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Monthly Archives: March 2011

Click here for sketch map of outing.

(Pictures relating to the text appear at the end of the notes.)

keywords: lichen, birds, nutrients

Birds gleaning from the pastures. At least in part they're pecking through old cow pats looking for (?) seeds and insects. Work in England (see Shrubb's interesting Birds, Scythes and Combines) has shown that change in the use of cultivated fields and pastures can have a large influence on migratory/overwintering birds.

 

A chert flake, possibly debris from the making of a stone point or tool. This chert may have been quarried elsewhere (for example, at Beecraft Mountain) and brought to the site for working.

This mish-mash of pebbles has been brought here by both stream and glacier. As a result, it probably represents a potpourri of geologies from both near and far.

An intact cow pat. The ring of greener grass may be due to nutrients and moisture seeping out of the dung.

This cow pat has been worked through by birds (?). One can imagine that this sort of crumbling helps the pat get distributed into the soil.

Just a bit more on cow pat ecology. If one flips a cow pat, you find another community: earthworms, beetles, fungi. Cows have fungi in their guts which help break down wood particles. Are the little mushrooms on this pat (the whitish blips on the pat surface) the product of fungi that came on board the pat or did they drift in from elsewhere? No dung beetles at this time of year, but perhaps that's a theme for a later blog.

While we're on the theme of nutrients, it's worth looking at the surroundings of this old hay bale. It was located in a wet part of the field and, while eating, the cows naturally 'deposited' nutrients. As a result, the bale's surroundings are relatively verdant.

The rocky shores of the West Hill Pond. This pond appears in 1940s aerials. It was probably dug by hand. It may have been both a source of and deposit for rocks.

This lichen-covered rock at the edge of the pond is about three feet long, the thick coverage of lichens is evidence that it has been exposed to the air for quite a long time.

 

These lichens will need to await identification; lichen diversity often reflects both the chemical nature of the substrate upon which they are growing and the nutrients & polluntants in rain and air.

 

The greenish tinge of these lichens comes from the algal member of the fungi/alga symbiosis that is a lichen. The brown, bowl-like structures are 'apothecia': spore-producing structures that, in some ways, are a lichen's flowers.

 

The wetland off of 'Faust's Finger' is still a place of dry grass and water, not yet the lively realm of green reeds, dragonflies, frogs, turtles, and flowers.

 

 

Deer-chomped stumps of over-wintering Kale; I don't know how much of this was harvested by humans and how much by beasts.

 

And one last photograph from elsewhere in the County. The sap is flowing: twigs and branches broken off during our last ice storm are now open spigots. A quick freeze caught this Sugar Maple twig 'in the act'.

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Posted by on March 31, 2011 in Nature

 

keywords: fungus, roots, erractic, rockwalls, squirrels

 

A cut stump (note the flat top). This was probably a conifer of some sort judging by the whorl of branch wood being exposed by the rot.

These multi-trunk trees probably derive from stump sprouts that came up after past logging. The current trunks serve to outline the original trunk of the mother tree.

 

This hemlock has peeled off the rocks, taking a clump of soil and stones down hill with it. Over the centuries, these falls can be one agent of 'creeping soil'.

This Hemlock has so far done a better job of holding on.

We found this dead Chesnut Oak trunk with these dramatic openings... a mystery for us.

 

These appear to be spots where squirrels gnawed off bark, chewing down to a black layer formed by 'charcoal mat fungus' or a similar species.

Our guess is that perhaps many of the chewed areas originally supported mushrooms like these, and that squirrels (which commonly eat mushrooms) then did a very diligent job of consuming the mushrooms, thereby leaving the odd holes along the bark. It's a guess. I picked away a few of these mushrooms to reveal the charcoal black beneath.

It's Spring in the moss world. When this clump of moss was brushed, a cloud of fine spores rose into the air. In this picture, some of the ripe sporophytes (the stemmed capsule that hold the spores) have already lost their 'sleeping caps', exposing the dusty, spore-distributing tips. According to Claudia this is Atrichum angustatum.

This rockwall follows an outcrop out onto the hillside before abruptly stopping. Walls like this probably never kept livestock out of anything, but they were often surrmounted by wooden rails that completed the fence. That wood has long-since rotted away.

Rock piles like these could have come from a variety of sources. It is known from old deeds that Native Americans in the County created stone piles by tossing stones on as they passed, perhaps as landmarks of a sort. However, the multiple piles along the edge of Phudd Hill, some of which contain large rocks and abut the rockwalls, may more likely be the result of rock clearing by colonial farmers.

Many of these trees are 'old field pines'; White Pines which grew up when these former fields were abandoned. The split trunks apparently are the 'scars' of past infestations of the White Pine Weevil.

 

A massive oak snag along one of the walls. The branching of this tree is evidence that it grew up when both sides of the fence were open field. The scar down the trunk suggests that lightning contributed to its demise.

 

Our goal: the Phudd Hill Erratic. (Note Django, our black lab, for scale.) Erratics are large boulders that were transported from elsewhere by the glaciers.

The Phudd Hill Erratic is perched atop the hill - there is no overhaning rock cliff from which it could have fallen.

