We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Our Recent Essays Behind the Front Page
Monday, June 14. 2021
Sunday, June 13. 2021
Transplanting solitary land animals to a new habitat can be a death sentence.
Sunday, June 6. 2021
Thursday, May 27. 2021
Wolves were exterminated in the Northeast US centuries ago. In the 1800s, the sheep farmers hated them, put bounties on them, and killed every last one.
What happened to Shepherd dogs?
The wolves also kept the White-Tailed Deer and Moose populations in check and healthy. An unorthodox strategy to stop cars from hitting deer
As a bonus, they would kill all of those invasive Coyotes.
Also: Save the wolves?
Sunday, May 23. 2021
This stream valley is a first-growth woodlands, plenty of underbrush (Shadbush, wild azalea, Mountain Laurel, etc.) and some small swamps full of swamp critters. A few pasture giant trees still standing. Probably was pasture 70 years ago, with woodlots on the slopes. Instead of cattle tramping through the stream, it's back to nature with otters, beaver, and a new forest.
Warbler migration time in May is big fun for birders. One reason is because they are in breeding plumage. Another is because they pass through in great waves, unlike fall migration back to South and Central America. A third reason, I guess, is because all of our other passerine migrants arrive at the same time as the warblers.
My goal would be to ID warblers by their song instead of trying to catch them by binoculars. They flit through the new leaves so frenetically, and some are so high, that it's just annoying. They have moved by the time you get the binocs up.
If I could memorize most of their tunes (and all other passerines), I'd consider that a huge life accomplishment. I could walk through a place like a blind person, still "seeing" everything.
As I have said, the most warbler species I have ever seen in one day (24) was in NYC's Central Park in a May some years ago. Here's a sample of what birders do in May, on the US Central Flyway in Ohio -
Sunday, May 2. 2021
Some links might be obsolete.
Before I dig a little into this topic, a perspective and a few definitions.
Every Eastern gardener knows well how much nature wants to turn your garden into a grassy weed-patch, then into a woodland. Humans force nature to obey with great difficulty. Everyone who sanctimoniously bemoans deforestation in South America and Africa should first look out their window to see one's local deforestation.
Our Great Plains, it is believed, were at least partly the result of Indian burning practices and wildfire. And the Scottish moors? Much is the result of deforestation too, but they are beginning to re-plant. Permanent deforestation is definitely a bad thing from a conservation standpoint, but often not from a human economic standpoint. Manhattan Island is now pretty nice without the forest.
Clear-cutting, as opposed to selective logging, involves cutting almost every tree down in an area, with the intention that things will grow back. It is an efficient form of silviculture because, when the woods grow back whether re-planted or just re-seeded by Nature - most of the new trees will be ready for harvest at the same time. Unlike deforestation and selective harvesting, clear-cutting restarts the clock of natural forest succession, just as does forest fire or severe wind damage. Fire is a key to woodland health and diversity: we see the unhappy consequences of fire suppression in the West, with apocalyptic fires due to fallen dead trees rather than routine smaller fires which efficiently recycle forest litter. In an era of unnatural and probably foolish fire suppression by government (essentially a subsidization of the lumber industry and the vacation-home real estate business), only clear-cutting can imitate the normal cycle of forest succession and renewal, habitat diversity, and thus the species diversity, that conservationists seek.
(An aside on the subject of forest succession. This much-studied topic is difficult to discuss in any general way, because every habitat, region, latitude, altitude and soil has its own pattern of forest succession following disturbance. There are even areas where the normal climax forest is never achieved, as in some areas of the South where fire maintains fire-resistant pine forest in areas where deciduous trees would otherwise be the climax forest. Each stage of forest succession has specialized species which are adapted to it - and to it only. One example, from Ohio. I will need to do a piece just on the subject of forest succession, sometime.)
Which brings me to the subject of environmental concerns. I think of environmentalists as being of either the sentimental-esthetic sorts, the politically-motivated sorts, and the hard-nosed scientific sorts. This might be an unfair depiction, but I think it holds up much of the time. Mature forests are wonderfully attractive to the human eye, but, in most US ecosystems they have little biodiversity and support fewer species of plants and animals than transitional woodlands or woodland edges. Also attractive are lovely rolling green meadows, but they are about as natural as lawns, and it requires plenty of gasoline and machinery to maintain that unnaturally scenic, clean-cut condition.
