wave is coming. The tourists, the outsiders, the summer people, whatever you want to call them, are on their way.

But at 6 or 7 a.m., the beach, the boardwalks and the ocean boulevards that line them, belong to the people who love them year round. The Plymouth waterfront is a much friendlier place at that time of day, if just by default.

It's even possible to find a place to park in Plymouth at that time, too, without paying an arm and a leg and a hat with a buckle on it. I found a spot within shouting distance of Mayflower II. I have so many tales about that ship, but that will have to wait for another day, perhaps another blog. Or, perhaps, a book. We'll see.

The waterfront, though, is, let's say, well-marked. In fact, you can't swing a dead Pilgrim without hitting a monument to something or someone. Sure, the Mayflower II itself is a monument, a tribute given to the Americans by the British as a token of thanks for our help in World War II. But there are so many more - Edler William Brewster, the Daughters of the American Revolution monument, the marker in memory of the Pilgirms that didn't survive the first winter at Plimoth, even a marker placed by the town of Plymouth commemorating the fact that the Native American tribes around the country see the U.S. Thanksgiving celebration as a day of mourning, a reminder of the genocide that began - symbolically, at least - when the Mayflower arrived in 1620.

So yes, the waterfront was quiet in the early hours, but that's not because it didn't have something significant to say.

Time: 38 minutes.

New species: None.

Strager hellos: 6 (449).

What else is happening: took a beginner's kayak course on Billington Sea in Plymouth, in order to write an article about it for Northeast Boating; mowed the lawn, cleaned the pool; big family cookout at Aunt Gina's.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

July 25, 2009 - In the Footsteps of Henry David Thoreau, Hull and Cohasset, Massachusetts

He visited these shores at least twice, if not more. In 1849 he arrived just days after the wreck of the Irish brig St. John on Grampus Ledge and in 1851 he chose the height of summer to walk the shore on his way to Cape Cod. And he left behind thorough observations of what he saw along the way.

Henry David Thoreau (and that's pronounced "thorough," for those of you not from Concord) was not well-known in his time. He only spoke once in public, in Akron, Ohio. He boasted that he had a library of 1000 books, and that 993 of them he wrote on his own (paraphrased, or, in this case, paranumbered). But thanks to the hippies who "discovered" him in the 1960s, we now see him as one of the great voices of American writing in the 19th century.

He landed at Hull in July 1851 and walked the coastline, commenting on the "old French fort" (now Fort Revere Park), the datura stramonium, or Jamestown weed, growing along the beach, the voices of the men speaking clearly on fishing boats as if they were standing right next to him, and the spring on the side of Strawberry Hill to which he went to drink after an exhausting walk on the beach.

And he mentioned Hog Island, which had, to him, "the very form of a ripple," joking that its residents should bear a shield with a ripple and a Jamestown weed on it.

He continued through Cohasset, describing the recent breakthrough of the inlet at Little Harbor - he walked, in 1851, just three months after the Minot's Light Gale - and a lake with "five rocky islets" in it. He called the bathing beach at Cohasset the most perfect once he had seen.

We retraced these steps, breaking down the vistas of today to what Thoreau would have seen in his day. Lighthouses have come and gone and bare landscapes have been populated with houses. The old fort is now a park, and only one earthen rampart remains, but it's one that Thoreau would have seen. Hog Island is now Spinnaker Island, the form of the ripple still apparent from above, though the condominiums hardly reflect the farmland that gave the island its original name - who would buy a condo on Hog Island?

The Hull fishermen can still be heard on a warm summer's day upon the water, and that cosmopolite, that "Captain Cook among plants," the datura stramonium, planted by Louis de Bougainville in 1778, still grows along the beach. Henry David Thoreau would no doubt be disappointed in the suburban sprawl of Hull and Cohasset, but at least there are still a few things he would recognize were he to return today.

Time: 138 minutes.

New species: (Wildflower in Bloom) cardinal flower (113).

Stranger hellos: 1 (443).

What else is going on: full day at work; Aunt Gina and Uncle Joe's 50th wedding anniversary party!

Friday, July 24, 2009

July 24, 2009 - Manomet Point, Plymouth, Massachusetts

Heroes once stood where I stood today.

In 1928, Manomet Point was famous for, among other things, its Coast Guard station. While a crew had been stationed on the bluff as early as 1874 under the United States Life-Saving Service, their importance was never so great as the day the Cape Cod Canal opened in 1914. Until that time, they were the end of the line, the last minute hope for ships blown south of the port of Plymouth. But, after the Rose Standish broke the ribbon and sailed through the canal for the first time, shipping that had historically circumvented the Cape to enter Boston Harbor now had a shortcut. The Mary Ann Rocks became a major hazard, rather than just another set of flagged stones off the Plymouth shore.

On March 19, 1928, a ship, the Robert E. Lee, struck those rocks. The Coast Guard crew responded in a pulling lifeboat - 29 years after motorized lifeboats had been invented - and found that all was secure. They rowed back ashore, their boat pitch-poled, and three of the would-be rescuers were killed.

Standing on the bluff, watching seabirds fly by, I could see the cutout in the stones below from which the crew launched, the place from which three men took their final ride as heroes. Eighty-one years later, I hope they're resting in peace.

Time: 61 minutes.

New species: (Wildflowers in Bloom) yucca (112); (Birds) Cory's shearwater (life-bird!) (270); (Reptiles) red-eared slider - although as it's an introduced species, it won't go on the list.

Stranger hellos: 8 (442).

What else is happening: received my copy of the August 2009 South Shore Living, with my article on the Harvard Aero Meet in it; magazine, nonprofit and book work; dinner with Michelle's family.

