nature notes, August 12th

  • I remain way behind on editing and organizing my recent nature photos and posting them to Flickr. I need to be less of a perfectionist about them and just show them to people! I’m no great photographer, but I want to share the cool things I’ve seen.
  • My photo backlog includes photos from a long weekend I spent in Maine’s Acadia National Park a few weeks ago, including mountain climbing and exploring Mt. Desert Island’s rocky shore. It was an amazing experience and I can’t wait to share about it.
  • However, I did not see any porcupines. (Well, any live ones—unfortunately, I saw at least three that ended up as roadkill.) I was really hoping to see a porcupine, though I know they’re shy. Maybe some other time.
  • I just bought a new pair of hiking boots because I’d worn out my old ones. I’m proud of myself for the miles I’ve walked and the things I’ve seen over the past year, since I started hiking regularly again. It’s been such an important addition to my life.
  • The goldenrod is starting to bloom, which is really exciting. It attracts such a number and variety of insects, so if I sit and watch it for a while, I’m guaranteed to see something cool, like beetles tussling or a goldenrod crab spider seizing its prey.
  • You know what’s awesome? Burdock. It’s also starting to bloom now, and I love it—it’s so big and spiky and dramatic.
  • I feel like I haven’t seen many frogs in Massachusetts this year. I wonder if that has something to do with last summer’s drought. (I meant to learn more about the aftereffects of drought, but I’ve forgotten to look it up so far.)

backyard nature notes, July 21st

  • I feel like it’s been a particularly hot and humid summer so far. That’s no good for me, because I am a delicate flower who wilts easily, but it’s excellent for the bugs who come to my porch light.
  • The Cross Orbweaver who lives on my back porch is growing and thriving on the bounty of insects drawn to the light. I’ve named her Mabel, and I’m thrilled that she’s chosen to be my neighbor.
  • The plants in my weedy little yard are really interesting when I take the time to really look at them. Recently I’ve noticed lots of Yellow Sorrel (yummy!), a particularly large English Plantain, some Bladder Campion (always fun-looking), and an encroaching patch of Black Swallowwort. (And lots of unidentified plant-folk, of course.)
  • Just outside my backyard, there’s a set of power lines, and climbing all over those power lines is a mass of grapevines. The grapes are getting bigger every day, and it’s funny to see them hanging down in heavy clumps, as if the power lines themselves are sprouting fruit. I need to get pictures sometime.
  • Earlier this year, there was a serious fire in my neighborhood that rendered one house uninhabitable. With no one living there, it’s getting heavily overgrown by weeds and vines, and it’s fascinating to watch nature try to take it back. (I’m pretty sure there are also various animals living in the burnt-out attic, too.)
  • Alas, no further sign of the pack of young raccoons I saw out back a few months ago. I hope they’re doing well, wherever they are.

nature notes: things I have learned recently about which I am delighted

  • Many different species of birds do the thing where they flop around on the ground pretending to be injured in order to draw you (or predators) away from their nest. I didn’t realize that that was as widely seen a behavior as it is!
  • The little webbed tunnels in which Long-legged Sac Spiders rest/hide during the day are sometimes referred to as “sleeping bags,” which is too cute.
  • There is a flowering vine that I’ve been seeing in various places, and I thought that the little dark flowery bits on it were the dried-up stubs of flowers long past their prime. Turns out they are flowers in their own right! They’re just little and dark. (Black swallowwort, if you’re interested.)
  • Something exists that is named Dog Vomit Slime Mold.
  • KIWIS GROW ON A VINE. I had no idea.
  • There have been at least six different species of spider on my back porch in the past week, and those are only the ones I’ve actually seen. (I love going out in the mornings and evenings to visit them.)

the great Floridian nature adventure

March 8, 2017

I’m finally nearly finished with my post-vacation catch-up process. Earlier in March, N and I took a week off to visit Florida on a vacation with a heavy eco-tourist bent. We spent two days in various bits of the southeastern Everglades, and also visited parks and other natural sites in Key Largo and the Fort Lauderdale area.

I’m not very well-traveled, so for me, this was a visit to an entirely new environment. Frankly, a not-insignificant amount of my conception of South Florida came from the old Dave Barry humor books I read as a kid, and also from CSI: Miami. I’d never seen a palm tree or an alligator out living in the world before, and even now, neither of those things feels quite real to me.

