Thursday, June 23, 2011

142 & 143. Freetown and Fall River: Freetown and Fall River State Forest

As the skies began to threaten to release their pent up precipitation, I wandered into another area for the first time in my life. I had heard about, read about and generally wondered about this particular state forest, but again, it had never called me in.

I headed for Profile Rock. I wanted to know why it was that I had never heard of it, especially given the famousness of the Old Man of the Mountain up in Franconia Notch. I left the parking lot for the trail marked "Overlook" and nearly walked directly into a wood thrush. What a beautiful sight.

I found the rocks, complete with their early twentieth century-style steps to them. I tried to find a way to the top, circling the entire base, reading as little profane graffiti as possible along the way. I could hear voices at the top and began to wonder if my youthful climbing days were at an end. Then it hit me: follow the Dunkin Donuts trash. Sad, but true.

Within a few moments, I was on top of this particluar piece of the world, looking for miles across the treetops. It was even better than Abrams Rock. One cell tower here, one steepleless church tower there, and the rest a sea of green, like the Beatles sang in Yellow Submarine. Three young men joined me on the stone, but my guess was that when they think of the word "stone" another meaning comes to mind first. I smelled them long before they arrived. But then again, had I said "stone" to an ancient Babylonion, he, too, might conjure up a different image. For a reference, watch the Monty Python movie Life of Brian. ("Nobody is to stone anyone, until I blow this whistle!")

To catch the Fall River side, I moved across the street to the general wildlife management section of the park, and there I finally came face to face with Pine Cone Johnny himself. The state owes a lot to the Depression era Civilian Conservation Corps workers who spent so much time in our forests, and here the state had done the right thing, erecting a statue in their memory. As Johnny and I stood together in the rain, I realized that for all my frustrations with the State of Massachusetts during the day, consisting of parking problems, fees, neglect, abuse and more, this one act did a lot to balance the ledger.

And with that, I said goodbye to Bristol County for 2011.

141. Berkley: Dighton Rock State Park

After having wandered in the woods all morning, this park was a revelation. I had no clue what to expect when I saw it on the map. I figured I'd be parking at the beginning and walking to find the rock, but no, one drives to the end of the park.

And I'll tell you one thing, had I walked all that way to find what I did at the end, I'd be beyond pissed off.

Dighton Rock is apparently inside a small museum. I can't tell you for sure because the museum is locked up tightly. I came all this way to Dighton Rock State Park, and couldn't see Dighton Rock. What a downer, man. I tried to appease myself by reading the brochure mounted outside so I could at least learn more about it, but the first sentence said that the rock is a "bolder." I walked away.

The park sits sublimely on the Taunton River, complete with soaring ospreys, diving cormorants and surface-skittering swallows. Across the way a marina sits strangely quietly. Somewhere in the woods, a state employee was munching up some brush with a mower of some kind, while a woman walked her ancient dog by the water. "What happened to Mr. Swan?" she asked me, to which I alsmot replied that I wasn't a local, and didn't know Mr. Swan. "He's dead, down by the water's edge." Ah, that kind of swan.

A grandfather and grandson pulled up just as I was walking out of the area marked with a sign that indicated it was the approximate site of a former cemetery. They popped their trunk and began assembling fishing rods. The little guy said, "Hey, it rained here." By Jove...the kid was right. I guess in my wanderings I just dodged the raindrops.

There would be more to come.

140. Raynham: Raynham State Forest

Well, another day, another disappointment with the state. Borderland State Park had closed gates beyond the time they were supposed to be open, this state forest had not had any trail maintenance for at least a year, maybe more, and there would be more problems during the day, too.

Sadly, despite the inviting nature of the place, on maps, even by way of the sign posted outside the trail, one would have to be a hobbit to walk here on a regular basis. Trees from both sides of the trail had overtaken the available walking space, making it so that I had to crouch down to get through some spaces I could not easily push straight through. I fought on for the full half hour, but figure this is a scratch off the list of future visits until I hear that any type of maintenance has been done.

On the other hand, perhaps that is the grand plan, to let it return to its natural glory. I'm all for that. I just wish I knew what was going on. But then, I say that all the time in all phases of my life, from wondering about baseball trade deadline moves to my son putting plastic eggs in my boots.