In addition, this is not a local type of rock - these waves on the boulder's under belly indicate a sedimentary stone of some sort, but quite unlike the local shales (and slates) that make up all of those rockwalls and outcrops ...

 
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Posted by on March 28, 2011 in Nature

 

Click here for rough map of outing.

(Pictures relating to the text appear at the end of the notes. The most recent posts show up above older posts – scroll down to make sure you haven’t missed any previous ‘reports’.)

keywords: leaves, spider, ground beetle, salamander, stonewall

 

The Agawamuck is already showing cobble banks. Perhaps we'll get a second spring flood with the April Showers. Sorry for the grey picture, it was a grey day...

 

A Wolf Spider (clutching an egg sac underneath her) and a Ground Beetle were exposed when I lifted a rock. Wolf Spiders stalk prey, but they do produce silk and use it for spinning a protective nest.

 

The cut stump of a stream-side Willow. Notice the broad annual rings, at least towards the center of the stump. This was a fast-growing tree and looked like it was little more than 30 years old. A similar-sized Hemlock on the hillside might be more than 150 years old.

The thawed edge of the Fire Pond, awaiting the arrival of 'vernal pool amphibians'. I went to Black & White for this photograph, why fight the greyness?

 

A Red-backed Salamander that had been resting beneath a rock. This little guy apparently lost the tip of his tail at some point.

 

Four leaves from the leaf litter. They look to be (from left to right) Sugar Maple, Hop Hornbeam, Chestnut Oak and Red Oak. The first two leaves tend to break down much more quickly than those of the Oaks.

This rockwall heads determinedly up Phudd Hill. Why? Rocks were usually assembled when fields were plowed, and yet it is hard to imagine this rocky talus was ever plowed. If it ever was, the exposed dirt was probably quickly washed away, leaving.... rocks.

 

This vernal pool on the side of Phudd Hill showed no signs of frogs or salamanders yet, but its waters were already tinged with algal green.

 
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Posted by on March 24, 2011 in Nature

 

Spring Peepers and Green Things on the Forest Floor

On March 18th, the first Spring Peepers have been heard around Harlemville! Did you know that the makers of such big sound are tiny little frogs, about an inch long? Unlike Green and Bullfrog, who pass the cold season in mud below water, Spring Peepers pass the winter in the forest, hibernating under bark or rocks. They congregate near ponds and other wetlands for reproduction early in the spring, and after laying their tiny, inconspicuous eggs, retreat back into the upland forest for the rest of the year.

Spring Peeper on a blade of grass. This picture is from Conrad's archive. Actually finding these tiny creatures is not as easy as it might seem (have you ever tried to follow their call to the source???), and for us has been more a matter of luck than deliberate effort.

Today, we went scouting for signs of spring flora on the forest floor just on the other side of Ben Ocean’s bridge. The scene is still overwhelmingly brown from the dense leaf litter. I like this stage, because looking for signs of green is almost like an Easter egg hunt. The few green plants that dare showing themselves this early in the season are rewardingly distinct from each other and really quite easily identified, although none of them has any flowers, yet…

It is well worth going out and looking for yourself during this period of calm before the spring flowers begin exploding on us!

The forest near Ben Ocean's bridge. The forest floor is still dominated by a brown layer of leaf litter. Signs of green are few. Note the bucket on the Sugar Maple near the left margin of the photo. This forest patch is Hawthorne Valley's "Sugar Bush".

 

Just on the other side, uphill from the trail, the forest floor is dominated by leaf litter, as well. More Sugar Maples are being tapped. The two bushes in the foreground are rare Leatherwood (Dirca palustris) shrubs. A total of about 20 individuals grow right in this area, but nowhere else in the valley. We have found this species in no more than five other places in the entire county. It is heavily browsed on by deer and might have a hard time surviving the currently high deer populations. Look for lovely yellow flowers on these bushes within a month, before the leaves come out!

Following the trail south (towards the BabaYaga house) a little ways, we found several examples of this grass-like plant growing on the rock outcrops left of the trail. It is a Broadleaf Sedge (Carex platyphylla), a woodland-loving cousin of a group of plants usually associated with open, swampy places. In fact, Eastern North America is one of the global hotspots for woodland sedges, harboring an exceptionally high diversity of these plants. The Broadleaf Sedge kept last year's leaves green all through the winter, allowing it to photosynthezise during warm winter days and now, early in spring. Soon, it will sprout new leaves and allow last year's to decompose. In June, you will be able to observe its inconspicuous flowers presented on long, leafless stalks.

 

These beautifully patterned leaves belong to Wild Stonecrop (Sedum ternatum), a plant native to regions a bit south of here but often escaped from gardens and maintaining themselves well in the woods. Keep your eyes open for their beautiful cream-colored, star-shaped flowers later in the spring: will the number of petals reflect the three-ranked leaf arrangement?

One of the most distinct mosses on the rocks next to the trail is the Tree Moss (Climacium dendroides). Mosses might dry up a bit during winter, but as soon as they are moistened by melting snow or rain, they become green and active again. Look a bit closer to see how many different kinds of smaller mosses you can distinguish growing on the rocks!

