Sunday, May 31, 2009

May 31, 2009 - Hull Village, Hull, Massachusetts


Several times each year I lead a teachers' professional development program in Hull Village. We started today atop Telegraph Hill, at Fort Revere Park, and ran a loop down through the town. I talked for about three hours. I obviously can't fit it all in here.


So, let's go with themes. How about the founding of the country? We cover the visit of the Pilgrims to Hull in 1621, and the early families recognized in the cemetery at the bottom of the hill. I always stop at the memorial marker of the Reverend John Prince, and today there was a twist. One of his descendants was in the crowd of teachers. She stepped up to help tell the tale.


We talk about the industrial revolution and the way it brought Hull from tiny fishing outpost to summer playground for the rich and famous. We threw around the names of the U.S. presidents who had their direct impact on Hull - Cleveland, McKinley, Coolidge, Kennedy and Lincoln - and we talked about bossism and controlled politics of the early part of the twentieth century. Hull was a hotbed for it.


We visited the library, the historical society and several points in between. We talked about Floretta Vining, the irascible editor of the Hull Beacon who once proopsed in print that all men over 60 years of age should be put to sleep. We discussed Melvin Ohio Adams, member of the Hull Yacht Club, who was also Lizzie Borden's defense attorney. And we remembered Bernice James De Pasquali, the coloratura soprano born in Hull who once sang with Enrico Caruso at the Metropolitan Opera House.


I hope that the teachers found at least some of what I said interesting. If nothing else, I hope they enjoyed the walk through history, and a beautiful little town.


Time: 179 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: 6 (332).

What else is happening: led a walk at the Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary in Marshfield; did a five-minute radio spot on Ray Brown's Talkin' Birds on WATD 95.9 FM; worked on the pool; magazine and book work deep into the night.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

May 30, 2009 - Weir River Farm, Hingham, Massachusetts


I was surprised to hear raindrops falling outside my window as I awoke this morning. We've had three straight days of rain, but today was supposed to be sunny and dry, in the 70s. I dressed accordingly.


I headed to Turkey Hill and Weir River Farm. I was co-leading a walk with Sally, one of our super volunteers at Mass Audubon. It was still spitting rain as we started out through the woods on the way to the grasslands, but that turned out to be the worst moment of our day.


What a morning! The sun came out and the temperature just climbed and climbed, until we hit nearly 80 degrees. I realized that if just one thing had happened - every mosquito within fifty feet of me dying an instant and horrible death - it would have been the first truly perfect day of the year. No luck, but I'll take it.


As we walked through the grasslands, butterflies rose from the meadow. Held down by the rain these several days, they were hungry and eager to feed. Dragonflies took to the wing as well, which caused the butterflies to watch their actions. I've seen the former snag and eat the latter before, though it didn't happen today within my view.


We wandered up and over the hill, down to the farm, where the belted Galloways (cows) munched in the shade. The llamas, goats and cows rested in their pens. Down by the river we roamed, to the tunes of eastern wood-pewees and common yellowthroats. I found a female cardinal sitting on her nest. Up the trail we headed to grounds of the New England Friends' Home, and finally back down the hill to the parking lot.


It seems strange to wrap it up in so few words, as we were on foot for almost three and a half hours, which is also strange, as my foot pain now has a name: plantar fasciitis. Sure, I'm hurting now, but on a day like today, the warmth in my soul completely outweighed the pain in my feet.


Time: 190 minutes.

New species: (Butterflies) Dusky cloudywing (11); (Wildflowers in Bloom) common chickweed, Persian speedwell, mayapple, dame's violet, three-toothed cinquefoil (42).

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is going on: work on the pool; posted the other blog; book, newspaper, magazine and nonprofit work.

Friday, May 29, 2009

May 29, 2009 - Egypt Beach, Scituate, Massachusetts


The South Shore is littered with biblical references. Jerusalem Road in Cohasset, Jericho Road in Scituate, and so on. So it should come as no surprise that there's a section of the latter town called Egypt.


But. from what I hear from my friends - my friends being historical anecdotes that talk to me when I visit the local historical societies; yes, my social life could use a facelift - the naming of the town had little to do with the Bible. In fact, there are two competing theories. And they're both plausible.


One story begins with a drought in the early part of the nineteenth century. During those tough times, apparently, only one section of town was producing any fresh vegetables, specifically corn. A man named Squire Pierce threw open the window to his shop one morning to see a long line of people waiting to get corn - which is the definition of the word "Egypt." "Ah, I see you've all come down to Egypt to get your corn!" said Pierce.


But, there's another story, one of which the locals would be less proud. There was a public establishment in the same section of town that was frequented by sea captains (Scituate certainly had a lot of them) where one could find corn in its most distilled state. Egypt was, in this second theory, a code word for getting corn in that form.


Either way, the village name has stuck, a century and a half later. The beach, just a short little stretch of rocks with a postage stamp of a parking lot that gets overrun by revelers in summertime, is bordered by a heavy wetland thicket. There's catbrier, autumn olive, phragmites, every freshwter wetland or thicket plant you can think of - but not a stalk of corn in sight.


Time: 46 minutes.

New species: (Birds) yellow-throated vireo (lifebird), blackpoll warbler (240); (Wildflowers in Bloom) goat's rue, creeping yellow cress, beach pea (40).

Stranger hellos: 2 (326).

What else is happening: led my usual 3 1/2 hour bird walk at work; made dinner for Michelle; some surprise Captains Guide work; book and newspaper work.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

May 28, 2009 - Coast Guard Hill Recreation Area, Marshfield, Massachusetts


There are a lot of words in the title of this place, and they all mean something important. Let's start geologically. Yes, it's a hill. Atop the hill are several items of note. First, there's an old manse, which is just a fancy word I've always wanted to use for a big house. It was given over by a local family for use by the military in World War II.




The branch of the military that used it was the Coast Guard, which, at that time, was part of the Navy (since the merging of the Revenue Cutter Service and Life-Saving Service in 1915 to become the Coast Guard, that service has always fallen under the Department of the Navy during times of war). What could the Coast Guard do with a hill, you say? Radio communications. A friend of mine who served here in the early 1950s, Bud Cooney, told me he "pounded brass," banging out Morse code communiques by wireless telegraph to our military men at sea. That explains the big tower at the top of the hill.




When the Coast Guard was done with the property, once LORAN and other communication and navigation systems came along, they turned it over to the people of Marshfield. The house was sold, but the rest of the land was left as open space. It's an interesting mix of grassland, pine forest, shrubland (atop the hill where small buildings once stood, where the old concrete platforms and walkways have inhibited full regeneration of forest - which is a good thing, as shrubland is quickly vanishing in Massachusetts) and saltmarsh frontage on the South River. In other words, something for everybody.