Onto the next town.

139. Norton: Leo G. Yelle Conservation Area

If I had my way, I would have called the plants along the trail for encroachment. Of the many conservation lands I walked today (on June 22), two displayed this type of overgrowth. It was almost as if nature didn't want us there...

But who am I to complain? I've always felt that nature should be absorbed through all the senses, with a bit of deferral for each method, of course. We shouldn't eat and touch certain things, while smells can't really do us much harm, despite what we think of skunks. Walking through this wood was like shaking a wet, slippery hand with thousands of plants, over and over and over again.

Making so many contacts, I finally was interested enough to look down and see what it was I was brushing up against. The predominant species was the highbush blueberry, an identification I made very easily once I noticed that they had started to sprout their blueberries. And by the way, am I the only one who remembers the episode from Taxi in which Alex Riga and Jim Ignatowski argue over whether or not the blue berries they find in the woods are blueberries, or just blue berries? Ah, childhood re-run memories.

My final turnaround point in Norton consisted of a walk over a small muddy brook that was much more mud than brook. I've found, too, thanks to this particular walk, that one of the keys to avoiding mosquitoes is to just keep walking at a great pace so they can't catch you. Especially when you're leaning over trying to take a picture of the first Indian pipes you've found this year.

137 & 138. Mansfield and Easton: Borderland State Park

My buddy Taylor has been telling me about Borderland for years, but my schedule has just never swung me through the area. Strangely, I did get married about three miles away, or at least partied the night away after the ceremony, in Sharon. Would have looked weird, though, walking through the woods in a tuxedo. In the rain. At night. Might have been a first for Borderland, who knows.

But with this project, it was inevitable. I strolled down the Bay Road Lane entrance, entranced. The corridor through the trees leads to open fields and an old farmhouse. I took the right hand turn and kept going until I could split the difference between Leach Pond and Upper Leach Pond, spending half my time in each community.

I came across a bench with an inscrpition on it: "In wood lies the greatest gift of all, peace." It was a memorial to a lost friend of the community - the community being that of Borderland State Park - and overlooked a serene setting on Upper Leach Pond. Nearby, I found a length of monofilament fishing line dangling from a tree limb, and a red and white bobber securely fashioned to it. If that didn't speak of peacefulness, I don't know what does. The "stress" of losing a bit of fishing line on a quiet spring morning is far down on my list of life's worries. In fact, I wish it happened to me more often.

Good call, Taylor.

136: Rehoboth: Rehoboth State Forest

For the first time this year, I came across something that made me retreat for more research. And I think I'm still stumped, but I'm not sure. And that's not a tree joke.

As I walked through the Rehoboth State Forest, among the towhees and ovenbirds and veeries, not to mention the completely out-of-control chipmunks, I found a sight I had never seen before. Witch hazel trees - among my favorites in New England - were sporting horrible-looking - and that last word is important - blisters of some kinds. I took photos, finished my half hour and went home to investigate.

It looks to me that what we're seeing here is the results of aphids that regularly attach themselves to witch hazel leaves. The stem mother locates a plant, injects enzymes or hormones into the leaf and the gall builds around her. She then lays her eggs and releases her first brood, all females, upon the world, who sprout wings and disperse to increase their population. The process is not life-threatening to the plant. But man does it look ugly.

The oddity is the comparison to the plant itself. The witch hazel tree holds its seeds in tightly-packed cases in fall that build up so much pressure that they literally pop, and shoot the seeds across the neighboring forest floor, spreading out their own population.

Either way, I learned something new today. Even if it did make my skin crawl.

135. Swansea: Swansea Village Park

It seemed rocks would be a central theme as I walked in Seekonk, Swansea and Rehoboth (on June 15). As I sought my Swansea destination on the fly I consulted a map that pinpointed Abrams Rock in Swansea Village Park, and I decided that was to be the place. Seein' as there was no other place around the place, I reckon, I reckon, to misquote the Three Stooges.

I was hit initially with the fragrancy of the flowers as I stepped from the parking lot behind the library, past the cemetery and into the woods. Almost immediately I happened upon some fascinating conglomerate rocks, but noting like the purplish Roxbury puddingstone I'm so used to seeing on the South Shore, my little home corner of the state. I sensed that there'd be more.

