Monthly Archives: December 2011

Some Surprising, Seasonal Images from our ‘Game Cameras’

Thanks to an equipment loan from WildMetro, during the past six weeks we’ve had a set of eight motion-sensitive ‘game cameras’ arrayed around the Valley. These are cameras that are triggered to take a photograph when something warm passes in front of them, and are a nifty way of studying local wildlife. You can see more photos at our wildlife camera web page. We thought that this week would be a good week to review our snap shots, little did we know….

Let’s start with a camera we have placed on the border of a brushy pasture. Here are some recent shots: (please ignore the time/date stamp on each shot – those malfunction notoriously)


a squirrel (bushy tail at the bottom)....

... Santa Claus...Santa Claus?... Santa Claus!... We quickly called in our lip reader so that we could add 'audio'; he provided the following transcription: "Ach, these special deliveries. Tell me Elf, where to next?"

Elf: "Wait Santa, I'll find where we're going." Santa: "Let me find the box, maybe it has an address. My poor back (mumbled)"

Elf: "Let's see, here's the address,which way is North? Ohh, if he'd only buy a GPS."

Elf: "I got it! It's right over there!" Santa: "OK, let's get movin'; my belly's grumbling."

That was all we recorded from that camera (other than a couple hundred shots of a branch blowing in the wind). So we moved on to check the camera down along the Creek.

Wow, that's cool. Look's like a Coyote. It's taking a gander at the sheep pen.

a few more deer...

some birds...

Hey, it's the chubby guy and his colorful friend again. Let's listen in - Elf: "I'm sure it's around here."

Elf: "Ahh, yes. Just follow me Santa!" Santa: (grunt) "Coming, coming."

Elf: "Or maybe it was this way."

Santa: "Now where are you going?"

Elf: "What's that funny thing tied to the fence post?"

Elf: "Hello, anybody home?" Santa: "Hello? Hello? ,,,, Darn security cameras, never are very good about giving directions."

And that was it for that camera. I hope those blokes find their way, they seem to be hogging the show. Anyway, on up to the top of Phudd Hill.

Ah yes, here we are at the top of Phudd Hill, plenty of deer...

You know if I had legs like that I wouldn't be such a show off.

and the usual squirrel...

more skinny legs... but at least no sign of the big red guy...

suppose there are antlers?

Oh no.... Elf: "I'm sure we were supposed to turn left at the pine tree." Santa: ''My poor feet. Now look, isn't that the place way over here?"

Elf: "Long distance transport - this means it's time to hitch up Rudolf and fly over!"

Elf: "See Santa? A perfect Reindeer - we'll be there in no time!" Santa: "Great. Just great."

(Read for yourself.) Evidently, the sun went behind some clouds and the camera switched to B&W mode.

Elf: "Hey Santa, there's another one of those friendly boxes." Santa: "Let me just help you out of this silly costume old boy."

Elf: (off camera, we have terrific lip reader working for us) "This way Santa, I'm sure now." Santa: "Where did I put my emergency chocolate?"

And that was all we found at that site. Hopefully, they are now on their way, and we can focus on sharing a little bit of info. about local wildlife. Our next camera is located on the steep side of Phudd Hill.

There's a coon. We've been getting some good photos of them lately. They only sort of hibernate; this one is obviously out trying to put on some fat.

Wow! A fisher! Our first picture of a fisher here in the Valley. These are large cousins of the mink, they range hither and yon, pursuing their diets of small mammals. Let's see if we can turn up the lights...

Sure enough. These are fast, sleek, tree climbers. Let's see if we get a better shot...

Oh no, not again.... Elf: "It's right this way Santa."

Elf: "Errr, I think." Santa: (voice lowering) "Elf. Elf! ELF!"

Elf: "Was that Route 21? Route 21C? or Route 217?"

Elf: "What do you mean, 'climb a tree and look around?'. Elves don't climb trees!" Santa: "Oh yes they do!"

Santa: "Get the binos and up you go!" Elf: (erk!) "Gee, I guess they do climb trees."

Santa: "Up you go!"

Santa: "See anything up there?"

Santa: " Dratted Hat! What was that you said?"

Elf: "I said, 'I think I'm slipping...'" Santa: "Umomph! Off! Get off!"

Elf: "Oh but I saw the place. It's right over!" Santa: (groan) "Right, let's go. Elves (mumble), elves (mumble, mumble... this is a family rated blog you understand)"

Gosh, I hope they’re done and we can finally get down to some serious wildlife watching. The last camera of this little (somewhat interrupted) tour is along the path by one of the vegetable fields. It’s a path for both people and wildlife. Early in the summer, we photographed a bobcat here.