July 23, 2009 - Rambling Around Boston, Massachusetts

I've never had so much work to do in the city as I have had this year. It's been a fun and interesting series of events that have kept me coming in, on trains, by car, by boat. Today, though, was all about fun, and not about work.

I was headed, eventually, for the Cambridgeside Galleria, and Charles I, the boat that would be taking Michelle, her office mates, and me on an evening's cruise up and down the Charles River and out to sea. That's a blog entry in itself. I'll have to start "30 Minutes a Day on the Water" some time soon.

But, as usual, I was early, so I had time to wander. Coming out of South Station, I was confronted with a gauntlet of farmstands to run through. Normally, I support them, but I had no way of carrying anything, or any place to stow them on the boat. So I rushed past and into the financial district.

How quickly and alarmingly the skyline must have changed for folks when engineering reached the ability to erect skyscrapers. The early 1970s must have been an amazing time of dynamism for the city skyline.

Yet as much as there is new, so much is old.

Standing on City Hall Plaza, I could see the old Customs House. Standing in the eerie shadows of the Holocaust Memorial, I could smell the Union Oyster House. Homes and business blocks built in the 1870s - obviously after the big fire that destroyed chunks of the city in 1872 - stand easily in view of the tallest structures in town.

Yup, it looks like I'm going to need to spend more time here.

Time: 38 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is going on: half day at work; Michelle's work cruise!

July 22, 2009 - Gurnet Lighthouse, Plymouth, Massachusetts

It's late July, and for the most part, we still have not seen the sun this summer on the South Shore of Boston. It's been one of those" I should never have opened the pool" kind of seasons.

A trip to the Gurnet Lighthouse in Plymouth, though, is worth whatever the weather decides to do. I lead two trips each summer to the light, always with my friend Alden Ringquist. Today, we lucked out. While the sun was not out, it was not raining, either. Not that it wasn't in the forecast.

The lighthouse, which is one of what used to be two, sits just behind an eroding bluff, one that the structure was moved away from just over a decade ago. Inevitably, the sea will win this battle, and the lighthouse will be torn down, hopefully before it's consumed by the ocean.

The erosion is not even questionable any more. Mother Nature is doing her best to give us signs. Today, it was the nesting bank swallows diving in and out of holes on the cliffside with food. Bank swallows nest in places that are freshly eroded, in banks that are not covered with a couple of years' worth of vegetative growth. The Gurnet was swarming with them today. While there's no reason to wish ill will on the swallows, their presence is not a really good sign.

But what a history this place has. The lighthouse is the oldest wooden lighthouse in the country, and it was the first one to have a female lighthouse keeper. Just under a decade ago, I had the pleasure of doing some research at Kew Gardens in London on the British ship that attacked the Gurnet and its small fort, the remains of which can still be seen at the light. Its future is being assured by the work of a nonprofit organization, Project Gurnet and Bug Lights, Inc., that has repaired it and the keepers' quarters next door.

For as long as the sea will allow it, the light will remain a shinging example of a place with multiple meanings, and great connections to our American history.

Time: 48 minutes.

New species: None.

Strenger hellos: 2 (434).

What else is happening: posted the other blog; worked from home; other nonprofit work.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

July 21, 2009 - Pilgrim Spring Trail, Truro, Massachusetts

To most Americans, the Pilgrim story is simple. They crossed the Atlantic in the Mayflower, landed in Plymouth, toughed out the first winter and had a big joint feast of Thanksgiving with the local Native Americans the following fall. But there's so much more to it.

Here's just one example. In the northeastern corner of Truro, close to the Provincetown line, are Pilgrim Heights. Before they reached Plymouth - indeed, before they set foot on Clark's Island in Plymouth Bay before setting foot on mainland Plymouth - they stopped at the end of the Cape. In their scouting of the area, in order to determine whether or not they'd like to stay where they were and set up their plantation, they sought fresh water. They found it here, at a place now called Pilgrim Spring, although the exact location of the spring itself is still debated by historians.

It was an absolutely different world from what we see now, driving up Route 6 towards Provincetown. Passenger pigeons were on the wing, and the eastern timber wolf still prowled the land. But one wonders if the Pilgrims came across some of the same things we did on our walk today, the bullbriar, the striped wintregreen, the earthstar. One wonders if they had the sense to avoid poison ivy, or if one of their own came down with the first American case of it.

As sad as it is, although we can forever experience it through their words, we'll never again see it through their eyes.

Time: 33 minutes.

New species: (Mushrooms) barometer earthstar (25); (Wildflowers in Bloom) striped wintergreen (111).

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is going on: led a field school program for the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.

July 20, 2009 - Bearberry Hill, Truro, Massachusetts

I was just in Maine, where the pine trees meet the rocks that meet the sea. Today I was on Cape Cod, where the cranberries meet the bearberries that meet the dunes that meet the sea.

Way down at the end of North Pamet Road (Pamet is a disruption of Payomet, the name of a local Native American tribe, and was also the first name applied to what is now Truro) there sits an old Coast Guard station. Right up my alley. Read up on who I am and what I do and you'll see why.

This station is one that's been rehabilitated and repopulated. It's now an outdoor education facility for kids willing to spend a week in the station "roughing it" with the teachers working there. It's a wonderful re-use of the old building, and situated in a place that could not be more sublimely interesting.

Across the street from the station is the entrance to the trail to Bearberry Hill. There's no guessing what gave it its name when one climbs toward the open eastern crest of the hill, as a wide patch of bearberry spreads across a field. But the bearberry is not alone in this little stretch of duney wilderness. While the view towards the Atlantic Ocean is spectacular, the view inland is equally as enthralling.