But my geology lesson was quickly interrupted. A flock of chipping sparrows spirited into the area, a quartet of chattering little voices, three smaller than the one: a mama and babies! As mama moved through the trees finding food, the little ones clung right to her side, begging the whole way. I noted it for the Breeding Bird Atlas project and jokingly told myself that for the next half hour I didn't have to pay any attention whatsoever to chipping sparrows. They were officially avifauna non grata.

I turned the corner on the trail where I figured Abrams Rock was supposed to be. Was that it, seriously, that distant erratic with no discernible accessibility? I walked away slightly disappointed, then bumped right into the real thing. I felt like Frank Barone on Everybody Loves Raymond.

Holy crap!

My first reaction is always the same - I have to climb that bad boy. The pathway up was pretty simple, so I scaled it to the apex and took in the treetop view.

Ahh, that's the stuff.

134. Seekonk: Carotunk Wildlife Sanctuary

I had to check the map. Was I even in Massachusetts anymore? I thought I was in Seekonk, but the sign clearly said "Audubon Society of Rhode Island." I checked my bearings, dotted my t's and crossed my eyes, but yes, it was true: a Rhode Island sanctuary in Massachusetts.


In all honesty, while it seems unusual, it's not really that uncommon. Mass Audubon's overnight camp, Wildwood, is in New Hampshire. And the important fact is not who owns the land, but rather that it got saved and is being actively protected. Judging by the neatness of the nature center grounds, the busy feeders, the predator guards built onto the mouths of the bird boxes spread throughout the fields and the two guys I saw walking the well-maintained trails with loppers in hand, I'd say excellent care is being taken of this beautiful place.

Old farms just hold so much charm. They needed it all: woods for firewood and building construction, fields for crops or grazing, and water to supply both of those processes. They make wonderful wildlife sanctuaries, as their habitat variation leads to species diversity, from plants to mammals to birds to bugs.

This place also had two other natural things that caught my attention. First, Monument Rock - after all, you know me and rocks - led me on an at first exhilirating and then frustratingly disappointing journey. The anticipation was the enjoyable part; seeing the rock covered in grafitti by some moron with enough manual dexterity to operate a spray can trigger and not much else deflated my balloon. Second, I found a rock ridge that got a whole line of Blazing Saddles jokes going in my head. Rock Ridge was the town that welcomed their new sherriff with a laurel, and hardy handshake.

So, yes, Carotunk is a place I will visit again. Not bad for a bunch of Rhode Islanders.

133. Westport: Gooseberry Neck

Ah, another Neck. Who knew that Massachusetts was a many-headed thing?

I have a slight connection to this area, one that starts just before the neck, on the shoulders of Horseneck Beach. For several years the Westport Fishermens' Association worked to save an historic Humane Society of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts boathouse right there. I jumped in early when requested, giving a talk on the general history of "the Humane" and the U.S. Life-Saving Service, consulting on historical themes, connecting the fishermen to the people who could help them with artifact collection and exhibiting, and so on. In the end, I was there for the unveiling of the whole shebang, the glorious day it was.

On that cold, wintry day, I walked Gooseberry Neck for the first time. Then it was windy, drab and weather beaten. It made the old coast artillery spotting tower look even worse than it does on a regular day, which is a pretty amazing feat. It's been neglected and abused to no end.

Today, though, the subject was sunshine and rebirth. A group of ospreys, seven I could see at one time, were fishing high above the surf. And the rosa rugosa was in full bloom, bright splashes of pink hiding a dense thorniness beneath.

Another glorious day.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

132. Dartmouth: Allens Pond Wildlife Sanctuary

It's gotten to the point now where I have to question my decision. I stated early on that I wanted to avoid the beach in summer, and as such, I tackled Cape Cod and the entirety of Barnstable County in the first months of the year. I've left Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard for the fall. Gotta wait for those ferry fares to drop.

But now, here I am in summer, and the woods await, all across Massachusetts. And within those woods are poison ivy and mosquitoes and who the hell knows what else. The trade-off is that I don't have to wait in traffic to get where I need to go.

(Sigh). Nobody ever said obsession would be easy.