March 7, 2017

I can now confirm that Florida is pretty enchanting. I’m a big fan of the small lizards running around everywhere, the air plants and Spanish moss, and the birds that inhabit the wetlands. Having a blast of warm weather in the midst of a New England winter certainly didn’t hurt.

My only big complaint was, of course, the mosquitoes. I feel like such a wimpy tourist saying that, but it’s true. Even though it was winter and quite dry, on certain trails, they resisted every attempt at repellent. I cannot imagine what they’re like in the summer.

As it turns out, I’m more allergic to mosquito bites than I had thought, so I would up sporting a rather startling level of hives. Mosquitoes may be intellectually interesting and have their place in the ecosystem, but also, I hate them. (Though I don’t react to poison ivy, so I suppose it balances out.)

March 5, 2017

I took a lot of pictures, or at least a lot for me—about 5,500 altogether—and it’s taken me a while to review and edit all of them and upload them to my Flickr account. That project is finally finished, though, and you can find all my photos in my Florida Adventures album.  Many aren’t particularly great photos, namely some very blurry lizards and birds, but I was more concerned with trying to keep as broad a record as possible of what I encountered.

At the moment, I’m trying to identify and learn more about some of the flora and fauna I photographed in Florida. Most of them are species I’m not familiar with, so it’s a challenge, but it’s really enjoyable to try and better understand a place so different from the place I live.

March 10, 2017

So that’s where I am right now. Of course, posts about South Florida creatures and habitats will be interspersed with posts about spring coming to the Boston-area woods, which is the other big thing going on right now. Snow and rain have prevented me from getting much hiking in recently, but


a spider outing

February 23, 2017

February 23, 2017


Last week was absurdly warm for February in the Boston area, so obviously, I was outside. With a substantial layer of old snow still coating most of the trails and deep slushy puddles in places, it was a bit of a slog out there, but fortunately, the waterproofing on my hiking shoes held up and I was able to enjoy myself.

I was really excited to see evidence of spiders out enjoying the warmth—I miss my little invertebrates during the winter. For the first time in months, there were threads of spider silk catching the light from all sorts of surfaces. I also encountered this little fellow sitting out in the sun, and he graciously kept still for a few minutes.

This looks like it might be a jumping spider, but I don’t know what kind—its markings and coloration are different from those of the jumping spiders I usually see. I’m currently browsing BugGuide, hoping to come across something similar. As always, ID suggestions are more than welcome.

Edited to add: I’m thinking maybe the Dimorphic Jumper, Maevia inclemens.



A male mallard at Bellevue Pond, Middlesex Fells, MA, February 23, 2017.

I love watching them dabble with their little curly tails and bright orange feet. I also love that dabbling is seriously the term for what they’re doing. And look at those sleek feathers shedding water!

Bellevue Pond was entirely dried up last summer during the drought, when I visited it for the first time—it was just a plain of cracked mud and tall grass. It’s so encouraging to see it full of water now, and to see the waterfowl enjoying it. I also got to witness a very exciting goose fight (pictures to come).

nature questions I need to look up

What is that one bird that I always hear in the woods? You know, that one, with the really clear two-note descending whistle. I wish I knew how to transliterate it. Whatever it is, its range includes Ohio as well as Massachusetts, and that’s about all I know. (Wait, no, I also know that I enjoy whistling back to it, like my dad taught me.)

Is there any way to tell coyote tracks apart from domestic dog tracks in the same size range? I’m fascinated by coyotes, along with other animals who have adapted to more urban lifestyles, but they’re so secretive! The place I go hiking allows dogs, so I don’t know whose prints are whose.

How DO you tell an alligator from a crocodile from a caiman? This is probably something I once learned from a kids’ nature show and subsequently forgot. I’m going to the Everglades next week, so this one I need to look up soon. (Florida is mostly home to alligators, but one area where I’ll be hiking is known to have some crocodiles, and I’ve also heard there are invasive caimans out there.)

What happens in nature the year(s) after a drought? By which I mean: how will last summer’s drought in Massachusetts affect things for this upcoming summer, like plant growth and insect activity? I really hope there are more bugs around this year.