 

This "early greener" is an immigrant from Europe. Its name "Celandine" comes from a French word for swallow, reminding us that it will flower just around the time when the swallows return. When you find one of these, break off a piece of leaf and look for the bright yellow milky sap, which characterizes this plant as a member of the Poppy Family. This milky sap has a number of traditional medicinal uses.

 

Another inconspicious, yet easily recognized presenter of green leaves is Dame's Rocket (Hesperis matronalis). This is also a European plant that has escaped cultivation and graces roadside ditches and floodplain forests with its white, pink, and purple flowers in late spring. Often, you can still see last year's flower stalk emerging from the rosette of winter leaves. Dame's Rocket is often called "Phlox" because of the similarity of its flowers with those of true Phlox. When in doubt, count the number of petals: Dame's Rocket has the four petals typical of the Brassica Family, while true Phlox (which is much rarer) has five petals.

 

 

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2011 in Nature

 

Click here for sketch map of outing.

(Pictures relating to the text appear at the end of the notes.)

keywords: birds, multiflora rose, willows

 

Across the "Bee Field" (northwest corner of the farm) in the morning.

 

The sun had not quite hit the Valley Field yet.

 

Multiflora Rose can form a dense and frustrating tangle.

But the birds don't seem to mind it.

 

Birds often put their nests in the well-protected cradle of a rose.

Bright, young day lillies poking up through the wet mud.

 

A flock of geese heading north; there were at least 125 birds in this flock.

The Farm Creek, downstream from the pump house. Not yet the verdant place it will be later in the season.

 

The Pussy Willow are 'furring out'. These are probably male flowers.

Remnants of years gone by - brittle milkweed pods.

A Song Sparrow perched in an Alder (with its catkins getting ready to burst).

A female House Sparrow on its more conventional house.

 
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Posted by on March 18, 2011 in Nature

 

Indigo and I went for a walk around the farm yesterday. It’s March mud season;  the greenhouses are just beginning to come alive with new seedlings, there is that “something” in the air… the animals are sniffing it, the people are sensing it… there is just a hint of greening on the fields… it must be spring?!

Steffen is beginning to spend more time on the tractor and less time in the office.... a sure sign of spring!

Emi, Ginny and Bob taking a quick break during a busy greenhouse seeding day

baby lettuce.... young and tender...

onion sprouts poking up for a first look....

hey.. is the grass ready yet?

Time for a 'haircut' very soon......

Kelly says "take a picture of Percy the pig- we think that he thinks he's a dog ..." ...

so we did... here is Percy, the friendliest pig of them all!

The field of wintered-over wheat planted during the "Sowing the Future" event last fall

Welcome to Dayna... our second year livestock apprentice... with great big load of food for the pigs!

 


 

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2011 in Agriculture

 

Click here for sketch map of outing.

(Pictures relating to the text appear at the end of the notes.)

keywords: Alan Devoe, John Cowper Powys, Nat Snare, Bald Eagle, Chickadees, Arthur Ficke

 

The small creek that runs west along Hickory Hill Road. According to Ruth, at least one previous owner called it "Rock Rill".

 

The remains of an old apple orchard just northwest of the former Nat Snare farmhouse. According to Ruth, the large trees located on the left hand side of the picture, are Ben Davis apples, a cider making variety.

 

One of Nat Snare's barns. This is a post & beam barn probably made in the early 1800s. According to Ruth, Nat kept young calves here. The extension on the left suggests a former life sheltering sheep. During Powys' day, this was the Curtis Farm.

 

Claudia spotted this Bald Eagle soaring across the farmland. There have been numerous reports this winter of Bald Eagles around Hawthorne Valley and along the Taconic State Parkway.

 

The flat-topped, grass-covered hill in the middle of the photograph is, according to Ruth, a "kame". Kames are features of glacial geology apparently caused as gravel and rocks accumulate along under-ice creeks.

 

The heart of a kame. Kames, drumlins and the like are frequently mined for their gravel.

 

The old Nat Snare fields are dotted with Little Bluestem clumps. This native grass was apparently OK as pasture but lousy as hay. Also, given its late-season (or so-called "warm season") growth pattern, it may only be suitable for a limited portion of the grazing season.

 

Vole work. Creating their tunnels beneath the snow, Meadow Voles probably made this network of holes and paths in the thatch.

 

The former Nat Snare farm looking south along Harlemville Road. She apparently had the cattle barn on the left built during her operation of the farm. The old post and beam barn of a previous photograph is on the right. The cattle barn apparently housed Jerseys and provided enough milk money to allow the purchase of a few adjacent farmland parcels.

 

Memorial to poet Arthur Ficke and his wife along Phudd Hill Road. Although little-known today, Ficke was a well-respected American poet of the first part of the 20th century. He was a friend of Powys, Millay and other prominent writers of his day.

 

To end on a spring note, these Canada Geese (actually photographed March 14th in the swamp that connects to Acker Pond) are probably looking for a nest site, if they haven't already found one.

 
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Posted by on March 15, 2011 in Nature