The controversy, it seems to me, derives from the emotional, not the factual. It's my conclusion that clear-cutting, judiciously applied, preserving contiguous areas of mature forest and without destroying streams with erosion, best duplicates the natural condition of the life cycle of woodlands, which, in nature, are always a work in progress and never complete.
Nature is a dynamic, changing thing, but the human infestation of the planet begs for thoughtful stewardship, and sometimes that means compensating for our actions: it's our big garden, now.
Photo on top: An example of deforestation in the form of a Vermont hayfield
Photo below: Smokey the Bear, Capitalist Tool in the service of the lumber industry!
Friday, April 30. 2021
Around here, anyway. It means they have laid their eggs, and do not wish to advertise their presence. It's not just Robins, it's all of the songbirds.
All the same, for the next several weeks the crows will be swooping everywhere to steal the songbirds' eggs and nestlings. They know how to find them.
In other breaking news, our wrens are back this morning. Welcome home, little friends.
Have not seen a warbler yet but our trees have not leafed out yet -still just tree flowers. Not ornamental, just yellowish tree blossoms spewing pollen.
Tuesday, April 27. 2021
Saturday, April 24. 2021
Ribbon Snakes are long (up to 30 inches), skinny members of the Garter Snake family, found across the Eastern half of the US.
We saw one slithering along a pond edge in New England two weeks ago. They like to hunt near water and marshes for bugs, tadpoles, etc., but I've seen them sunning on woodpiles a ways from ponds.
Thursday, April 15. 2021
I thought I knew quite a bit about North American (mostly meaning east of the Mississippi) forests. Nope. This helped me be a far more informed hiker.
This is a sequential series of 3. I had to watch it all twice. One of the best youtubes we've ever posted. I lied - I watched it 3 times because it was so absorbing.
Saturday, April 10. 2021
Friday, April 9. 2021
Once found across much of the US including New England, our American big cats have a greatly shrunken territory.
Right now our White-throated Sparrows have headed north along with the Juncos, and Song Sparrows have arrived for the summer and their breeding season.
They live all across the USA and most of Canada. A cheerful song.
Monday, April 5. 2021
Mrs. BD and I took a 5-mile woodsy hike last weekend and passed many vernal pools and small ponds with the early springtime chorus.
Like owls, you hardly ever see these critters but they let you know they are there in April. Mating calls of common early Spring frogs of vernal pools and shallow marshes:
The tiny Spring Peepers dominate the chorus. Man, have I loved that sound since earliest childhood:
And the mating trill of Mr, Toad: Bufo Americanus:
Sunday, April 4. 2021
Large natural fresh-water ponds with marshes are scarce in the northeast US. If you know of one, where is it and what is it like? I've seen a few in MA, but most were post-glacial and have since filled in as bogs or wetlands or grass, if not trees.
With the return of the beaver populations, fresh habitat is available for all of these critters. I like man-made marshes too.
Funny - I've never seen a Mallard in a tree before.
Tuesday, March 30. 2021
They all enjoy my birdseed.
Saturday, March 20. 2021
Friday, March 12. 2021
Wednesday, February 24. 2021
Tuesday, February 23. 2021
Along with our Juncoes, a perky winter sparrow around here in the Northeast US.
As weather warms up (not yet) they have a very sweet call before they depart to breed in the coniferous parts of Canada.
A similar bird, the White-Crowned Sparrow, is rarely seen here because they migrate from their breeding gounds on the tundra to winter further south. They do not seem to stop by for a rest.
Friday, February 5. 2021
Thursday, January 28. 2021
Unlike Canada Geese whose feathers can bounce off birdshot at distance, Snow Geese, in the words of a friend, "go down like a prom dress."
