Vernal Pools in the Sawmill Hills are still Quiet…

group at fairy shrimp

Well, as quiet as they can be with the Umass Outing Club visiting the pools!  I had the pleasure of taking a very enthusiastic group of students up into the Sawmill Hills Conservation Area to check on the highly productive ecosystems.  It was a collaboration between the Umass Outing Club and Kestrel Land Trust.  organized by Ally Sullivan, the Community Engagement Coordinator at Kestrel and an Americorp staff member.  We found some spotted salamander eggs (having a gelantinous external membrane surrounding the whole group of eggs) but otherwise it has been just too cold.  No fairy shrimp or wood frog eggs yet.  Although a very good eye found the one and only wood frog hiding out.

A brave volunteer putting on hip waders to go into the vernal pool to look for life!
A brave volunteer putting on hip waders to go into the vernal pool to look for life!
Having fun! Well maybe....
Having fun! Well maybe….
Uh oh, the heat of last summer, or maybe it was the mice in the garage, the boots should be named after the great anthropologist...Leaky!
Uh oh, the heat of last summer, or maybe it was the mice in the garage, the boots should be named after the great anthropologist…Leaky!

Phloem, Lenticels,Cambium…Oh my!

A bit chilly but happy to be out in the woods!
A bit chilly but happy to be out in the woods!

On a cold day at the beginning of March, a group of hearty treehuggers assembled to learn more about trees and their bark than they ever thought possible!  The inspirational teacher was my good friend Michael Wojtech, the author of Bark, a Field Guide to Trees of the Northeast.  This gathering was sponsored by Kestrel Land Trust.  Here’s just a piece of what you may have missed.  Besides learning about those incredible leafy, barky friends we share our hikes with, as Michael said,  the day was “packed with cocktail-party-ready facts:”

httpv://youtu.be/zx2bhjiwX5c

httpv://youtu.be/Riz9U3YEdQw

The Horned Lark!

A tuft of feather on each side of its head, stands up, making them look like they have horns.
A tuft of feather on each side of its head, stands up, making them look like they have horns.

Ahhhh, the horned lark.  I first encountered the horned lark last winter on the fields of Aqua Vitae Road in Hadley.  There were a couple hanging out with the huge flock of snow buntings.  When then turned their head to look at me, it was kinda eiery because of their horns!  I next encountered them while giving a dune tour way out on the far reach of the National Seashore in Provincetown near the Race Point Light.  In the dimming light, a lark in the middle of the road was acting like it couldn’t fly, trying to lead me and the large suburban I was driving, away from its nest in the dunes.  The video is down below.
Well, two nights ago, my friend Ann and I got a really good luck at a flock of horned larks hanging out on a snow pile by the side of the road in the Honey Pot of Hadley.  They were totally unconcerned about our presence and didn’t really want to move very far.  I returned last night to figure out why.  Well the video below shows why.  They actually dig small holes in the ice, almost like igloos, and then stay there for the night to keep warm!  I was losing most of my light to photography but the video below is really interesting.
Here is the lark trying to lead us away from its nest:
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o6JWZ8N_x_8

here are a couple videos of the igloo making horned lark, very cute:
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YMv8gzDXlLw
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kFMYc25DbEI

Oh What a Beautiful Morning…..Tracking Animals at Marble Brook…

tracking groupOh boy what a morning at Marble Brook for the Kestrel Land Trust Tracking Hike!  The sun was shining, the temperature was a balmy 30 degrees, and the company was excellent!  And Marble Brook, its farmland, hemlock forest, and a pond known lovingly as Mosquito Hollow, didn’t disappoint.  No mosquitoes at the hike, just lots of tracks and fun; Coyote, fox, porcupine, beaver, squirrel, fisher…The Gayette-Clapp Family wanted their forest preserved forever while still retaining ownership so they sold the development rights to Kestrel as a conservation restriction.  It is a pristine environment with exceptional habitat.  We also picked up the two remote cameras that Bill, Kay and I placed two weeks ago.

What a morning, it was made even more exceptional because The Man of the Mountain, Armand LaPalme, came out to help us track!  Also, thanks to Dave Herships for co-leading the hike,  he’s always there taking care of things.  A quick shout-out to Susan Morse of Keeping Track, who trained me to track wildlife.  What an amazing women!

Take a look at some of the morning highlights: (remember to click on the pic to enlarge):

Look at those quills!
Look at those quills!
How does porcupines make love?   Very carefully...
How do porcupines make love? Very carefully…
The porky den complete with lots of sawdust scat and qulls at the entrance.
The porky den complete with lots of sawdust scat and quills at the entrance.
On our way out, we spotted this porky out on the corn field, foraging for food.
On our way out, we spotted this porky out on the corn field, foraging for food.
Armand LaPalme helps me check out some coyote scat.
Armand LaPalme helps me check out some coyote scat.
Coyote scat.  Notice all the hair from a rabbit.
Coyote scat. Notice all the hair from a rabbit.
mouse meets coyote...
mouse meets coyote…
Yours truly showing some of the tracks we might see.
Yours truly showing some of the tracks we might see.
So much of Marble Brook is so photogenic!
So much of Marble Brook is so photogenic!
The Group was photogenic as well!
The Group was photogenic as well!
Here's Kari Blood, Kestel's Program Coordinator.  She works to pull the hikes together.
Here’s Kari Blood, Kestel’s Program Coordinator. She works to pull the hikes together.
Armand sharing a laugh with some of the hikers.
Armand sharing a laugh with some of the hikers.
Deer tracks. notice the hooves and the dew claws on the back.
Deer tracks. notice the hooves and the dew claws on the back.
Marble Brook!
Marble Brook!
Puxatawney Phil doesn't have anything on our Marble Brook Porky:  he thinks we'll have an early spring! Here's hoping...
Puxatawney Phil doesn’t have anything on our Marble Brook Porky: he thinks we’ll have an early spring! Here’s hoping…

Ahh, those short-eared owls of the Honey Pot!