Our second straight rainy day initially made the cover of the forest a welcome sight. For most of the time, though, the precipitation remained quite weak, more on the misty side, so I wandered aimlessly. I found an eastern kingbird building a nest, listened to chestnut-sided, black-and-white and yellow warblers singing, and found a young red-winged blackbird testing it's parents patience, flitting among the branches of a willow tree as mom and dad nervously chattered. As the father of a seven month old, I understood.




Time: 45 minutes.


New species: None.


Strenger hellos: 4 (324).


What else is happening: 8 hours at work; dinner with Michelle's parents; book and magazine work.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

May 27, 2009 - Pudding Hill Reservation, Marshfield, Massachusetts


It was the last thing I ever thought I would see in the woods at the top of a hill. Especially on a wildlife preserve. Trees had been chainsawed to make room for it. A boat. An old boat. Its presence in the woods probably explained why one of Mass Audubon's signs, obviously stolen from a protected area of beach, was nailed to a tree outside a house atop the hill. I moved on.




The natural world of Pudding Hill is fighting a war against obliteration. Developers have gotten their hands on one slope, while Walgreens has assaulted another. Luckily, an old local schoolteacher, Elizabeth Bradford, saw to it that her side of the hill, along Chandler's Pond, should remain forever wild. She gave her property to the Wildlands Trust, and although she's no longer around to enjoy it, it's now a wildlife and nature preserve.




The hill is heavy in pines and the wildflowers of the forest. In one spot I found more than 30 pink lady's slippers in a ten foot square area. They were doing well in the rain.




And so was I until the 34th minute of my walk. That's when it really started to come down. At least, that was what I thought until the 46th minute, when I started to run, not walk, down the hill for my car.




Time: 55 minutes.


New species: (Wildflowers in Bloom) red clover (37).


Stranger hellos: None.


What else is happening: 8 hours at work including turning over 80 coverboards (22 red-backed salamanders and one garter snake) and giving a lecture to the 4th graders of a Scituate elementary school on piping plovers and barrier beaches; book work; dinner with Michelle and my mom.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

May 26, 2009 - South end of Bridle Trail, Marshfield, Massachusetts


Wow, has the temperature dropped. We were in the mid-80s yesterday, today we'll be lucky to hit 60. Still, if my worst thought for the day concerns whether or not to wear a windbreaker, I'm having a damn good day.


I went without, out of sheer stupidity. No idea why I was punishing myself.


The Bridle Trail is a wide open pathway that leads into the Carolina Hill conservation area, itself bisected by a clearcut power line. It's a place of indigo buntings and scarlet tanagers, of snakes and rocks and dirt and dust. And a pump station or two.


My walk today came in spurts, as bursts of noise spun my head: the slithering away of a garter snake, the explosive call of a nearby red-bellied woodpecker, the sweet singing of a Baltimore oriole. With each one I paused, and for some of them I stopped. At one point, as I walked into the woods, I found myself nearly as rooted as the trees with which I stood, listening to a true oddity for this corner of Massachusetts, a least flycatcher che-binking in a tree as a tufted titmouse tried to scare me away. I was so lost in the sound that when a jogger suddenly called out "On your right!" from behind I nearly leapt out of my skin.


But I was otherwise having a bad day. My camera had malfunctioned and my cell phone was dead. I had no idea what time it was, had to get to the post office, and eventually to work. I cut my walk well short of what it should have been and headed out of the woods.


Time: 46 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: 1 (320).

What else is going on: post office; 8 hours at work; book and nonprofit work; heard the sad news that a friend and relative by marriage, Jim Brown, passed away over the weekend, at nearly 100 years old.

May 25, 2009 - Union Cemetery, Assinippi, Hanover, Massachusetts


I had no idea to whom I would be speaking today. All I knew was that I was going to visit a cemetery I had never been to before, and I was going to stop at the first grave I recognized as belonging to a veteran. I was going to say thank you.


So I stopped, at a cemetery I pass on my way to work every day, but never find time to visit. And I looked for American flags.


The cemetery dated to pre-Civil War days, and, in fact, Civil War history was what I was looking for. That's how Memorial Day, or Decoration Day, started. Oddly, though, to us northerners, it started as a southern event, when folks began visiting Confederate graves on an annual basis. It has grown to include recognition of all of our fallen soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen, who have died on our behalf in all of our wars.


Unfortunately, for many, Memorial Day is nothing more than an extra day off from work. We pray for a nice, warm, sunny day so we can grill and drink and lounge. All well and good - Americans work hard and deserve their time off. I just hope we haven't given up on the reverence our fallen heroes deserve in anticipation of a few hours in the sunshine.


Does a nice sunny day help us remember the suffering of our men and women on the frozen hills of Korea, or in the steamy jungles of Vietnam? Does a beer in one's hand bring back thoughts of Bunker Hill, Manila Bay, or San Juan Hill? Does the average American even know about the Quasi-War with France, the Mexican War of 1848 or even the War of 1812?


I found him. Walter L. Boynton. He threw me a curveball. I figured I'd be speaking to a Massachusetts man, but Walter served with the 3rd Maine Volunteer Intfantry, the "Kennebuck Regiment." He enlisted as a private from his hometown of East Pittston, Maine, on June 4, 1861 at twenty years old and fought at the first battle of Bull Run just over a month later. For the next year he fought alongside his brothers at Williamsburg, Seven Pines, Malvern Hill and the second Bull Run, but something happened along the way. On October 20, 1862, he was discharged due to disability, as a corporal. Somehow, he ended up here, miles from his home, in Hanover, Massachusetts.


Walter survived the war, and most likely had the chance to visit the graves of local soldiers for a few years. It's his memory - and his memories of the men with whom he served - that we must keep alive.


Time: 32 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is going on: book and nonprofit work; heavy yardwork; worked on clearing up the pool; took a swim in another one; dinner with Michelle's family.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

May 24, 2009 - Campground Entrance, Wompatuck State Park, Hingham, Massachusetts


Kentucky has foiled me before, like it did today. Word spread yesterday of a Kentucky warbler, a rarish bird in these parts, singing mightily at Wompatuck. By the time I got there today, he was not to be seen.


But as I said, I'm used to this kind of treatment from Kentucky. I have relatives, a cousin and her kids, my second cousins, who live down that way. One summer several years ago when I was working as the director of a local historical society, I was burning out in a bad way. Everybody needed me for something at all hours of the day. Tons of stress. My mother sensed it, and asked me if I'd join her on a week-long trip to visit the family. I said yes.


For the first three days, I barely moved from the backyard pool, floating on my back and letting my mind do its work. After that third day, I got the bug to explore. I walked to the local cemetery, in Smithtown, on Highway 1861, and found an intriguing stone: "Lafe Arrington, Cavalryman, C.S.A." In this small town, population less than 100, in a state that was split during the Civil War, a Confederate cavalryman was buried. Who was he, and what was his story?


I searched for him. I pushed through mounds of paper at local historical societies, scrupulously pored through books at the local libraries. I followed cavalry units' movements through fields and forests, onto battelfields and into camps. I searched the web for genealogies, unit histories birth and death records. But I never found him. After four days of pursuit, my Confederate cavalryman had eluded me.