The bearberry's distant cousin, the cranberry, grows here as well. An old bog lies just west of the two headlands of the hill, now grown over with, among other plants, poison ivy. Tucked into the ravine where the bog once reigned, a small house - the cranberry house - also grasps at former glories. Now, though, it resembles something more like an image in an Edward Hopper painting than a working, living farmhouse. Some day, it seems, the earth will claim it.

Time: 33 minutes.

New species: (Wildflowers in Bloom) spatterdock, wood lily (110).

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is happening: nonprofit work, all day.

Monday, July 20, 2009

July 19, 2009 - Quoddy Head State Park, Lubec, Maine

You can't get further east than here, and still consider yourself to be in the United States. I suppose some of the water between Lubec and Campobello belongs to us, but I wasn't about to wade out there in the fog.

We got there before the park opened, so we walked the new trail, the Coast Guard Trail, through a deep, rich coastal forest to an overlook on Passamaquoddy Bay. From there, we turned and headed for the arctic bog.

The bog is a study in geology and geography, a place where 8,000 years of decomposition is visibly determinable. Sphagnum moss sits on the top layer and clay rests at the base. Baked appleberries, cranberries, crowberries, rose pogonias, stunted black spruces, they're all there, shrouded in fog, with the soft, veiled song of the white-throated sparrow eerily sounding closer than it really is.

We walked the coastal trail back, watching as water poured over an overlook to a rocky beach below. The fog never let up, which was a shame. At times, if the visibility is right, one can see fin, minke and humpback whales moving through the passage. Not today.

We ended our walk at West Quoddy Head Light, the easternmost lighthouse in the U.S., 201 years old and going strong. While the light was not flashing at the moment, the foghorn was blowing itself hoarse. With the lighthouse in the rearview mirror, we drove slowly down the dusty road away from the park, and headed 400 miles to the southwest, back home.

Time: 79 minutes.

New species: (Birds) Nelson's sharp-tailed sparrow, yellow-bellied flycatcher (269); (Wildflowers in Bloom) twinflower, crowberry, cranberry (108); (Mushroom) orange jelly (24).

Stranger hellos: 6 (432).

What else is going on: walked the South Lubec Flats; walked Carrying Place Cove; finished reading Campobello: Roosevelt's Beloved Island by Stephen O. Muskie.

July 18, 2009 - Machias Seal Island, Maine/Canada, Disputed

From the time I stepped out of the van in Jonesport until the time I sat back down in it four hours later, I did not sit down once. In between, I spent three hours on a converted lobster boat with twelve of my closest and newest friends and the other one inside a 3 x 10 observation blind, just inches away from a colony of Atlantic puffins.

The day did not look promising. As we sat at the Mobil On the Run terrace overlooking the "bad little falls" of Machias at 5:15 a.m., the forecast called for choppy seas and heavy thunderstorms. We loaded up on water and snacks and donned rain gear for the ride out. When we left aboard the Norton tour from Jonesport, we braced for the worst.

The rain came. Most ducked for cover, but I stayed on the aft deck. Shearwaters chased the boat, in concert with a fulmar. A break in the water had us looking for nearby whales, and soon razorbills and puffins filled the skies. We hopped into a dinghy and shot ashore. With the rain pounding the gathering area, the Canadian Fish and Wildlife personnel whisked us quickly into our blinds, skipping their canned speech.

For an hour we watched the puffins with their sad little eyes, standing guard against the gulls waiting just outside the colony. Occasionally a mother or father returned with a bill full of herring and dashed for a burrow. Razorbills and common murres joined in the vigil.

A few minutes into the visit, thunder rumbled loudly overhead. Ten miles out to sea, standing in a small wooden box on a tiny rock of an island, we got a real dose of what nature is all about.

The knock on the door came and we retreated through the rain, back to the dinghy, back to the boat, back toward Lubec, escorted by a pod of harbor porpoises. What a day.

What a life.

Time: 323 minutes.

New species: (Mammals) harbor porpoise (32); (Birds) common murre, razorbill, Atlantic puffin (267); (Mushrooms) red-banded polypore, gymnopilus sapineus (23); (Wildflowers in Bloom) grass pink, swamp valerium (105); (Butterflies) bog copper (14).

Stranger hellos: 4 (426).

What else is happening: walked Great Wass Island Preserve; lunch at Tall Barney's of Jonesport; dinner at Helen's of Machias; finished reading Campobello: The Outer Island by Alden Nowlan,

July 17, 2009 - Roosevelt International Park, Campobello, New Brunswick, Canada

Had Daniel Webster had a stronger constitution, according to local lore, Campbello would ba a part of the United States instead of Canada. Charged with defining the U.S.-Canada border as it pertained to the state of Maine, Webster supposedly sailed down the St. Croix River and opted for the lesser of two choppy passages, taking the Lubec channel to the inside of Campobello Island, thereby declaring the border to run in his wake.

I find the story very hard to believe. Daniel Webster was a man's man, hunting, sailing and fishing his way nearly to the presidency of the United States in the middle of the 1800s. Seasickness was not in his repertoire. But it certainly makes for a good story.

In reality, Campobello is far closer to the U.S. mainland than the Canada mainland. One wonders how much different the lives of the islanders would have been had they been American rather than Canadian, under U.S. rule rather than British.

The Roosevelts - FDR and Eleanor and their kids - summered here for decades. FDR contracted polio here, and his son FDR, Jr., was born here. There are hundreds of family artifacts in the beautiful summer cottage - that's "cottage" spelled with 34 rooms - but one always stands out to me: Eleanor's speaking trumpet. It was so heavy she couldn't lift it. It had to be suspended from the ceiling of the porch. When lunch was ready, she'd call Franklin in fron the waters off Friar's Head, or perhaps the nearby golf course. She'd fill her lungs with air, and let out a loud "FRANKLIN!!!" The people of Lubec claimed they could hear her across the sound.