Cats; we get lots of shots of house cats out on the prowl...

Ah yes, and those chipper little squirrels; trying to pack it in while the sun shines...

Elf: "Yep, this is it alright. See, elves have natural homing ability." Santa: "Yes, and dogs can fly (more mumbling)"

By special arrangement with a local news crew, we were able to actually find these two as they were finishing their delivery and bring you the following exclusive photographs (who’s interested in seeing more deer photos anyway?)

Elf: (Whispering) "See, there's the tree." Santa: "Did they lock the sliding door?" Elf: "No matter, elves have nimble fingers."

Santa: "Right-O. and a ho - ho. Let's get this job done; I've got thunder in my belly" Elf: "Shhhhh!"

Santa: "There's the box." Elf: "Got it!"

Santa: "And one styrofoam dinosaur egg." Elf: "I think they call those footballs Santa." Santa: "Whatever."

And, as night finished falling 'or the Vally, the happy duo walked off into the night, with many a jolly chuckle and a sprinkling of holiday good cheer... Santa: "The Diner Elf! How far to the Diner?"

So from our tree to yours, May you all enjoy the holidays, however you celebrate them; and may 2012 bring peace, health, and happiness whoever delivers it!

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Posted by on December 24, 2011 in Nature


Some Mosses on Phudd Hill

A mild winter day with no or little snow on the ground is a wonderful opportunity to observe some of the “lesser” members that make up our flora. Mosses are easily overlooked during other seasons when more spectacular displays, such as spring flowers or fall foliage, draw our attention. However, if you dare to look close, there is an amazing variety of shapes and colors represented in the mosses that cover rocks, tree boles, fallen logs, and even the ground.

Last week, we had a group of moss-enthusiasts visit Hawthorne Valley and together we explored  the base of Phudd Hill. Moss identification to species tends to require microscopes, technical literature, and LOTS OF TIME (at least for a beginner, like me…). So, in this blog, I am not even going to try to give you species names. All I am trying to do is to encourage you to have a closer look at the diversity of beautiful little moss plants that brave the winter and put in a few hours of photosynthesis whenever the moisture content and the temperature of their cells allow…

You might recognize this as the outcrop on the other side of the bridge, crossing from the school recess field over the Agawamuck. Although snow was still covering most of the ground, the steep rock face was almost snow-free, allowing the mosses to catch the sunlight.

Two very distinct mosses grow together on this section of the rock. The simple clusters of narrow, almost grass-like leaves belong to a species of Dicranum (a genus sometimes referred to as wind-blown mosses) and the characteristic feathery or fern-like fronds are from a species of Hypnum (also known as brocade moss, fern moss or log moss). Common names for mosses are not well-established and many of my moss books don’t even try to put common names, because they are too confusing and often applied to several different species…

This close-up of the Hypnum shows the characteristically curled leaves of Hypnum imponens.

Here, another fern-like moss is growing together with the Dicranum. This is one of the Thuidium species (also known as fern mosses).

This very different, round-leaved moss which occurs on the same rock face is Plagiomnium cuspidatum. Below left, you see a close-up of its leaves and the rosette-like shoot tips that bear the spore capsules. Below that, are a few young sporophytes that are just emerging, their undeveloped spore capsules are still hidden under a cylindrical hood, the calyptra.

Turning right (south) at the base of the hill, one soon encounters the next rock outcrop.

It has some mosses already seen on the first outcrop, but also a few new ones.

This picture captures a Leucobryum glaucum (white cushion moss) in the center. This characteristic moss becomes really common on top of Phudd Hill, on dry soil amongst the blueberries and chestnut oak. I was surprised to also see it on this rock face. Surrounding the cushion of Leucobryum glaucum are the drooping, waterfall-like shoots of another moss, possibly a species of Plagiothecium.

The close-up above illustrates the hanging branches, the close-ups below show young capsules developing at the shoot tips (left) and almost mature spore capsules, one with the calyptra still attached (right).

This recently established path crosses a colony of an interesting moss that we don’t see much on Phudd Hill.

It is one of the peat mosses (Sphagnum), much more commonly found in bogs (they form the peat in peat bogs!) and swamp forests. But this species seems to be happy with the moist soil on our steep hillside.

As a group, the peat mosses can be recognized by their star-shaped shoot tips, also known as capitula (=”little heads”). As you can see in the close-up below, the leaves are arranged in an overlapping pattern, so they have a phenomenal capacity to store water between them. Even dead peat moss maintains that water-storing capability, which makes it so popular as an additive to potting or garden soil.