So I'm not worried about not seeing the Kentucky warbler today. I've seen one before, and I've got a long life ahead of me, and I'll see one again. Sometimes the pursuit can be more interesting than its ultimate end.


Time: 33 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is happening: sat in as the in-studio co-host of Ray Brown's Talkin' Birds radio program on 95.9 FM WATD; book, magazine and nonprofit work; barbecue plans with Michelle and our friends Joe and Sarah.

May 23, 2009 - Mossy Loop, Furnace Brook Watershed Conservation Area, Marshfield, Massachusetts


We've had rain off and on today, but nothing heavy or serious. Enough to keep wildlife tucked away, but they'll all have to come back out to feed some time. In a way, in the natural cacophony that is May in Massaschuetts, the silence is occasionally welcome.


There's a section of the 244-acre Furnace Brook Watershed area that is very dry, very sandy. The ground here is covered with moss in patches so thick that it's nearly impossible not to step on it, even on the trail. The ground, therefore, is a shade of light blue, and I'm sure it's even prettier in the sunshine.


The evergreens are showing signs of annual growth. The white pines are sprouting from their crowns, and from the ends of their branches, growing taller and wider at the same time. The pitch pines have formed tiny clumps of new cones, flesh-colored little fingers that will eventually gum up the ground when they fall to earth later this year.


While the birds are mostly silent, there is movement on the forest floor. A sudden jump made me stop and examine the brush. A small American toad, covered in orangey-red spots, was attempting to escape my approaching footfalls. It did, but it didn't escape my camera. I took two shots and let it fade into the oblivion of the rainy woods.


Time: 38 minutes.

New species: (Wildflowers in Bloom) Narrow-leaved willow herb (36).

Stranger hellos: 2 (319).

The rest of the day: Minimal book, magazine and nonprofit work.

Friday, May 22, 2009

May 22, 2009 - Swift Property, Union Street, Marshfield, Massachusetts


People grouse about it now, and it always comes down to a close vote, but when all is said and done, the good that has come of the Community Preservation Act in Massachusetts will make it all worthwhile.


One of the five corners of the CPA pentagon is open space. The people of Marshfield voted at the last town meeting to purchase the Swift property, old farmland that will continue to be mowed as a grassland. And that is an important factor for today's story.


We got the call earlier in the week that there was something special happening in the fields at Swift. (I guess that's what I'm gonna call it from now on). Caterpillars! Caterpillars by the hundreds. So we took our Friday morning birding program there today, after a stop at the Ferry Hill Thicket. And the caller was right.


The plantains there were loaded, just dripping with them: Baltimore checkerspot caterpillars. They will turn out to be stunning black, orange and white butterflies before the summer is over. And it's just amazing. These little caterpillars weren't conceived this year; they overwintered on the ground underneath the plants they're climbing on and consuming today. That's through all the snow, the ice, the freezing rains we had this winter.


In about a month, a walk here in the sunshine will be absolutely colorful. I'll have to remember to come back. Maybe, if it's a slow day, we'll bring the Friday morning group back again. Thank you, voters of Marshfield, for saving yet another special place.


Time: 40 minutes.

New species: (Birds) least flycatcher, northern goshawk, least sandpiper, Wilson's warbler (238); (Wildflowers in Bloom) whorled pogonia, spring cress (35).

Stranger hellos: 1 (317).

What else is going on: built the patio set, opened the pool; post office; posted the other blog; got my copy of the June South Shore Living with my article on the history of the Powder Point Bridge in Duxbury; lots of magazine, book and newspaper work deep into the night.

May 21, 2009 - Mann Hill Road, Scituate, Massachusetts


It must be hard to be a Mann. I mean, just think of all the puns they've had to put up with over the years. "I once knew a woman who was a Mann." And all the silly names you could give your kids, like Maytag Repair. I could go on.


But the Mann's - no, it's not Menn - are one of Scituate's oldest families, and therefore one of the oldest families in American history. Scituate was officially on the map in 1636. The naming of Mann Hill Road is just one small tribute to the family. In another part of town, the historical society has preserved an old Mann farmhouse, one that was still without electricity in the 1960s thanks to the hermit-like intransigence of the owner. But that's a walk for another day.


Mann Hill Road is a woodsy suburban corridor, with trees that hang out over the street, making for lots of shade. It passes by a big Catholic church that has a big non-denominational sun-blessed parking lot. There was lots of singing going on in the thickety woods surrounding that lot, including the persistent songs of black-throated blue warblers buzzing from many directions.


The sun was out in full force, and was just teasing the strength of the mercury in the thermometers so early in the day. For the second day in a row, it's headed for the mid-80s, with nary a rain cloud in sight. Ah, life is good. (Insert Mann joke here).


Time: 38 minutes.

New species: (Birds) Canada warbler, willow flycatcher (234); (wildflowers in Bloom) pitcher plant (33); (Butterflies) Red-spotted purple (10).

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is shakin': Full day at work; took a quick walk at the Black Pond Bog Nature Preserve in Norwell on the way home; got my copy of The Keeper's Log with my article on the wreck of the Robert E. Lee off Plymouth in 1928; mowed the lawn. swept the driveway, washed the car.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

May 20, 2009 - Plymouth Avenue, Marshfield, Massachusetts


Back in April of 1941, just a few months before anybody had the words "World War" on their minds, the people of the Ocean Bluff area of Marshfield were preparing to open up their summer homes. The "season" didn't truly start until Memorial Day, but a nice, warm weekend was the perfect excuse to get the jump on summer. On the 21st, though, disaster struck.


A smal brush fire raged across the dry grasslands that defined the area and began nipping at houses. Within hours, winds had pushed the flames across more than 500 properties, leaving many of the permanent residents homeless. The section known colloquially as "Abington" for the number of Ocean Bluff summer residents who lived in that town was gone. Ironically, the conflagration stopped just short of destroying the fire department on Massasoit Avenue, although a fire truck used to battle the flames was consumed.


I walked today from the starting point of the fire to the fire department, a full thirty minutes away down a straight road. It was hard to walk by all the rebuilt homes and think of how so many lost so much in such a short span of time a half century ago.


But it has been repopulated. In fact, the grasslands that were here before are gone entirely. In their place are more homes, and young forest lands.


Aside from watching a house being torn down by a backhoe, which was a pretty interesting sight, the walk was uneventful. That is, until the very last moment.


I'd always heard about the courtship ritual of cedar waxwings, but had never seen it. I heard the bird's high-pitched noise coming from an apple tree and realized I was in fact hearing two waxwings. One had torn off a flower petal and passed it to the other. This was it! The female passed it back, and the male gave it to her again. They repeated this step several times, until they flew away together, their partnership apparently sealed. I couldn't help thinking that the male's offering was a way of saying "don't sit up in the apple tree with anyone else but me."