Two more pics below the fold -
Continue reading "Snow Geese"
Wednesday, January 20. 2021
This northern chicken-like (gallinaceous) bird prefers first-growth areas, with access to water and open areas. I most often find them in aspen, birch or alder thickets, but they can be seen in piney woods, old orchards, ferny woods, and in streambeds. In regions where birch and aspen are the climax forest, they can be found everywhere or anywhere, but never in large numbers. They are most commonly encountered when they flush with a startling whirr of wings.
Once known as "fool hens" for their tameness, Ruffies have somehow learned to avoid human encounters once they have had contact with them.
These birds do not migrate, and winter very well, since they are very happy to thrive on tree buds all winter, especially protein-rich aspen and birch buds. Their numbers have been declining in the Northeast as the old farms have become either mature woods, or housing developments, but clear-cutting of mature woodlands is a great help to them, as it is to most species of wildlife (it imitates the natural effect of wildfire to regenerate forest succession, which is key to habitat diversity and thus species diversity).
The Ruffed Grouse is the noblest game bird in the US. Wary, they do not often hold to a dog's point and when they do flush, their flight assumes warp speed immediately and is unpredictable. (Gwynnie's theory is that they have a random-direction-generating gyroscope in their brains.) They have an uncanny talent for putting tree trunks between the hunter and themselves, or for flying at your face, or flying between you and you pal, whose life you may (or may not) value more highly than you value bagging a Ruffie. And even the most considerate hunters ( yes - you, Craig) will pop off a snap shot regardless of whose bird it is, and rightly so. You cannot wait with Ruffies.
Grouse hunters (a very special and scarce, and, to my mind, elite fraternity of intrepid woodsy folks who don't mind cuts, bruises, wet boots, and hours-long struggles through underbrush, raspberry patches, thorny thickets of hawthorn, and impenetrable streamside alder growths) require very quick reflexes and a high degree of "relaxed alertness", but they require, most of all, strong legs for all of the hours of difficult wilderness walking which is required to find these wonderful creatures. It is said that grouse "are killed with legs, not guns." Dogs help, a bit, but they are huntable without dogs. When a hunter finds one, they are generally very difficult to shoot such that every Ruffie is a trophy and is regarded as such. And they are also regarded as a rare gourmet treat, because, with their subtle woodsy flavor, there is no finer fowl for the table.
Why "ruffed"? The males have a dramatic black neck ruff which they display for courtship purposes, while they fan their tails and strut around like little Thanksgiving turkeys. Their courtship drumbeat from an old log is also one of their well-known features: many have heard their deep thumping from deep in the woods, and have no idea that it is just a horny male Ruffie looking for a date.
Read more about the wonderful Ruffed Grouse here. The very worthy Ruffed Grouse Society, which Maggie's Farm supports, pays for research on grouse and woodcock ecology, which benefits all woodlands and woodland creatures.
Tuesday, December 8. 2020
Tuesday, November 24. 2020
At the turn of the century, the Eastern Wild Turkey was nearly eradicated by hunting and habitat loss, and was entirely absent in the Northeast.
By the mid 1800s, the woodlands of New England had disappeared for farming, charcoal production, and lumbering.
But the woodlands have returned as farming moved west, and the wierd gobble now can be heard even in residential areas.
Thanks to dramatically successful conservation and transplantation efforts, there are now estimated to be 7 million of these huge iridescent birds, which Ben Franklin felt to be so quintessentially American that he wanted one on the US Seal. (Video of the turkey's comeback here.)
There are six species of wild turkey in the New World, and none elsewhere. (The domestic turkey is likely a descendent of the large Mexican species.) It is the Eastern which we feature here which has, in recent years, been transplanted successfully west of the Mississippi, and elsewhere.
As a sought-after game bird, the turkey's habits have been much studied. They are wary and cautious. In most areas, there is a spring and a fall hunting season for turkey, and they are pursued with bow or shotgun. It is the one game bird which it is sporting to shoot on the ground.
I have hunted them on a couple of occasions. Never managed to shoot one, though. Had a good time however, sitting at the base of a tree in camo, watching the other wild critters pass by.
Does the wild turkey taste different from a supermarket bird? Yes - the wild turkey tastes like turkey and the supermarket bird tastes like a supermarket.
(Page 1 of 30, totaling 741 entries) » next page