Hey Folks,
Well it was a cold late afternoon on the honey pot yesterday but the owls did not disappoint!  Even a half hour before sunset they were visible on the tops of the arbor vitae (see video and pics) and then three of them gave us wonderful aeronautic dances as they floated above the winter farm fields.
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vx2Jl813-PY
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJZZTkQXKtk

Puffing up a bit to stay warm, a natural down jacket!
Puffing up a bit to stay warm, a natural down jacket!
Look at those wonderful yellow eyes!
Look at those wonderful yellow eyes!
A silhouette with a winter sunset as a backdrop...
A silhouette with a winter sunset as a backdrop…

Setting up the remote cameras for the tracking hike on Feb. 1

beaver
Beaver, notice the rounded print. You can’t see it but the feet are webbed.
bobcat
Bobcat, notice the chevron on the back of the track and the assymetric toes. It has a middle finger pointing at you. Susan Morse calls that Cattitude…
coyote
Coyote, notice the X in the negative space. Susan Morse says, “X marks the spot, Spot marks the X”
fisher 2
Fisher, notice the sweep of the foot and the eight toes!
fisher
Another fisher track.
Racoon, notice it looks like human hands.  Better to open up your garbage bins with!
Racoon, notice it looks like human hands. Better to open up your garbage bins with!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hey Folks,
Bill, Kay and I went out to set up the remote cameras for the Kestrel Land Trust tracking hike on February 1 at Marble Brook.  We’ll pick up the cameras to see what we got.  There should be some good pics, we set them up at a beaver trail and a porcupine den!
Today we saw tracks from coyote, bobcat, fisher, porcupine, and beaver.  What a day!  It was perfect, about a half inch of snow that’s been down for a day and night.  Everyone was out foraging and moving around.  Hope to see you on the 1st, remember to register at Kestrel!  Here’s some pics of the tracks, keep them small and you may be able to make them out.  Also we saw a male and female pair of beautiful hooded mergansers, awesome!

And the male hoodie taking flight!
And the male hoodie taking flight!

Owl Week in the Valley

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7jtrcO2TfcM

Hello everyone,  First we have a snowy owl take up residence in Deerfield and now we have three short-eared owls hunting on the honey pot, a number of mornings and evenings this week.  They didn’t come on Tuesday (7th) but yesterday (8th), we had a field day (pun intended)!  Unlike the snowy owl which is diurnal (hunts day and night probably because they nest above the arctic circle where it daytime all the time in the summer), short-eared owls are nocturnal hunting from dusk to dawn.  We were losing the light but still got some good views of it.  Above is some video and below are some pictures (click to enlarge).

Try to make out the tufts of its ears...hence, short-eared owl!
Try to make out the tufts of its ears…hence, short-eared owl!
A real beauty!
A real beauty!
Losing most of our light...
Losing most of our light…

Holy Hannah what a beautiful Snowy Owl

httpv://youtu.be/iK6XwnzKrFQ

I missed the snowy owl on Friday but my friend Ann called late in the day on Saturday and told me to get my butt up to Deerfield.  Well, I made it and oh boy, what a sight.  This snowy owl just sat on the top of a barn, undisturbed by people down below.  The sun was going down and the temperature was dropping fast!  I think my shutter finger got frostbite…but it was worth it.

Biologists think that there were an over-abundance of lemmings (snowy owls primary food) up in the arctic circle where the snowy owl nests.  Which in turn allowed more of the baby snowy owls to fledge and dispersed south.  And we are now blessed with juveniles as far south as Pennsylvania!

Take a look at the Western Massachusetts visitor (remember click on a pic to enlarge):

Just beautiful!
Just beautiful!
Did I just see a mouse?
Did I just see a mouse?
Nah, its just John and his dog Touro?
Nah, its just John and his dog Touro?
Now that's the face of a predator with complete focus!
Now that’s the face of a predator with complete focus!
It was getting cold so the owl puffed up a bit.
It was getting cold so the owl puffed up a bit.
Nice profile!
Nice profile!
I think the snowy likes me too!
I think the snowy likes me too!

Happy New Year from the Sawmill Hills

httpv://youtu.be/-uDNokwKK8E

Well, it was a cold day but a great day up in the Sawmill Hills. About 45 hearty souls trekked out into the hills to breathe some fresh mountain air.  We shared a couple of hours with friends, celebrating nature on New Years Day.  It was a great hike!

httpv://youtu.be/o6cHn-VOrxE

click on pics to make them larger:

First we went up
First we went up
And up!
And up!
Then down...
Then down…
and down...
and down…
Happy New Year!
Happy New Year!