Time: 61 minutes.

New species: (Birds) Tennessee warbler (232); (Butterflies) Tiger swallowtail (9).

Stranger hellos: None.

And the rest of the day: 8 hours at work; finished the Captains Guide for the year!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

May 19, 2009 - Old Mt. Skirgo Street, Marshfield, Massachusetts


Anbyody know what a Skirgo is? I've got nothing.


What I can tell you is that the Mt. Skirgo Street/Old Mt. Skirgo Street area is one of my favorite places in Marshfield. Both roads run directly toward the Duxbury line, or, should I say, the new one does. The old road, which is not as wide, curves and bends up a hillside, meeting the new one at both ends. So it's not a straight line by any means. On a map they look like the outline of a longbow. In between is a rich natural area just teeming with life. On the other side of the new road is a town water pump station, always symbolic of wildlife.


Standing next to that pump station today I heard 29 species of birds.


But I walked away, as I wanted to get my thirty minutes in. My timing was good or bad, depending how you look at it. I hit the eastern intersection of the roads at the same time that both a Duxbury and a Marshfield elementary school bus did. With all the Marshfield parents there to drop off kids, the intersection was a mass of confusion for a few seconds. As the buses pulled away, I said hello to all the parents retreating to their SUVs.


As the guy walking around with binoculars and a camera, I always get the "whatcha doin'?" line of questions. And once I tell them, the conversation is always the same. Everybody loves to talk about the birds in their backyards, "their" birds. You'd be amazed at how many people actually pay attention to such things.


And not one of them knew what a Skirgo is.


Time: 46 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: 8 (316).

What else is going on: Eight hours at work, including laying out our "Hannah Eames" quest at the North River Wildlife Sanctuary in Marshfield; Captains Guide.

Monday, May 18, 2009

May 18, 2009 - Picture Pond, Wompatuck State Park, Scituate, Massachusetts


I keep all kinds of crap in my car, just in case I need it. Flashlights, a walking stick, raincoats, it's all in there somewhere. I learned a long time ago that I have to be ready to stop at any time in any weather and get out and walk. It's days like today that I'm glad I had the foresight to think ahead, and then forget that I had. When the rain started, I was certainly glad to have my stash.


My plans brought me down through Hingham today, near the Scituate border. That's where my barber is, the same one I've been going to for ten years, the same one that my grandfather visited just after World War II. And the same barber, Pete, is still there.


It wasn't a heavy rain, but it was enough to make me wear a hat. That's a dangerous thing this time of year when walking in the Wompatuck woods. It makes it harder to see the caterpillars dangling from invisible threads along the trails. If you're not careful, you end up wearing them, or worse, swallowing them. Sometimes, the threads snag on the bills of baseball caps, leaving the caterpillars swinging in your face. The really odd thing is when the caterpillars drop away but bits of leaves drop from the trees and catch on the threads, they then hang in place like they're defying gravity.


I thought I had twelve stranger hellos ahead of me on the trail, but it turned out to only be nine. I found a co-worker leading a birding trip, and that one of the attendees had taken a trip to Maine with me in the past. Then, a third man introduced himself, saying he knew me from the Mass Audubon world. Damn! A dozen new faces would have been sweeeeet. But I'll take 9 in the rain any day.


Time: 58 minutes.

New species: (Birds) winter wren, acadian flycatcher (231); (Wildflowers in Bloom) lily of the valley (32).

Stranger hellos: 9 (308).

What else is going on: Came close to finishing my Captains Guide work for the year; haircut, bank, post office, etc.; finished two nonprofit projects for the year; received my copy of Ships Monthly, with my article on the Star of India.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

May 17, 2009 - Boxberry, Rockland, Massachusetts


Yup, I'm paying for it now. My feet have been aching for a few months, and yeterday did them in. I had big plans for this week, but now it seems that I'll have to take it slow. And its a damn shame.


But bad feet doesn't mean my walking days are through. First tactic - change shoes. Second move - flat surfaces.


I walked the northern end of Union Street in Rockland this morning, after sleeping in 'til 8. That, for me, is like sleeping 'til noon. For the first time in months, I did not set an alarm to wake up.


Boxberry was where Rockland got its start in the world of shoe manufacturing. William Hunt - one of those names that means nothing to anybody except for the students of Rockand history - came across the Weymouth line in the 1790s and set up his new home with a small shed in the backyard. On that shed, he hung out his shingle: "William Hunt, Shoemaker." A century later, Rockland was exporting hundreds of thousands of shoes to buyers across the United States.


But Boxberry has so much more history. Timothy Hatherly, who arrived in the 1620s, once owned this land. One of the streets here carries his name. The end of Union Street only comes to a dead end because of Russian submarines; when they started threatening the United States in the 1950s (or, at least, when the thought of them did), the South Weymouth Naval Air Station expanded to inlcude a runway that cut off this main road that once connected Rockland with Weymouth.


There's a church here, or a building that used to be one. It was moved up to the top of this hill a century or so ago and at one time served as a brassiere factory. Today it serves a couple of families as apartments.


Suburbia is in bloom. The azaleas in the front yards are so thick with flowers it's hard to tell where one ends and the next one begins. Flowering dogwood trees are living up to their names. And all the local birds are building their nests.


After 46 minutes, I realized that yes, my feet hurt, but not like they did yesterday or the day before. It's going to be a long road to complete recovery for them, but I intend to walk it.


Time: 46 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is happening: Work on the Captains Guide; dinner with Michelle, our baby boy, my mother, sister, brother, sister-in-law, uncle and cousin!

May 16, 2009 - Bird-A-Thon


My son gave us a fight before going to sleep on Friday night, but we have to take the blame for that. We took him across the country and back, and his sleep patterns still haven't returned to normal. We got him down somewhere around midnight, and my alarm went off at four a.m.


At 5, I was standing at the entrance of the Willow Brook Farm sanctuary in Pembroke, checklist in hand for Bird-A-Thon. A warbling vireo started my day, followed by a blue-winged warbler. Before I left Willow Brook forty minutes later I had recorded thirty species.


At the Furnace Brook Conservation lands I added a brown creeper, a prairie warbler and a killdeer. At the Marshfield Water Department's land on Route 139 I found a great egret in a cranberry bog that was so startled by my appearance that it squawked at me. At Pudding Hill I listened for and heard a hermit thrush. At the pump station on Mt. Skirgo Road I heard a veery, my first of the year. By 8 a.m. I had found 49 species.


I pushed on through Marshfield. At the end of Enterprise Drive I found an indigo bunting, the same one we heard two days ago. Behind CVS Pharmacy on the South River I notched a marsh wren. At the Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary I found a little blue heron standing on a branch so close that I was able to take the photograph above. I also finally found a white-breasted nuthatch, which is usually one of the first birds I see on any given day, but during breeding season is more difficult to track down.