One wonders, though, how today we'd cope with an American president vacationing in a foreign country, closely allied or not. Can we imagine President Obama announcing the successful signing of a new health care package, then looking the American TV viewer straight in the eye and saying, "And with that, I'm off to Costa Rica for a month"?

How things have changed.

Time: 75 minutes.

New species: (Wildflowers in Bloom) tall meadow rue, spirea, Indian paintbrush, swamp candles, swamp loosestrife, round-leaved pyrola, bunchberry, rattlebox, bog cotton, backed appleberry, Labrador tea (103); (Mammals) snowshoe hare (31); (Birds) spruce grouse, whimbrel, boreal chickadee, Swainson's thrush (264).

Stranger hellos: 13 (422).

What else is going on: walked Pot Head; walked around Cutler; walked Boot Head Preserve to Boot Cove; walked Eagle Hill Bog; walked around East Quoddy Head; dinner at Helen's of Machias.

July 16, 2009 - Deblois Blueberry Barrens, Cherryfield, Maine

My annual downeast Maine trip is one of different worlds, alien landscapes. We fly (by van) up through Portland and Bangor, up the Airline and into Cherryfield. And that's where the perspective changes.

The blueberry barrens are just what they sound like: large, seemingly boundless barren areas of, at first glance, nothing but lowbush blueberry plants. There are hedgerows of trees to break the wind and glacial erratic boulders strewn across the landscape. Some of the boulders have been moved into haphazard piles, others sit right where the glacier left them multiple millenia ago. Some sport graffiti reminiscent of ancient visits by local youths, ten, twenty years in the past.

Down in the plants, which barely reach the ankles, are savannah sparrows, vesper sparrows and, supposedly, upland sandpipers, although I've never seen one here. Small, light flowers, toad flax, add a gorgeous shade of purple to the other-worldly natue of the place; the exasperated-sounding calls of ravens flying in the distance, against the silhouette of Eagle Mountain, embolden the mental image of a world not known to most, of a special place experienced by a select few.

The blueberries are not ripe yet, at least not all of them. Those days are a month or so away. I won't be here then.


Time: 67 minutes.

New species: (Wildflowers in Bloom) toad flax, fireweed, lupine, brown knotweed, Canada thistle, cow parsley (92).

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is going on: lunch at the Sea Dog in Bangor; dinner at Helen's of Machias; checked into the Machias Motor Inn.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

July 15, 2009 - Stony Beach, Hull, Massachusetts

I can't believe the picture that Dean Tramontana painted on the seawall when we were in elementary school together in the 1970s is still there, but it is. I suppose I've known it all along, as I've driven by it hundrteds of times, but today it really sank in when I walked up next to it. There was an art contest of some kind, and a handful of kids were given a block of seawall each on which to paint their murals. Dean was one of those kids.

The seawall to which I refer extends along Nantasket Avenue towards the northern shore of Allerton Hill, which comes right down to the water's edge. The beach on that side of the isthmus is known as Stony Beach, but, in reality, the water comes straight up to the seawall, and there really is no beach at all except at dead low tides. Historically, before the wall was here, the water washed over at high tide, leaving Hull Village as an island. Must have been interesting days.

This little stretch has so much history, so many memories. Fireworks at the Thomas' house back when I was a youth hockey player with Andy, who's now a Hull firefighter (Dean played with us, too). The two houses that used to be Humane Society lifeboat and mortar stations, respectively. The home of Bob, the crossword puzzle guy.

Fitzpatrick Way, the main thoroughfare through this section of town (known as Windemere), was at first a railroad right of way, then built up as a road. It had no special name until World War II, when it was granted its title for a man who lost his life in World War II, one of only eight Hull men to die during the conflict. Today, thanks to a 1930s dredging project, the Hull Yacht Club and Nantasket Saltwater Club coexist at Mariners Park, complete with a bandstand named in honor of former police chief Dan Short.

Yup, it's less than a mile long, but I've got stories that could go on for hours.

Time: 36 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: 5 (409).

What else is going on: way, way too much on my plate - book work; lots and lots of nonprofit work; finished reading Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer; gave a lecture on Coast Guard history at the Hull Yacht Club for a private function. I need a vacation!

July 14, 2009 - Oak Street Woodland, Marshfield, Massachusetts

I did it all backwards today. I've got a problem with my left foot that has required the wearing of my hiking shoes pretty much all the time, even at the beach. So I was unprepared today when the guest speaker at our Duxbury Beach program unexpectedly asked me to fill a bucket with seawater. With no recourse, I marched into the shallow water, shoes, socks and all. I should have been wearing my sandals.

So, later, when it was time to walk in the woods, with my wet shoes and socks slowly drying themselves out in the back of my Santa Fe, I donned the sandals.

It was an odd sensation. The Oak Street Woodland is a very wet place, with a creek trickling through it. It's absolutely lush with verdant ferns, some of them, closest to the water, reaching shoulder height, with an understory of large-leaved skunk cabbages. It's been a long time since certain parts of my feet and lower legs have brushed against nature the way they did today.

At one point, I stopped and looked at my feet. Man, they're white. I've got a pretty damn good bronze going on right now (I always joke that since I'm Italian, I don't tan, I bronze), all the way down to the tops of where my socks usually are. But my toes are gleaming. The sight of them momentarily unnerved me. Two weeks ago I spied a rat walking around our home sanctuary and called it out the window of my office. My friend Amy started walking after it in her sandals, and I joked that she should be careful, that they like toes. The sight of mine today worried me, as for one second my own joke came back to bite me.

The grand landmark of significance in the woodland is a large, almost flat rock, one that would be perfect for reclining were it not for the detritus resting atop it. If I was going to start a religion that included sacrifices of any kind, I'd start with this rock. But I am utterly the antithesis of religious. Instead I stood atop it and took photos down into one patch of the ferns.