Another world all together are the mosses that live on the bark of trees. On your next walk in the woods, keep a look out for these quite common, small (~ the size of a quarter coin) green cushions that are usually only seen on the bark of life trees and often conveniently located at eye level.

We were able to distinguish two different types of these tree cushion mosses on the trees of Phudd Hill:

Orthotrichum sp. has relatively straight leaves and roundish capsules (at least when they are young). Older capsules that have opened and spread their spores have a characteristic urn shape (picture on the bottom right).

In contrast, the leaves of the other species of tree cushion moss, Ulota crispa, are crisped up, and arranged in somewhat disorderly-looking little bunches. Their young spore capsules are elongate and covered with bristles (directly below), while the old capsules are also more urn-shaped (below that).

Another area where mosses are evident at this time of the year, is the shore of the Agawamuck.

Upon closer inspection, this green colony is composed of many tiny star-shaped moss plants of the genus Atrichum.

Below, you see a fully hydrated leaf, while the leaf below that is drying out.

“Next door” to the Atrichum down by the creek bank, we encounter a familiar sight: the same Thuidium or fern moss we had seen growing on the rock outcrop finds suitable conditions on the bare ground of the creek bank.

I would like to thank my moss teachers, Nancy Slack, Ralph Pope and Tom Phillips, for getting me started. I hope, if they find any mistakes in this blog, they’ll let me know and forgive me. I also thank Conrad for taking the close-up photos with his new macro-photography setup.

If you are interested in learning more about mosses and don’t want to wait for the occasional blog from me, check out this excellent moss blog by Sue Williams from the Berkshires. If you are looking for a chance to learn more about mosses in the field and with a microscope, you might want to check out the informal moss group that meets every second Monday afternoon in Troy (for info, please contact Tom Phillips, Finally, my favorite book about mosses, which is not at all technical and a pleasure to read, is “Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses” by Robin Wall Kimmerer.

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Posted by on December 20, 2011 in Nature



This posting gives an update on the Native Plant Garden around the Creekhouse here at Hawthorne Valley. Our  goal with this garden is to showcase native plants with ornamental potential, provide a sanctuary for rare natives and their associated insects, and inspire more people to choose native plants as part of their own garden designs. Many native plants have become extremely rare in the wild, so please, never dig them up in their natural habitat, unless the habitat is about to be destroyed. If you do collect seeds from the wild, please collect them only where there are plenty and take only a small proportion of the seeds to ensure the sustainability of the wild population. Throughout this posting, I will point out where the plants in our garden came from. We are happy to swap seeds and plants with other native plant gardeners.

And should you get sick and tired of looking at late fall images of the garden, remind yourself how the garden looked at the height of the season with the images in the post of July 21, 2011.

When you drive by the Creekhouse these days, you see the Roadside Garden slowly going to sleep for the winter. However, there is still a lot going on…

We left most of the seed heads on the native asters and other plants, so there are still interesting patterns of color and texture to look at. As a side benefit, the seeds remain available as food for animals.

Aside from the rather dry-looking stalks and seed heads of grasses and asters, etc., there is still an amazing amount of green in the garden bed.

Golden Ragwort or Groundsel (Packera aurea, formerly Senecio aureus) provides a nice ground cover with its rosettes of ovate leaves. Golden Ragwort is locally abundant in swamps throughout the county, but these plants had been transplanted here from another ornamental garden last fall. The dry spikes on the left are Great Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica), which was bought from Project Native and planted here last fall.

Another Great Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) forms its own rosette of green leaves. We know Great Lobelia in the wild only from a handfull of places in calcium-rich wet meadows in the eastern part of Columbia County.

Amidst a rigorous ground cover of Wild Strawberry (Fagaria virginiana), transplanted here from another part of the Creekhouse garden, thrives the tender but prolific American Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia). Note its blue bell-shaped flowers which it presented continuously since June and is still not ready to give up… This plant was bought from Project Native and is very rare in the wild: we know of a single spot where it grows in Columbia County on top of the Taconic Ridge in Copake.

Hiding in the shade of the rock is another great ground cover: the velvety leaves of Pussytoes (Antennaria sp.). Pussytoes are not uncommon in dry meadows and on banks along roads. This one was transplanted from another garden.

This is the rosette of a Carolina Pink (Silene carolinensis), which was bought from Project Native and planted here in the fall. This species is rare throughout NY State and in our County we have seen it at only two locations, both in Copake.

Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis) has been known historically to occur in the south-western corner of the town of Hillsdale. We have not yet been able to re-locate this only known population from the County. Wild Lupine is one of the flagship species of the Albany Pinebush and host plant to the federally endangered Karner Blue Butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis). Although the Karner Blue is highly unlikely to ever show up in our yard, I got this plant last summer on sale at Agway and it has rewarded us with beautiful blue flowers way into the fall.