I moved into Duxbury. I was standing in the North Hill Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary at 1 p.m. when I heard my 90th species of the day, an eastern wood-pewee, also a first for the year.


And my feet were killing me.


At 2:30 I helped a young woman who had locked her keys in her car, then joined my teammates at Duxbury Beach. I needed 10 species to make it a "century run" for the day. Would I make it? The brown thrasher, common eider and peregrine falcon made it seem possible, as did the ruddy turnstone. But the sightings petered out. I hit 96, and my feet couldn't take it any more. I retreated for home, wondering if I had dome myself more harm than good.


Time: 440 minutes.

New speices: (Birds) green heron, ruddy turnstone, laughing gull, eastern wood-pewee, veery, bobolink (229); (Wildflowers in Bloom) oxeye daisy, common winter cress, autumn olive, wild lily of the valley (31); (Butterflies) common sulphur (8).

Stranger hellos: 36 (299).

Other happenings: None!

May 15, 2009 - Plymouth Beach, Plymouth, Massachusetts


In reality, we didn't walk all of Plymouth Beach. We walked it until we could see the tern colony at the far end through our telescopes. It's other name is Long Beach, and it's easy to see why.


We were walking because we were kicking off Mass Audubon's annual Bird-A-Thon spring fundraiser, when we, the staff, head out for 24 hours of scouring the state to find every bird species that we can. Some of us have per-bird pledges, to chase others have just promised to do our best for the avian diversity of the state. But none of us can believe that we're being paid to walk around outdoors all day.


Plymouth Beach is one of those special places in American history. It juts to the north-northwest from the spot where the Eel River meets the shore, a thin stretch of sand that ends in a bulbous headland that helps form the entarnce to Plymouth Harbor. To the north, a second stretch of sand, Duxbury Beach, reaches down to the south-southeast and almost crosses with Plymouth Beach. The Gurnet headland, at the end of Duxbury Beach, helps form that entrance to the harbor.


Of all of our gropup of 12, I was probably the only one thinking about being a Pilgrim sailing aboard Mayflower towards the barrier beaches in 1620 and seeing the old Wampanpag plantation on the slope ahead. Or of being a Plymouthean in 1920 to celebrate the tercentennial of their arrival, and the unveiling of the new portico ofer Plymouth Rock. Plymouth Rock - now there's a story I'll have to tell you some day. What a jumbled set of myths that has become.


So our walk rolled on, soft sand underfoot, my feet really starting to hurt. Since I got back from Nantucket in March, I've been experiencing foot pain of one type or another. Tomorrow might be a bad day.


Time: 97 minutes.

New species: (Birds) little blue heron, willet, laughing gull, upland sandpiper, least tern (228); (Wildflowers in Bloom) birdfoot violet, rosa rugoa (27).

Stranger hellos: 14 (263)
What else is going on: Full 14-hour workday, including our typical 3 1/2-hour Friday morning bird walk and visits to Myles Standish State Forest and the Plymouth Airport.

Friday, May 15, 2009

May 14, 2009 - Cranberry Cove, Marshfield, Massachusetts


It's absolutely amazing how a bird can fly for as much as 3,000 miles from its wintering grounds in the south and return to a precise spot on the map to begin its annual breeding cycle. Every year when I walk the half-completed Cranberry Cove development, I find an orchard oriole. I can search for miles radiating outward from this point and not find a single one. The next one I know of reliably is in Watertown, up near the heart of Boston, many miles away. Yet here he is, year after year.


There are a lot of theories out there as to how they know to return to their beloved spots, and I doubt that I can improve upon any of them. We believe, for instance, that birds can read the earth's magnetic fields and can navigate their ways back home by doing so. But imagine being just a couple of ounces in weight, flying from Florida to Boston on your own willpower and finding the exact tree in which you built a nest the previous year. I've heard stories of barn swallows returning to places where barns once stood and circling for days, looking for their former homes.


What if, due to a late start to spring, the trees below you are not as leafed out as they were the year before when you arrived? What if they don't look the same? Are you sure this is the place you wanted to come back to? Do birds rely on sight as much as we do, or am I anthropomorphizing them to find an answer?


Today was a beautiful spring day, with wildflowers bursting into bloom at every turn. Baltimore orioles, yellow warblers, gray catbirds and eastern kingbirds were the birds of the day, with several other species filling the air with song.


Time: 46 minutes.

New species: (Birds) semi-palmated plover, semi-palmated sandpiper, ruby-throated hummingbird, eastern kingbird, warbling vireo, wood thrush, scarlet tanager, indigo bunting, orchard oriole (223); (Mushrooms) spring entoloma (5).

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is happening: Full day on the Captains Guide - almost done; dinner with Sarah and Joe.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

May 13, 2009 - Couch Memorial Cemetery, Marshfield, Massachusetts


I realized today that I don't mind so much when my heels get wet. It's when the front half of my foot gets soaked and I spend the rest of the day squishing in my shoes that I get miserable. That's the problem with being a Pisces. Our feet rule our emotions. If they feel bad, I'm cranky. When I came to a puddle on the path today, I raised my toes and heel-walked through it. Mission accomplished.

I didn't walk in the cemetery today, I walked behind it. There's a path that leads down to the North River and a pine forest that makes me think, "Man, if I was an owl, this is the kind of place I'd want to live." And apparently they do, judging by the consistently refreshed whitewash on the trees.

The river drifts by lazily here, heading eastward into a turn, pooling up in a corner and then performing one of the waterway's famous silent twists. Portions of the river have been known as the "No Gains" for centuries, because one seems to be in perpetual stasis in downriver progress, yet expending constant energy. But I was on foot, so no worries.

I turned a corner after a serious near-brush experience with some healthy looking poison ivy, and a first-of-the-year encounter with a singing marsh wren, and found something I've been looking for over the past four days, a pair of Pink Lady's Slippers. The wildflower hasn't turned up in the spots I usually check for it, but there it was today. I seek it when I hear my first Baltimore oriole sing, but they were early this year.

Oh well, we're altogether now, so life is good.

Time: 59 minutes.
New species: (Birds) marsh wren (214); (Wildflowers in Bloom) pink lady's slipper, starflower (25).
Stranger hellos: None.
What else is going on: Six hours at work; spent the rest of the day working on the Captains Guide.

May 12, 2009 - East Head Reservoir, Myles Standish State Park, South Carver, Massachusetts


If the rain was going to get me, it was going to get me. I had been walking for a half an hour when the sky suddenly clouded over, threatening to soak me. My only conern, and it was slight, was that I might end up walking into my lecture drenched from head to toe without the opportunity to even change my shirt. But I needn't have worried. The rain never came, save for a few harmless drops.


I found life to be in heavy motion today. On one paved pathway I found thousands of ants crossing from one side to the other in a steady stream. Moving the queen to a new home? Found a good food source? I'll never know. It's times like this I wish I could channel E.O. Wilson, but all I get is old Rice-A-Roni commercials.