The trail is supposed to be a loop, but is interrupted by the yard waste of an abutter. I walked it both ways around and hit the same obstacle from each direction. But I also ran into three male turkeys, a red-tailed hawk, a red-shouldered hawk, three dog ticks and two tiny wood frogs hopping across the trail. I got the hell out of there before they all decided how they felt about toes.

Time: 46 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is happening: full day at work; book work; watched the Major League Baseball All Star Game with Michelle.

Monday, July 13, 2009

July 13, 2009 - Great Esker Park Trail West, Weymouth, Massachusetts

I should have kept track of my eskers. I've walked a bunch this year. But I have to say this, though: nothing matches the Great Esker itself.

It's aptly named. At 90 feet high, it's tallest feature of its kind in North America. More than 11,000 years ago when the glaciers retreated (a fancy term for melted), rivers formed in ther bases, creating long tubes of residual wash that remained behind as long, snake-like hills, or eskers. This is the granddaddy of them all.

It feels it, too. At its highest point, one can stand near the edge and look down nearly ten stories to the houses below on one side, and to the saltmarsh of the Back River on the other. Yikes, a fall from here would hurt. Or would make a hell of a splash.

As one might surmise, a river and its attendant marshes shielded by a tall esker provide great land for wildlife. Ospreys have several nests on these marshes. I saw a great-crested flycatcher feeding its fledglings. Three northern goshawks spooked from a tree across the river.

As I walked, the thunderstorm-forecasting winds turned the leaves upward, giving the day the feel of the first days of autumn. The "kew-kew-kew" call of a greater yellowlegs added to that sensation. Although some of these birds may over-summer here, this was probably a migrant. Yes, fall migration is underway. And it might be early this year, and lighter than usual. The ice never melted in time on the arctic tundra, meaning most of the shorebirds had nowhere to nest. It's the kind of evidence naysayers will use to say, "Global warming, my ass!" but it's got to be taken in context. One cold summer in the midst of twenty hot ones doesn't make a bit of difference.

As I'd never walked here before, I was unsure of where the trail would take me. I'd just exchanged emails with another author (Jim Burnett, Hey Ranger!) regarding this very topic, safety when hiking alone and balancing the desire to randomly explore with taking proper precautions like letting someone at home know a walking plan for the day. But I needn't have concerned myself. The west end of the trail loops back around, bringing one back to the path from which he started.

I escaped before the rain hit, but it feels like it's on its way. After going west from the parking lot, I've got half the esker now covered. I'll be back for the rest later this year.

Time: 68 minutes.

New species: (Mushroom) yellow patches (21).

Starnger hellos: 5 (404).

What else is going on: book work; magazine work; nonprofit work.

July 12, 2009 - Stodder's Neck Reservation, Weymouth, Massachusetts

There were six barn swallows. I know that now.

Stodder's Neck is a small peninsula jutting into the Back River, but it has many different meanings to many different dogs. It's a place to run, to drink at the many bowls of water left out throughout the reservation, and it's a place to poop. Oh, is it a place to poop.

In all, it's a wondeful thing. While wildlife may be stifled a bit by their presence, the dogs are the kings and queens of the place. And it's not bad for a spot that was just a quarter century ago a gravel pit.

The walk here goes from the top of a steep little hill to the water's edge, where I found a single barn swallow skirting the shore. I also found, for the second time in two years, a Canadian lobster band on the shore. Last year I found a mess of them ashore on Duxbury Beach, to the south. As any good beachcomber will do, I pondered the tiny chunk of rubber's origin. Did a boat go down off Nova Scotia? or did one just lose its cargo in a storm? Did a lobster wriggle his way free, fight off his captors and slink back to the sea to reclaim his briny throne? Improbable, but it would make one hell of a movie script. I'm going to look for an agent for that one.

I found as I scaled the hill atop the island that the grasslands were supporting more than just the one barn swallow. That renegade was apparently after some seafood-style bugs. The other five were happily scouring the grasstops, apparently sufficiently satiating themselves.

This place must be even more fun in the winter. There are tiny trails leading here and there, weaving through thickets now overgrown with poison ivy. For now, though, it's simply Doggie Heaven.

Time: 33 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: 2 (399).

What else is happening: tons of nonprofit work!; finished an article for Northeast Boating magazine and shipped it off to the editor.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

July 11, 2009 - Summer Walks in Weymouth, Massachusetts

Well, I knew eventually it would come back and bite me on the calves, or ankles, or quads, whatever makes my legs go. The blog is now affecting my working life.

But it's in a good way. Because of investigation I did earlier in the year, when I was searching for new places to explore in my own backyard, I was able to design a program for Mass Audubon in which we entered a community we rarely visit and showed off some of those places to a group of people who had no idea they existed. I titled it simply "Summer Walks in Weymouth" and enticed folks with enigmatic names like "Cavern Rock" and "House Rock." On the appointed date and time they arrived, and we set out on our adventure.

I've detailed Weymouth's problems in previous posts. Public access to most of the town's parks is awful, and the condition of the parks themselves deserves an even harsher adjective. They're overgrown, overrun with vandalism and trash, havens for illegal activities. But I wanted others to see them for their underlying natural value.

House Rock is the largest glacial erratic boulder in New England. Cavern Rock looks like it's a mini-exhibit escaped from the Polar Caves in New Hampshire. The view of Quincy Bay from Great Hill is inspirational.