And here is the Rain Garden which collects and channels the runoff from the parking area…

All the native wetland shrubs we had bought from Project Native in the spring for this part of the garden have gotten well established and have been left alone by the deer (knock on wood!).

Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) is still presenting its red berries.

The sturdy sporophylls (= “spore-bearing leaves”) of Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) have great ornamental value throughout the winter. We have Ostrich Fern from Project Native as well as some plants transplanted from a friend’s garden in the Rain Garden.

The pale leaves and stalks of Purpletop (Tridens flavus) contrast beautifully with the reddish hues of Bayberry (Myrica gale). While the latter came from Project Native, we proudly grew the Purpletop from seeds given to us by a friend last fall!

A rather indestructible native plant common to many roadsides in our area is Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis). It was already established among the grasses along our roadside and we have transplanted it from that population to a variety of locations within the Native Plant Garden, where we now enjoy its sturdy late-season rosettes.

Another very sturdy rosette is formed by Cardinalflower (Lobelia cardinalis), which we grew from seeds collected last fall here on the farm. The seeds of Cardinalflower are tiny, almost dust-like and their newly-germinated seedlings looked rather fragile. But as soon as they were in the ground, they grew vigorously and now we are looking forward to next year’s flowers.

This Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans) was bought from Project Native this spring and has gone through an array of beautiful colors, including beautiful shades of green and pinkish-purple, until it finally settled on its late fall tan.

This Great Angelica (Angelica atropurpurea) came from Project Native and is still taking its time to go to sleep for the winter.

This little well-armed shrub is a native Swamp Rose (Rosa palustris) we grew from seeds collected in a swamp on the farm last year. This species is distinct from the invasive Multiflora Rose. It likes “wetter feet”, its flowers are pink (not white), and both its flowers and rose hips are bigger than those of Multiflora Rose.

Somewhat covered by the dried leaves of Sweetflag (Acorus americanus) is another rosette of still-green leaves: Yellow Avens (Geum allepicum), grown from seeds collected in a wet meadow on the farm last summer.

Unperturbed by the late season stands Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum sp.), grown from seeds collected on a dry hillside here on the farm last fall.

This newly cultivated area is our attempt to create a Woodland Garden surrounding the large and established Honey Locust tree, which is not native but tolerated for the shade it gives to the house.

After smothering the weeds with newspapers and covering the newspapers with bark mulch, we planted examples of native woodland plants, such as this Plantain-leaved Sedge (Carex plantaginifolia), which came from Project Native.

We also started a little fern glen with ferns from Project Native, including Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides), Marginal Woodfern (Dryopteris marginalis), Hairy Lipfern (Cheilanthes lanosa) seen on this picture, plus several other species not depicted. The grass-like green leaves sprouting all throughout are the invasive Garlic Grass (Allium vineale) which had been growing in this spot before and has found its way through the newspaper and mulch…

Another recently cultivated area is around these wonderful established stone steps below the Honey Locust tree.

We began by establishing the beds, claiming the space with mulch and then transplanting Columbines (Aquilegia canadensis) from another garden area on the farm.

We call this area the “Wild West Hill” and our efforts to date have been focused on watching which native plants want to grow there and trying to discourage the invasive Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora), Teasel (Dipsacus laciniatus), and Honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.), who would gladly take over this space in no time. We are also discouraging two of the native Goldenrods, Canada Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) and Wrinkle-leaf Goldenrod (Solidago rugosa), who are all too happy on this disturbed hillside and hope to increase wildflower diversity by creating small “native wildflower islands”.

Another “wild” area is this dry grassland near the road. It actually has a nice variety of uncommon Goldenrods, such as Early Goldenrod (Solidago juncea), Silverrod (Solidago bicolor), Grey Goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis), and Bluestem Goldenrod (Solidago caesia) and so far, our management consisted of discouraging the Wrinkle-leaved Goldenrod to take over the area.

Along the wooded roadside and also around the foundation of the house, Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum) is a common sight. We know it from several calcium-rich forests and rock outcrops throughout the County and consider it a native species that we welcome to volunteer in the Creekhouse garden.

A Hawthorn tree by the parking area had a mockingbird nest this summer. Now, that the leaves are down, it turns out that the nest has found another purpose as the pantry and dining hall of some small rodent, who filled it with hawthorn berries.

I would like to thank Ruth Dufault and the many other people who have helped shape the Creekhouse Garden with their knowledge and ideas, their muscle power, their patient weeding, and/or with plants and seeds from their own gardens. This would not have been possible without you!

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Posted by on December 6, 2011 in Nature