After an hour straight on foot I paused by the reservoir, realizing that if I stopped moving, the only noise I was hearing stopped as well. I sat down and let the silence wash over me.


But I found that I was not alone. Every once in while I would hear a tiny splash, and I could see that fish were breaking the surface, nipping at bugs. A small flock of common grackles found a small islet on the reservoir, big enough, at least, to host nests for both mute swans and Canada geese. The male swan was not happy with this arrangement. It raised its wings aside its body to look as big as possible and glided menacingly toward the Canadas. They honked. He paddled harder. Eventually they all took flight, with the swan in slow, laboring pursuit. Finally, they all returned to the water's surface and started the process again.


I looked to my left, and noticed that I was being watched. A painted turtle had lifted its head above the surface and was eyeing me from afar. More than that, a small school of what looked to be white perch had gathered not far from my reflection and were looking my way. For once, I sat stiil and let them watch me.


Time: 75 minutes.

New species: (Bird) Whip-poor-will (213, lifebird); (Wildflowers in Bloom) wild strawberry (23).

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is happening: 14-hour workday, including giving a talk to the Friends of Myles Standish State Forest on the Massachusetts Breeding Bird Atlas 2 project; submitted an article to Northeast Boating on the decommissioning of the Coast Guard's last 44-foot motor lifeboat.

Monday, May 11, 2009

May 11, 2009 - Marshhawk Way, Marshfield, Massachusetts


Blue jays screech a lot. At most times of the year, it's not that it's unwarranted, it's just that it's usually not life and death. They'll harrass an owl or a hawk just because it's there. I learned today that they have real reasons to keep up the practice through all the seasons.


At first, I couldn't make out exactly what was going on in the tree above. I could see - and hear - a screeching blue jay. I could see it diving onto a nest. And I could hear four or five other blue jays joining the horrid chorus.


I focused on the nest. From far below, I could see a hawk's head. And then I could see the tail. Dusky orange. Simple. A red-tailed hawk.


The blue jay meant business. It wasn't just hollering. It was diving on the hawk. And it wasn't just diving. It was striking. Striking hard enough to make the hawk flinch with each talon hit. The hawk made eye contact with me, but decided that what it was doing was more important than fleeing from me. The blue jay kept striking, the hawk kept wincing.


Then, the hawk made its move. It flew deeper into the trees, clutching a large section of the blue jay's nest in its talons. It landed on a branch, still holding the nest's contents. I couldn't make out if there was a youngster in there or not, but the mother jay picked up the intensity of its strikes. When the hawk flew away, it did so without anything in its talons. Whatever it had attempted to grab had either survived, or dropped to the ground. There's most likely one less blue jay in the world today. But I'm sure Mother Nature plans for such things. Blue jays lay multiple eggs for a reason, and not just one at a time.


I didn't even get a chance to tell you about Marshhawk Way, and the rest of my sightings there today. Too much drama unfolding. Too much life, and possibly some death.


Time: 66 minutes.

New species: Nashville warbler, prairie warbler (212).

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is happening: Doctor's appointment; Captains Guide; worked on magazine articles; bank, post office and other errands; read Lake of the Sky: Lake Tahoe in the High Sierras of California and Nevada by George Wharton James.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

May 10, 2009 - Gate 10, Wompatuck State Park, Hingham, Massachusetts


There's nothing like hitting the ground running. Flying from the West Coast to the East Coast takes more time than it should. Somewhere in there I lost three hours. Oh well, I stole three on the way out, so we're all even.


Clouds and thunderstorms last night were a welcome change from the cloudless desert, although I certainly enjoyed the west. And it was great to hear some familiar noises as I awoke today, the robins nesting outside my window calling out relentlessly just before dawn. In a way, I'll miss the Steller's jay that woke me up each day out in Tahoe.


Apart from the ridiculous rise in gas prices - 28 cents in a week??? - the most obvious changes I can see are the trees being completely leafed out and the warblers having arrived in full force. I walked the old macadam road beyond gate 10 today, in the old naval ammunition depot, in search of a few species. In the process, I bumped into more than a dozen people, including a couple of friends.


One of the nicest changes I felt more than noticed. I'm back at sea level, and the breathing is good. As I took in the sights and sounds, I took the time to take some deep breaths. I certainly could get used to living "at altitude," but for the moment, I'm glad I'm home.
Time: 66 minutes.
New species: (Birds) hooded warbler, cerulean warbler, red-eyed vireo, bay-breasted warbler, American redstart, chestnut-sided warbler, magnolia warbler, black-throated blue warbler, Lincoln's sparrow (210); (Wildflowers in bloom) Jack-in-the-pulpit (22).
Stranger hellos: 13 (249).
What else is going on: Mother's Day! Surprised both my wife and my mother-in-law with gifts; called my mom; mowed the lawn (yes, dear); Captains Guide, Captains Guide, Captains Guide! Worked on three other magazine articles.

May 9, 2009 - Virginia City, Nevada


Ah, good old Virginia City, one of the most storied places of the Old West. If anything described in the dime western novels of old - gunfights in the streets, fistfights erupting over card games, claim-jumpers thieving from legitimate claim holders - it must have happened here. The Geiger Grade, the road that leads into town, is a long and winding one, up and over the mountains through desert scrubland. The "city" pops up as if out of a jack-in-the-box box, a settlement as unlikely as finding a floating city on the ocean. Lawlessness thrived in places like this one.


But there was a time, when the cry of "Silver! Silver in Washoe!" rang out across the west, that this was the city to be in. Men from all around the area arrived with hopes high and muscles ready; many left with hopes dashed and bodies worn down. Some made instant fortunes, others died in saloons, by the bullet or bottle. Three men took their own lives over losses at the same poker table. That "suicide table" is still on display as a relic of the day.


And there's so much more. Mark Twain started his career here, writing for the Territorial Enterprise after failing at his attempts in the mines. There's a portrait of woman with a dress made entirely out of silver coins. And it's Nevada, so, of course, there's gambling.


Virginia City may be best known to modern-day TV watchers as the place where the Cartwrights handled most of their business, Ben, Adam, Hoss and Little Joe. The locals certainly call attention to that fact. The word "Bonanza" is sprinkled liberally along Route 341, the main road through town.


It's close to the real thing, the authentic past, but the cars that ride through the center of town help to kill the illusion. So do the bikers screaming obscenities in front of the bars, although I guess that might actually be close to the real thing. Ah well, no place is perfect.


Time: 63 minutes.

New species: (Birds) golden eagle (lifebird), Swainson's hawk (201); (Mammals) mule deer, piute ground squirrel (22).

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is shakin': made a Henry Winkler sighting at the Reno airport - Aaayyy!; flew home through Chicago and Providence; read the graphic novels Batman: Haunted Knight and Batman: Dark Victory, both by Jeph Loeb; read A Peep at Washoe: Sketches of Virginia City, NT by J. Ross Browne.