I entered the Allens Pond Wildlife Sanctuary woodland loop planning, once again, on re-emerging with wet feet. I've assured myself of once again going through a set of boots in a season. There's only so much moisture that any piece of leather can take. With the morning rains and the lingering humidity the plants were dripping with wetness - and good for them. We can go through some uncomfortable droughts from time to time, and it's good to see them satiated. The ferns, now in their glory, particularly looked happy.

Sadly, not all was well in this bucolic little glade. First, I came across a deceased shrew. This is not unusual for me. I tend to attract small dead mammals for some reason. And some shrews are toxic to their predators. A hawk or an owl will catch one, take a bite, and spit it right back out, leaving it where it is. Many times, that's in the middle of a trail.

Today, though, there was a frog, and a ridiculously dramatic one at that. Shakespeare would have been so proud. This little guy had his head thrown back in his death throes, as if delivering one last plea to the amphibian gods for justice, "Avenge me, oh Froggy One!" If all works out, the creature that took this character's life will be swallowed whole by a giant toad, like the ones that populate the great fantasy realms online.

131: New Bedford: Buttonwood Park

I left another session of Beeding Bird Atlas work in Freetown (on June 9) to find my way down to Buttonwood Park. I'm very ashamed to say that despite my long life here in Massachusetts, I've barely stepped foot in New Bedford. It's something I intend to change in the coming months and years. It has so much to offer. And that's beyond where I've already been, like the New Bedford Whaling Museum and the national park.

So this was my first visit to Buttonwood Park, which blows even my own mind, as I've known of it for so many years. Just add "Zoo" to the end of it, and you'll see what I mean. But I never got that far.

Walkers were out in huge numbers, and from what I could see were as cosmopolitan as New Bedford is advetised. It's times like this I wish I knew more Spanish, and more Portuguese. Not that I like to eavesdrop. That would just be wrong, amigos. (For those of you counting, that's "friends" in both languages).

I was amazed to see so much natural life concentrated in thsi one small area of an otherwise heavily develoepd city. Canada geese, well, they were to be expected, especially at this time of year with their young unable to fly just yet. The regular city birds were here - house sparrows, starlings, pigeons, ring-billed gulls - but some of the nicer, nature-sanctuary loving birds were here, too, like cedar waxwings, yellow warblers, common yellowthroats and a Baltimore oriole.

With the weather threatening to douse me for a third time that morning (I'd been drenched in two separate thunderstorms while walking a rail line in Freetown a few hours earlier) I decided to keep moving to the next town, but vowed to return to New Bedford to continue this new personal exploration.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

130. Lakeville: Betty's Neck

Not to be confused with Betty's Spleen, Betty's Kneecaps, or Betty's Medula Oblongata.

In actuality, Marilyn, my trusty Breeding Bird Atlas sidekick and I walked many places in Lakeville today (June 6), in search of the birds that...were...breeding. Hmm, could have used a little help thinking that sentence through.

And we had luck! Catbirds with worms, a robin on a nest, a fish crow being mobbed by songbirds. A yellow warbler sang through a bill clenched on a chubby green worm. A cedar waxwing tore at fibres from a tree branch, carrying them off toward a nesting site. Grackles darted back and forth with food. The acitivity was tremendous, but mostly reflective of how hard the natural world works to perpetuate itself each spring. By the end of summer, it's always easy to tell the new birds from the old, as the moms and dads are haggard and beaten from the process of pushing their youngsters into a position of survival against the odds: predators, weather, starvation, etc.

After several hours around Great Quittacas Pond, Pocksha Pond, at Betty's Neck, at Tamarack Park and more, we packed it in, tallying exactly forty species of birds in some type of breeding activity. Not bad for a day's "work," if I do say so myself.

Oh, and by the way - bye bye, Plymouth County, you're done for 2011!

129. Medfield: Noon Hill Reservation

One final push would do it, one last walk for the day and I would be done.

I reached Noon Hill just after noon and was immediately hit with one of those serendipitous moments for which nature lovers live. As soon as I set foot on the trail, a song rang out, a high-pitched, two-note call: a broad-winged hawk. It may be the only one I encounter this year in Massachusetts. I did see one in Colorado in April, but that's another list altogether. I mean, come on.