We ended our morning at Webb Memorial State Park, a peninsula jutting out to grab at the end of Grape Island. A fisherman on a small boat hauled in a huge striped bass as we watched, and, because of the water's ability to clearly carry sound across long distances, listened. We discussed kayaking, pointed out landmarks from Hull to Winthrop, and, best of all, I got to hear those words once again from a new group of people: "Wow, I never knew this was all here." My task for the day was complete as soon as I heard that sentence.

But don't worry. I still drove them home.

Time: 191 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: 14 (397).

What else is happening: Full day at work; finished reading The Know-It-All: One Man's Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World by A.J. Jacobs; dinner with Michelle's parents; magazine work.

Friday, July 10, 2009

July 10, 2009 - Tilden Farm Wildlife Sanctuary, Marshfield, Massachusetts

Good ol' Rob Tilden. Grower of tomatoes.

The Tilden name is one of the oldest on the South Shore of Boston, and therefore in the United States. There were no Tildens on the Mayflower, but they weren't too far behind.

Rob Tilden was alive and well in the middle of the last century. I'm not sure how his farmland ended up with Mass Audubon, but I assure you we're sure proud to have it. It's at the top of a hill, several acres of open grassland that support nesting bobolinks and eastern bluebirds, not to mention butterflies, mammals, and I'm sure a lot else.

And there's more. Down behind the grassland there's a woodland, one with a quiet little brook sauntering through it. There are lush ferns, happily growing mushrooms and moss attached verdantly to the sides of trees. It's as if there's a perpetual mist blowing through, or as if this little portion of Marshfield is actually on the coast of Maine. There's just a feeling of richness, of wetness, of life.

In fact, it makes me miss Maine. I wonder if Rob Tilden ever felt the same way?

Time: 48 minutes.

New species: (Birds) saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow, short-billed dowitcher (260); (Wildflowers in Bloom) Queen Anne's lace (86); (Mushrooms) gemmed amanita (20); (Butterflies) Baltimore checkerspot (13).

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is going on: cut the lawn, did some work in the flower beds; recieved a review copy of Seashore Sentinel: The Old Harbor Lifesaving Station on Cape Cod by my friend and colleague Richard Ryder; magazine, newspaper and book work.

July 9, 2009 - High Pines, Duxbury, Massachusetts

Not many people get to do what I do for a living, and I understand that. Twice a week in July and August, it's my job to provide adult programming on Duxbury Beach. I get a van, four miles of sand and free marketing space in newspapers to make it happen.

I've been doing it for seven summers in a row.

I've had my share of sunburns. I've come home with sand between my toes most days. I've sat in the van as freak thunderstorms have rolled in and pinned us down on the barrier beach, making us wonder if we'll ever get out alive. I've seen rare birds, coyotes marching through the grasses, deer swimming offshore, visited the Gurnet Lighthouse more than a dozen times. And yes, sometimes I've gotten sick of the place.

As you might have guessed by now, nearly two hundred walks into the year, I like to go to different places, experience new things as much as possible. Yes, the Gurnet Road is four miles long, but it's only four miles long. My mind gets restless by the end of the summer.

That's why I have to truly enjoy myself during the month of July. We talked about the breeding bird atlas today, recording 24 species for Duxbury 6, the USGS topo "block" the beach, or at least this part of it, sits in. High Pines, which is not exactly what it sounds like, is a thicket halfway down the beach with a bunch of short cedars and pitch pines that are just tall enough to look "high" in comparison to the beach. There's a private home tucked into a little dell, a place we avoid to give the owner privacy. But we do take the public portion in. In a world of sand, a piney thicket is an anomaly, and anomalies are where the fun is.

And before August hits and I'm really sick of the place, I need all the fun I can get.

Time: 33 minutes.

New species: (Wildflowers in Bloom) Bird's-eye primrose, black-eyed susan (85).

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is going on today: Full day at work; went to see Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen with my friend Dave; dinner with him at Outback Steakhouse.

July 8, 2009 - Charlestown Navy Yard, Charlestown, Massachusetts

Well, it was one destination, anyway. I parked at North Station and headed for the Navy Yard. It wasn't the yard I was interested in - ok, that's a lie, but I had other motives for visiting this time. Constitution is there, and today, Eagle was there, the Coast Guard's sail training ship, in preparation for the arrival of the Tall Ships. But I had a meeting with a friend, a friend who is suddenly in a fantastic new job as the president of the Coast Guard Museum Foundation. He wanted some advice.

So we met and had lunch at Sorelle in Charlestown. I got the turkey, swiss and cranberry roll-up, and we chatted about the shape the new national museum would take, and how I could help with the process. I'm very excited to be taking part.

That was phase one.

From there, I headed back down North Washington Street towards Fanueil Hall and Quincy Marketplace and finally to 60 State Street. I had a second meeting with one of the Trustees of the Humane Society of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I've just finished writing their history for them, and we're finalizing plans for its publication.

That was phase three.

I then found a place to sit for a half an hour before Michelle called and asked me to run to a bookstore for her. She's reading a new series and needed the second title. I walked, but couldn't find the place in the time I had left. So I returned to her office on Union Street, and picked her up for dinner.

Onto phase four.

We walked toward the heart of the North End, Hanover Street. We stopped in a place called Piccola Venezia for eggplant rollatini, and over to Mike's Pastries for some cannolis and other goodies. With that, we walked back to our car at North Station, and called it a night.

Multiple missions accomplished.

Time: 181 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is happening: had a doctor's appointment in Hull in the morning; finished reading Hey Ranger: True Tales of Humor & Misadventure from America's National Parks by Jim Burnett.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

July 7, 2009 - 2nd Crossover, Duxbury Beach, Duxbury, Massachusetts

It's been a disastrous year on Duxbury Beach. To most of the beach-going world - Duxbury is one of those places where sunseekers are allowed to drive their cars directly onto the beach, regardless of habitat destruction - it seems like any other year. Save for the rain.