May 8, 2009 - Angora Fire Area, Lake Tahoe Basin, California


I had no idea when I walked beyond the gate that I was entering anything but another section of the Tahoe woods. To my defense, at first glance, I really had no reason to know anything else. But the sign said to look out.


It said to watch out for uneven surfaces, dislodged rocks and for fallen trees. And it said that the Angora fire had burned here.


The fire started in June 2007, and raged for more than a week. By the time it was done, 3,100 acres had been burned, about 250 homes destroyed, more damaged. Through a dense, wet, rich area I walked, until I was confronted with the disaster scene.


It was hard to take in. Piles of brush had been gathered, collected near large downed trees, charred black from the fire. Here, at the north end of the conflagration, the flames seemed to have stayed pretty low. Most of the trees that were affected were burned only about halfway up. Many of them were green at their tops, a good sign that they'll be alright. But there were many that were obviously dead, clinging to their brown needles well beyond taking their last grab at the sun's rays.


This mixed scene in the Tahoe forests - an unusual number of dead among the living - are not rare. They're a sign of recovery of another sort. When the south end of the lake was scoured for lumber to support the mines of the Comstock Lode a century and a half ago, secondary growth trees took advantage of the open sky, mostly white fir. But as the Jefferson pines have triumphantly returned, they've started to squeeze out the white firs. The effect is one of rich green treetops with browns scattered throughout.


But here, it was the fire. There are other very good signs that there is no longterm damage. The birds are here, they're healthy and they're apparently happy, whatever that is for a bird. If there is any longterm damage to worry about, it may be in another ecosystem: the lake. Ash that flew from the trees, and, more worrisomely, the homes, carried into the lake. Let's hope that the damage was minimal, that Tahoe will forever be its beautiful blue.
Time: 61 minutes.
New species: Cassin's vireo, Cassin's finch, great-tailed grackle (199, all lifebirds).
Stranger hellos: None.
The rest of my day: Breakfast with the whole family; read the graphic novel Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Jeph Loeb; relaxed!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

May 7, 2009 - Tallac Historic Site, Lake Tahoe Basin, California


With all the ups and downs of the mountain trails of the past few days, I figured on finally taking myself on a walk that would get me on a straight line to the shore of the lake. Tallac seemed as direct as anything else on the map.


That may be what the Pope family was thinking when they built their house at the lakeshore in the 1890s. Tahoe had been "discovered" merely 60 years before they built their escape, on February 14, 1844 by John C. Fremont. Just more than a decade later with the discovery of the silver of the Comstock Lode underneath Virginia City, the south end of Tahoe became a lumbering station. The wood - mostly Jefferson pine - went to the mines as supports, nearly the entire area denuded. If not for "Lucky" Baldwin, an investor who preserved some land that included trees that are now 300 years old, right here at Tallac, the landscape might look entirely different.


The Tallac site is home to several historic buildings, and several other former sites of historic homes. Once the region went through its industrial phase, the commercial age of pleasure vacationing began. Tallac was home to hotels and overflow cottages, places where folks enjoyed the beauty of the place where the forested mountains met the lake.


As for me, I stalked a least chipmunk unsuccessfully, but got a few other good pics in the process. And I finally dipped my hand in the lake, just to say I did.


Time: 63 minutes.

New species: (Birds) white-headed woodpecker, Williamson's sapsucker, California thrasher, MacGillivray's warbler, ash-throated flycatcher (196, all lifebirds); (Mammals) golden-mantled ground squirrel, Douglas squirrel, long-tailed vole (20).

Stranger hellos: 3 (236).

What else is happening: took a boat ride on the M.S. Dixie II out of Zephyr Cove; watched a bald eagle fly over Eagle Point; swam a little in the pool, spent some time hot tubbing; dinner out with a total of 10 family members, including me.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

May 6, 2009 - Vikingsholm Castle, Emerald Bay State Park, California


If I had $50 million, I'd like to think that I might find some creative ways to spend at least some of it. I'd like to think that I could come up with something like the woman who built Vikingsholm on the sandy shore of Lake Tahoe.


It may be cliche, as I've heard the story before - travel to Europe, find an architectural piece you like, bring it home and make it stand out in relatively young America. That's what Mrs. Wright did, finding a Scandinavian castle and making it her own. And it's just such a cool thing to see.


The walk down to Vikingsholm looks intimidating, but is quite simple. The signs even say that people with "medical conditions" - whatever the hell that means - should think twice about taking the walk. The mountains loom up steeply in the background, peering menacingly over one's shoulder as he strides ever downward toward the lake. Melting snow runs off the slopes, trickling through the brush, rushing more heavily down well-worn causeways, sometimes just spilling over a rockface enough to give it a glossy, shimmering, moving surface.


The size of the trees here is just amazing to an easterner. They're so big around, of such tremendous girth, that they make me think in centuries, rather than in decades, when mentally aging them. But I don't know. They may just be quick growers.


The castle, as it's called, is a Viking stronghold in miniature, a beautiful mix of stone and wood. There are two rooftops that hold sod lawns, complete with watering systems. The chimneys have extra brickwork, artistically designed with crosses at their tops. There's stained glass. There's a peak at which two carved dragons cross each other's paths.


What Vikingsholm did for me today was reinforce the amazing breadth and depth of the United States. Since all history is local, no matter how much we study, how far we roam, no American will ever know all of American history. That's what Chris, Daddio and I talked about every time we stopped to catch out breath on the way back up that 1000 foot climb to get home to our less than $50 million lives.


Time: 68 minutes.

New species: (Birds) Bullock's oriole, spotted towhee (191, lifebirds); (Mammals) black bear (cinnamon morph) (19).

Stranger hellos: 12 (233).

What else is going on: more work on Captains Guide; still on vacation with the family; read both the Batman: Year One and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns graphic novels by Frank Miller.

May 5, 2009 - Eagle Falls, Emerald Bay State Park, California


Falls seem to be the watchword of my life recently. We simply don't have anything in eastern Massachusetts that we can really consider "falls." When we get to western Mass, into the Berkshires, well, then we're talking. But it's still not like what you see in the rest of the country.


The falls of today were Upper and Lower Eagle Falls, part of the Emerald Bay State Park, down at the southwestern corner of Lake Tahoe.


Lake Tahoe. OMG, as the texters say. If you took the island of Aruba and placed it into the center of Lake Tahoe, it would still be an island, with miles to go to the mainland all around. If you took the Petronas Towers from Kuala Lumpur and put them in the deepest part of Lake Tahoe, they'd be completely underwater. Only nine lakes in the world are deeper than Tahoe, and only two in the United States.


But the amazing thing about Tahoe is the constant, unending, circumferential view of the mountains. No matter where you go along the edge of the lake, there they are. And they're all melting, weeping into the lake. Rivers and streams from all directions flow into the lake. Eagle Falls dumps the waters of Eagle Creek down a thousand foot pathway through rock and trees, finally slowly trickling down into a sandy outwash into the lake. The sound of the rushing water was so strong that it drowned out the park personnel cutting up downed trees that lay across the trail. What an amazing place.