Nature was slowing down for the day, as the morning rush to feed young had dissipated, and only the most determined of potential breeders had continued to sing. And, of course, the red-eyed vireo continued unabated, repeating its song over and over, as it had and would for hours.

A sign told me that I was on the Bay Circuit Trail, the brain child of Charles Eliot II, a loop of interconnected open space just west of Boston that would bring one from Duxbury and Plymouth, out around the city and back to the water of the North Shore. Someday, I'd like to walk it all in succession, and watch how the state's nature changes from sanctuary to sanctuary.

At one point near the top of the hill I noticed that all the leaves on the trail had been washed away to one side, as if by torrents of rushing water. It took me just seconds to think back to the previous Wednesday, and the thunderstorms that accompanied the killer tornadoes that touched down just west of this part of the state. It was an eerie reminder of a horrible day in Massachusetts history.

128. Millis: Prospect Hill Cemetery

Hmm, this is my second Prospect Hill of the year. I wonder how many more there will be.

After seven hours of walking, my legs were pretty stretched out. That wasn't the problem, though. It was how much strength my legs had left in them, specifically to walk inclines and declines. As fate would have it, I chose a particularly hilly section of a particularly hilly cemetery.

But laughter can do wondrous things, although looking back now I wonder if laughing in a cemetery - at the dead, no less - didn't earn me a one-way ticket to that big comedy club down below.

But, seriously? Abigail had to marry Amos Abbe, to become Abbie Abbe? Really? Really??

Well, at least as it goes with any cemetery, I met someone new I wanted to know more about, and that's besides Abbie Abbe, who reminds me of the serial killer on Cheers who was haunting Diane, Andy Andy. No, it was the Reverend Nathan Bucknam, "man of God, citizen, patriot, soldier during the French and Indian War and Ameican Revolution." Whew! What a resume.

I waved bye to Abbie Abbe and thanked her for making me forget how tired I really was.

127. Medway: Choate Park

I didn't have the heart to tell the fishermen on the other bank what I had seen. A number of fish had created their own circular territories in shallow water about a foot from shore. Catching them by dropping bait in each of the circles would have been like shooting fish...well, you know what I mean.

The park was alive with typical Sunday summer traffic. One man walked his dog, and then walked him again when realized that he had lost his glasses and had to retrace his steps in entirety. One couple posed for a photographer in a tight, smiling embrace, most likely an engagement announcement picture. Two firemen with fishing poles talked about how they'd each been called to respond to the terrifying tornadoes that had swept through Springfield and its surrounding towns earlier in the week.

Out on the pond, tree swallows had moved into a metal pipe sticking from the water. In the background, a mama mallard shepherded her numerous babes to the shore, then back to deep water. The cycle of life began anew, right there for all to see.

126. Plainville: John Bowmar Memorial Trail

I plunged into Plainville, not sure where I would end up, until I saw the sign on the side of the road. The trailhead lined up with the local baseball fields, where young girls were practicing softball with their coaches. I found a yellow softball in the woods and tossed it back towards the field.

I only found a few spur trails, but decided to walk straight ahead as far as I could, to see what I could find. The woods got quieter and quieter, which wasn't a bad thing. I retreated to the entrance, wondering what I would do for a photograph for the blog. Nothing had truly stood out, though all around me was beautiful.

Enter the volleyball of fate, once again.

As I stood and badly photographed a brook, a flash of blue caught my eye. Three flashes, in fact. Three butterflies, known as red-spotted purples, arose from the earth together and danced in what had to be a mating ritual. I froze and waited, and finally one returned to a sunny patch on a rock. I zoomed in and fired. I crept closer and fired again. I eventually had to walk that way anyway, so I inched closer, finally nudging it to fly from my presence.

125. North Attleboro: World War I Memorial Park

I carried my Breeding Bird Atlasing act north into a topographical block known as Attleboro 01, hitting the jackpot with the beautiful Word War I Memorial Park. I entered from the western portion of the park, and was immediately hit with an unsuspected song. Luckily, the singer was not at all worried about being seen: an indigo bunting, one of the most stunning little critters to visit Massachusetts.