And that rain has been a killer. Around the state, birders are reporting, for instance, the deaths of dozens of purple martins, birds that eat high-flying insects. Rain has kept those insects grounded, thereby starving the birds. On the beaches, it was the tidal surges that came with the storms that supplied the rain that have been murderous.

Don't get me wrong, there have been other factors for the lives of the piping plovers and least terns on Duxbury Beach, among them coyotes, crows, herring gulls and raccoons (and probably skunks). But for beach nesters, birds that make small scrapes in the sand and maybe decorate with a few seashell bits, unexpectedly high tides can prove fatal to their usually three or four-egg clutches. With all these factors combined, the statistics are just sad. Of 21 nesting attempts by piping plovers on Duxbury Beach this year, there has been, to date, just one fledged chick. That's disastrous for an endangered species.

I led a walk on the beach today to see the only active plover nest and a small least tern colony. Some of the surviving adults will re-nest, but they're reaching the point of endangering their own lives if they do. Mothers, who will do the work of shepherding the young once they start to feed on their own (the day they're born), need to pack on enough fat to fly south for the winter. Without the chance to do that, they'll die in the process of migration.

Time: 33 minutes.

New species: (Wildflowers in bloom) vineweed, field sow thistle (83).

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is happening: full day at work; magazine, book and nonprofit work.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

July 6, 2009 - The Racetrack, Wompatuck State Park, Hingham, Massachusetts

It is very, very hard to stay on the main trails at Wompatuck State Park. There's just a magnetic pull. I walked past Holly Pond to the race track - or at least that's what I've always called it, because it's used as such by bike riders throughout the warmer months - and walked down the heart of the wide roadway.

I've always wanted to walk it, to see how long it would take me. I've been here many times before, but only on roller blades. My sister once pulled an accidental pirhouette and pavement back slap right here. I gave it a 5.6, but the Russian judge was much harder on her.

The reasoning for the circular layout of the road is obvious, when one looks down the side paths. The ammunition bunkers for which the park is famous, built in the terrible days of World War II, stand out, although now shut off completely. Every few hundred yards, another one looms, a perfectly rectangular lump in an otherwise flat landscape.

I finally couldn't help it any more. I dove off the roadway to the top of one of the old bunkers. I found the vent, and looked around for other signs of its human history. That's when I found out how very, very hard it is to stay off the main trail at Wompatuck in summer.

Damn mosquitoes.

Time: 47 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is going on: heavy book and nonprofit work, all day long.

July 5, 2009 - Pleasant Street, Hingham, Massachusetts

There's only so much Americana one man can take. I mean, these houses have bunting on them. Bunting!

Bunting is a dying art form, both as a decoration and a baseball strategy, but Pleasant Street has it in spades. Of course, it's the holiday weekend, but take the cars away and you could be standing in 1899. There are huge, ancient trees lining the street. There are plaques on all the houses, announcing the names of the first owners - Spragues, Herseys, Lincolns, Fearings. There are bird feeders. I even saw a teenager pull up in his car and visit his grandparents, who were sitting on wicker furniture on their porch, reading the Sunday newspapers.

Is President McKinley still in office?

There's a very familiar house here, the place where Isaac Sprague lived, one of my favorite all-time characters. Isaac was an artist with immense skill, so good that John James Audubon took him up the Missouri River with him to sketch wildlife in 1843. He kept the most boring diary in the world, entering the weather for year after year until he finally hit upon two majestic words - "Married Hannah" - before going right back to the weather for years into the future.

I knew that as a young man Isaac was farmed out to his uncle Blossom's carriage painting business, but I had no idea it was the house next door to what would one day be his own. I also had no idea that Blossom was...well, I don't know if I'd call him poor. Perhaps he had all he needed. His house is what's called a half-house. Picture a cape style cottage - door in the middle, two windows on either side - and take away half. That's a half-house. The odd thing about it is that when it was expanded, it was drawn out not in the way one might think, finishing off the full-cape. Nope. Instead, because of the fact that Ezekial Hersey's house was already so close on that side, it went the other way. Odd-looking piece of architecture.

Just another piece of folksy Americana on a typical Hingham, bunting-ridden street.

Time: 31 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is happening: more work on the book; big dinner with Michelle's parents, my mom and my sister.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

July 4, 2009 - Palmer Street, Quincy, Massachusetts

Michelle and I needed an escape. We were at a barbecue of extended family members, having a good time, but, of course, we have a baby. Anthony, at eight months old, still naps quite a bit - or should. With all the noise and new faces, we were having trouble getting him to sleep.

For the first time in more than two weeks, we had undeniable sunshine from the morning onward. In fact, it was too hot for our little buddy to be riding around unexposed. So we slathered him up with sunscreen and dropped him into his stroller. Our choices were Sea Street, a main road, or Palmer, a semi-main road. So we chose the latter.

Palmer's a place where there's not a lot of frontage for the houses, or at least this stretch seemed that way. Some of them had front doors that practically stepped out into the street. I could see a saltmarsh in the distance, and it hit me. I was just here banding ospreys this week. Yup, there's the pole, there's mama, and there are the two chicks.

Beyond the marsh, though, there isn't much in the way of nature. Some beautiful trees, some catalpas, in fact, in some yards, and some folks have done well with exercising their green thumbs. But then, as we stopped to make an adjustment to Anthony's stroller, we noticed he was looking down at something rather intently. At the end of his gaze? A single, beautiful little purple flower, a money plant, growing out of the crack between the sidewalk and its curbing.

That's my boy!