Time: 46 minutes.

New species: yellow-headed blackbird (189, lifebird).

Stranger hellos: 6 (221).

What else is happening: still on vacation with the family, still working on the Captains Guides.

Monday, May 4, 2009

May 4, 2009 - Inspiration Point, Emerald Bay State Park, California


The switchback road leading to Inspiration Point was inspiring in itself. I live in a land of sea level sands, of drumlins, not mountains, of sea breezes and salty air. Except for this week. I don't live anywhere near there right now.


I stepped out of the car at 6600 feet, with snow at my feet, Jeffrey pines reaching overhead with their humongous pine cones. My chest instantly felt heavy. Take a lowlander out of his element, and you get a winded sack of meat. At least that's how I felt. But there was so much to see.


I could hear Canada geese down below, so I focused my binocs on the waters of Lake Tahoe. But wait, how far down was the lake? Those Canada geese, I could barely make out any details on them. Strangely, I easily could make out a western grebe - perhaps the adrenaline of a lifebrd sighting kicked in and made me focus more intently. Or I have a mental block against Canada geese.


The birds were circling a small rocky island with an odd crown on one end. Small from this distance, of course. It turns out that Fannette Island is 150 feet high, and the crown is a tea room built by the woman who owned nearby Vikingsholm Castle, which I could also see from the overlook. The Castle and Tea Room were perfect examples of Roaring Twenties excesses, before the world collapsed in economic depression in 1929. Mrs. Lora Knight, who built both, would take friends out to have tea in a 250-square foot room on the island, the only island on Lake Tahoe.


I hiked to a ridge and looked over the top. Amidst the sounds of the mountain birds I could see Cascade Lake, a backdrop for early films. I could almost hear Nelson Eddy singing to Jeannette Macdonald in Rose Marie. Almost. The screechy yells of the Stellar's jays kept drowning him out.


Time: 65 minutes.

New species: (Birds) western grebe, Townsend's solitaire, Townsend's warbler (188, all lifebirds); (Mammals) western gray squirrel, least chipmunk (18).

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is happening: work on magazine articles, vacationing with the family.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

May 3, 2009 - Timberlodge Resort, South Lake Tahoe, California


OK, so this is getting a little bit crazy. On Friday, I saw a blue jay on a nest in Massachusetts. Yesterday, I watched a western scrub jay building a nest in Nevada. Today, I watched Stellar's jays carrying nesting materials around a small pine forest in California. Tree states, three days, three jays.


I'm on a three-hour lag, so four in the morning feels like seven to me. I could have been up very early, out the door and walking, but the rain was coming down in buckets, right over the top of the mountain behind our resort. We're not right up against Lake Tahoe, a street or two away from it, but from our hotel room we can watch the gondolas climb to the top of the mountain, the inner workings of the Heavenly Lake Tahoe Ski Resort.


The rain eventually let up, although the sun did not necessarily shine immediately. I was out the door before 7 a.m. just exploring the grounds of the resort. Downy and hairy woodpeckers were working the trees, and mountain chickadees were singing like their eastern cousins, the gaggle that I know so well from Massachusetts. Brewer's blackbirds were hanging out above a parking lot on a wire, and those Stellar's jays, everywhere I looked, were building nests.


My walk was cut short. My cell phone rang: while you're out, can you swing by the grocery store and pick up...? The rain picked up as I headed back to the resort.


Time: 45 minutes.

New species: Stellar's jay, mountain chickadee, Brewer's blackbird (185, all lifebirds).

Stranger hellos: 2 (215).

What else is happening: work on the Captains Guide magazines.

May 2, 2009 - West Seventh Street, Reno, Nevada


I could feel it happening as I walked. I could feel it in my hair, on my hands, on my face. I was drying out. Twenty-four hours ago I was walking around the wet and rainy South Shore of Boston. Today, I was walking in the shadow of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, looking up to whitecaps of snow at about 7,000 feet.




The impact is immediate. I'd moved from oak trees and muddy soils to the arid southwest. From house finches and house sparrows to....well, house finches and house sparrows. Some things are constant no matter where you are, I guess. But there was plenty different to see.




I needed fresh air, as much as I could get. Traveling cross country by plane is bad enough. None of the major airlines wants to admit that any human being is over five feet tall or wider at the shoulders than eighteen inches. After being herded from Providence to Chicago to Salt Lake City to Reno, I needed that air, and I needed to stretch my legs.




One of the interesting sights I took in was that of a western scrub jay flying into a shrub in a front yard with a stick in its bill, nest building. Yesterday, it was a blue jay on a nest in Scituate, Massachusetts. Today, a western scrub jay building a nest in Reno. Spring in the desert is like spring everywhere else.




Time: 46 minutes.


New species: western scrub jay, California quail, California gull (lifebird), white-throated swift (lifebird) (182).


Stranger hellos: 1 (213).


What else is happening: read 78: The Boston Red Sox, A Historic Game, and a Divided City by Bill Reynolds and Filipinos in the U.S. Navy & Coast Guard During the Vietnam War by Ray L. Burdeos; drove from Reno to South Lake Tahoe, California.

Friday, May 1, 2009

May 1, 2009 - Town Water Pump Station, Cornet Robert Stetson Road, Scituate, Massachusetts


Town water pump stations are always great places to stop and check for wildlife. They're usually on wetlands; just makes sense. Wildlife needs water, from birds to mammals to reptiles and so on. So we've made a habit on our Friday morning programs of noting the wet places, and stopping in when we're passing by.


We often have big dreams when walking in. We try for the harder-to-find birds, the soras, the rails. And we always fail. They seem to find us when we're least expecting them. Instead, we get the typical loudmouths, the red-winged blackbirds, the blue jays, the yellow warblers.


As we walked today, we noted a section of cut back saltmarsh, gray skies, and a wide patch of grass interrupted by a relatively smaller patch of gills-over-the-ground, a small purple flowered plant that most homeowners recognize as an a combatant in their holy quest to fin the perfect lawn. Specialists know it, though, as the sinus clearing "self-heal."


In the end, the bird we marveled at most today was a quiet one. There, in a thicket paintsakingly chosen for its dense tangle of branches, its protection from predators, its seclusion, was a blue jay sitting on a nest. Imagine how many of these scenes we miss as we move through our daily lives.


Time: 30 minutes.

New species: (Birds) ruffed grouse, rose-breasted grosbeak (178); (Butterflies) painted lady (6); wild mustard, gills over the ground, buttercup, clover, money plant (21).

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is happening: Full 8 hours at work ; submitted two articles to South Shore Living; submitted my quarterly "Natural Inquirer" piece to Mass Audubon's Connections newsletter; more Captains Guide work deep into the night; posted the other blog.