I thought, at first, that I was solely in a wildlife sanctuary but I soon learned that the park encompassed many more things. I walked across a field where a brown thrasher sought food in the bordering bushes. I found pavement, in circular form, and swore I heard roosters. An overlook marked an old ski area, where I answered the inevitable "so whatcha doin' with the cipboard and binoculars?" question from a local citizen. I found emus in a pen marked "eums." And I walked a powerline trail in time to catch a red-tailed hawk being harrassed by blue jays, Baltimore orioles, eastern kingbirds and a northern mockingbird. They all obviously were defending breeding territories. It all went in my report.

In all, I spent four hours in the park, taking note of the ascending notes of prairie warblers, of a bluebird nest, of a gray catbird carrying nesting material, of a tufted totmouse beating the hell out of a fat green worm in order to make it easier to carry to its young.

When I finished, the indigo bunting was still there, singing away.

124a and b: Attleboro Springs and Oak Knoll Wildlife Sanctuaries

I have a love affair going with Attleboro that I'm afraid to even tell my wife about. I think it's because I can't explain it, even to myself.

I was pulled into the Attleboro fold by friends at work. A new sanctuary was being designed, one that had deep human history attached to it. I listened to stories of what I would find as I walked the property, the extant landmarks in the woods, the pond shaped like a hockey rink, the old cart paths. Could I help with the research? I itched. I couldn't wait to go and see it. I befriended a local historian and we walked the property together, finding that we spoke the same language.

After the history research was done - at least, temporarily - I moved onto the nature side, taking on the breeding bird circle studies on the property. Stand still for ten minutes, listen, record. Lather, rinse, repeat two more times in June. Do it again the next year. And the next.

Then came the fun of naming trails. I'm proud to say that I left my personal stamp on one of them, with my history buddy Larry. I won't gloat by pointing out which one, but I'll always smile whenever I look at a sanctuary map and know that if nothing else, I left my mark on the trails at Attleboro Springs.

I walked here today (June 5) for the breeding bird circle study, more than an hour deep in the woods on a cool late spring morning. Heaven.

I left there for Oak Knoll and Lake Talaquega, for a singing northern waterthrush, and for the Breeding Bird Atlas project. Yup, I double-dipped: two Mass Audubon sanctuaries, two citizen science studies, one more town to add to the list for the year.

Playing Catch Up

122 and 123. Southbridge and Sturbridge: McKimsey Brook Wildlife Management Area

So, even at this point in the day, as it was pushing noon, I was obviously the first one into the woods. I can always tell by the number of cobwebs that decide to wrap around my face as I walk. And today I was slowly being mummified.

The walk through the woods here ran right alongside the brook for which the sanctuary is named, although it's certainly held at a safe distance from the trail. A buffer zone's a good thing, although it would have been nice to stride up to the water's edge at some point to take it in.

But there was plenty to see otherwise, as usual with any Massachusetts open space parcel. I found a toad. I found jack-in-the-pulpit in bloom. And I found numerous tiger swallowtail butterflies cris-crossing the path.

I walked deeper and deeper into the woods, until my only friends were the eastern wood-pewees and the veeries. With a full hour with which to play, I wandered to side trails and back again, eventually finding my way back to the place I started.

From there, the next time I set foot on bare ground would be in Millville, New Jersey, to get ready for the Pilot Party on the eve of the air show. I felt good after three hours of walking, prepared to stand in one spot signing books for the entirety of the next day. But boy, did I need a shower.

121. Charlton: Buffumville Dam

From the moment I saw it, I wanted to be on top of it. It happens when I see mountains, and towers, too. I wanted to walk atop the dam, if just to see what was on the other side.

But I had to dodge the frisbies first. The Army Corps of Engineers, in the federal government's ongoing search to please all people at all places, had designed a frolf course through the dam property, which includes some abutting woods. Some of these guys were good. They were hitting their targets with the old underhand flip we all try as kids. Pretty impressive.

So, too, was the dam. I quickly found the access point and climbed to the top only to see that the water on the lake side was actually quite low. But then, I figured, that was the point. The dam was there for those outlandish moments when the water rose to unexpected heights. Kind of a disappointment, but what the heck. The view was still beautiful.

I walked the length of the dam and found a few crows struggling with the heat. Absorbing everything being thrown at them with their black feathers, all three were keeping their bills open to allow inner heat to escape. As my friend Ellen says, why not come back as a crow in the next life, as basic black looks good on everybody? Summer, that's why not. Duh, Ellen.