Time: 30 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is happening: some cleaning, some shopping; fixed the back door with Michelle's father; watched the Boston Pops perform their Fourth of July concert.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

July 3, 2009 - Black Pond Bog, Norwell, Massachusetts

This one's an annual ritual. Our Friday Morning Birders' group turned out in force today despite the fact it's the day before a holiday - or perhaps because of it. We had several new faces joining us, folks that enjoy the hobby but have to work weekdays. With many companies observing Friday the Third of July as the Fourth of July this year, our ranks swelled.

But as I said, Black Pond Bog is a ritual for the first week of July. David and I start with our own sanctuary in Marshfield and point out some wildflowers and orchids we know are blooming in the area. We even point out the odd mushroom or two, and with this year's rain, they are everywhere.

By the way, did I mention it's been raining? Day sixteen.

From there we head to the bog, a sphagnum moss bog, to be accurate, and look for the insectivorous plants that live there. We find more orchids, and scratch our heads at the annual appearance of galls hanging from swamp azalea branches. This year, we were surprised by the singing of a black-throated green warbler, a bird that usually migrates straight through our area in May without so much as a "Yeah, I might consider raising my young around here." But there he was, at the height of the breeding season.

We wandered up Cuffey Hill and marvelled at the unbelieveable number of Indian pipes sprouting from the ground, and talked at length about things like sassafrass trees, netted chain ferns and violet-toothed polypores. We walked out of the woods to cotinue our journey after more than an hour, racking up sixty-four bird sightings on top of our flowers, trees, mushrooms and a tiny wood frog I found bouncing on a trail, which David caught to show the gang.

Yes, the name of the game is birding, but it doesn't mean you can't just enjoy everything you see.

Time: 81 minutes.

New species: (Mammals) little brown bat (30); (Wildflowers in Bloom) helleborine, rose pogonia, spatulate-leafed sundew, swamp azalea, sundrops (81); (Mushrooms) red-hot milky (19).

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is happening: book work; cleaned out the garage quite a bit; did some shopping with Michelle; dinner with Michelle's parents.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

July 2, 2009 - Neal Gate Street, Scituate, Massachusetts

Did I mention anything about rain? We're now at fifteen days in a row, with at least a few more to go.

And today wasn't just mist or fog, although we had both. We had thunderstorms so powerful that I heard lightning strikes through the phone on the North Shore. We had one strike in Marshfield that was perfectly timed with the thunderclap, meaning it was right there on top of us. And I work in a three-story building atop a hill. Unnerving.

The rain stopped long enough to give me a chance to get out at the end of the work day, albeit briefly, to stretch my legs. Unfortunately, I'm in day ten of an upper respiratory problem of some kind. While in the middle of that, with heavy lungs and shortness of breath, I was attacked yesterday with pollen allergies. Rough night.

Places like Neal Gate Street, though, take my mind off such things. Neal Gate is busier than usual, as a nearby bridge is being rebuilt, leaving this roadway as the easiest way to get from one side of the North River to another, from Route 123 to Route 3A. But it's still a beautiful walk.

There's a blueberry farm at one end, and a garden center at the other. There's Chief Justice Cushing's homestead, and the road that leads to his burial site. And then there's the history of the road itself. Yes, Neal once owned this land, and he had a gate. Picture it like the old rights of way across English farm fields. To make your way across Neal's land, you had to go through Neal's Gate.

I made it there and back without getting rained on. Hallelujah. It's really getting old.

Time: 36 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is happening: full day at work, on my day off; book and magazine work; picked up a copy of the Boston Globe, as I'm quoted in an article on the work of some friends by Constance Lindner.

July 1, 2009 - Scat Island, Duxbury, Massachusetts

You can't get there from here unless you have a boat. On our second day of banding osprey chicks, we - Joe, Norman, Mike, Chad, Matt and I - headed out onto the waters of Duxbury Bay, courtesy of friends Nancy and Billy, for visits to five nests.

The islands that we set foot on out here are truly just rugged little chunks of peat that are carved at and reformed with each winter's ice. Many of these little islands have been around in some recognizable form for decades. There are camps and blinds and gunning shacks that go back to the early part of the twentieth century. And there are poles, some made from old planks from the old Powder Point Bridge, that have been here at least twenty years. There are actually seven poles out here we could do by water, but only four had chicks on them.

We found some oddities today. Besides finding birds that were about a week old, very small balls of downy fuzz, we also found one nest in which the birds had been cracking open mussel shells. In another, we found chunks of sod lain as a bed. We're used to debris, like bait bags, but sod and mussels? Weird.

We stepped onto Scat Island as the last stop we would make. We timed it with the tides to go as far upriver as necessary and end with the one farthest into the bay, giving ourselves as much deep water to work with as possible. Norman climbed the pole, announced "Three chicks!" and the mother made a swoop at his head.

I'll just say this. I'm glad I'm not a fish. The talons on these birds are amazing and when they lunge at his head ten to fifteen feet up, those of us on the ground can hear the air being shredded by the wings. I can't imagine being the target. The fish certainly can't hear those wings, but they can feel the talons.

This mother was carrying a fish the entire time we were there. Her agitation riled up the nearby common terns, who turned out to harrass her, thinking she was a threat to their chicks. One of the terns had a fish of his own. She had a lot of stress pressing down on her, not knowing what, exactly, we were doing to her youngsters. If only there was some way to explain it to her, that a simple thing like a band on a leg can help us learn about an entire species from one bird's actions. But alas, if we are to speak directly to the animals some day, it's not going to be in my lifetime.

Time: 33 minutes.

New species: (Wildflowers in Bloom) common mullein, chicory (76).

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is going on: did a five-minute in-studio appearance on the WATD 95.9 FM Morning News with Rob Hakala; led a three-hour teachers' professional development point program in Hull Village, in the rain; dinner with Michelle's parents; found and eradicated a colony of carpenter ants in the garage.