120. Dudley: Pierpont Meadow Wildlife Sanctuary

Scratch another Mass Audubon sanctuary off the list.

The first thing I noticed about Pierpont Meadow was the butterflies. With all the recent rain, there hadn't been much activity. Suddenly, though, in the gorgeous sunshine, the butterflies had emerged. As I walked the descending path towards the heart of the sanctuary, I was joined primarily by two species, spring azures and cabbage whites. It was like seeing old friends wo'd been gone for a year.

The singing birds, too, had returned, and by this point in the season, from what I could figure, the breeders ruled, and the migrants were gone. I counted 16 species in the short window through which I walked, and here they are in their entirety, in the order in which I heard them: gray catbird, red-winged blackbird, veery, house wren, blue jay, American crow, American robin (Americans tend to stick together), blue-gray gnatcatcher, ovenbird, cedar waxwing, song sparrow, black-capped chickadee, tree swallow, pine warbler, common yellowthroat and scarlet tanager. That's quite a varied list, from forest to field to marsh. But then, Pierpont Meadow is much more than a meadow.

Perhaps my favorite sound of the morning was the twang of a green frog emanating from that marsh. Among my many citizen scientist hats is my amphibian sounds survey beret (seems like a froggy sort of chapeau). If I hear an amphibian on any Mass Audubon sanctuary, I have to reach into my pocket for my official amphibian sounds survey data form and fill out the species, temperature, sky conditions, the number I think I heard, and the exact location. Yes, I keep it in my pocket, right next to my osprey monitoring data form and my salamander coverboard survey form.

By the time I got back to my car, after walking the entire stretch from the parking lot to the rental cabin and back, I felt like a frog. The morning dew had soaked my boots straight through. The shade had felt nice on my otherwise quickly roasting flesh, but it also meant wet grass. Eww.

119. Webster: Mt. Zion Cemetery

I really wanted to do something different in Webster, preferably along the shores of Lake Chaubunagungamaug, but, unfortunately, I coudn't find any open space alongside Lake Chaubunagungamaug. I must have missed a turn, and by the time I found the local cemetery, I decided I had to take that path to stay on task for the day. Too bad, as I really wanted to dip my toes into Lake Chaubunagungamaug, just to say I did. Of course, if I said that, I'd actually have to say Lake Chaubunagungamaug.

But, as fate often does, it played me like a volleyball on this morning. It was a beautiful small town cemetery, with plenty of old stones and stories attached no doubt. As usual, I "knew" one person interred here. Not personally, of course, but historically. I was obviously meant to be here today.

The proud veterans section of the cemetery held a small gathering, and I was immediately drawn to the white Civil War era stones. There, on the end, was Private Charles F. Reed, 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. Significance, you say? The Fighting 54th! The all-African-American regiment raised by Governor John Andrew and led by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw to war in the south. The assault on Fort Wagner. Still not ringing a bell? Try the movie Glory!, Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, Matthew Broderick. I've been making a specialty of stumbling into the graves of the men of the 54th for the past few years. Perhaps that's another book I have to write: Finding the 54th. Well, it's alliterative, anyway.

Onward I pushed. If I lingered too long in Webster, I'd miss the boat on the rest of my plans, which is not a good thing when you're near Lake Chaubunagungamaug.

118. Douglas: Douglas State Forest

Oh, the mosquitoes are back, chillins. I started this day (May 27) in the Douglas State Forest with a particular mission. I was on my way to New Jersey to sign books at the Millville Army Air Field air show and was taking the six-hour drive in sections. Part one: beat the Boston traffic by getting through early. Part two: pause to allow the New York City traffic to ease somewhat. Part three: shoot through New York to the Philly area.

But the bugs stopped me in my tracks. Actually, it was quite the opposite. I had to keep moving because every time I did stop I was swarmed. My bug spray hadn't made the trek from the house to the car yet, so I was stuck. My arms and shoulders got quite a workout as I swatted away. The humidity was up, even very early in the morning, so it looked like evey half hour walk would end up feeling like much longer.

I did make one screeching halt, when I noticed a wood frog hopping in the trail. I steadied the camera, captured him or her for all eternity, then ran like hell. Ahhhh!