Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Ebony Jewelwing

Ebony Jewelwing (Calopteryx maculate)
‘Black-winged Damselfly’
(click on the photo above for a better view)

More from my tour of wild Concord:
Harry Winston, you can keep your emeralds, diamonds and rubies. These are the jewels that I covet. We saw these exquisite insects near a pond in the Estabrook Woods. They can be found along wooded, slow-moving streams and small rivers. Nymphs develop in water; adults often perch on low shrubbery in sunlit openings in forest canopy. These beauties glinted above a stream that fed into a pond.

Check back for more on my tour of wild Concord in upcoming posts.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Secret places of wild Concord

Great Blue Heron Rookery

Trevor chats with our group as Peter checks on herons

The invitation was impossible to resist ― Tour the secret places of wild Concord, Massachusetts with my friend, naturalist and author Peter Alden and Manomet Bird Observatory Program Director Trevor Lloyd-Evans ― so I didn't.

On Saturday, June 26th, we spent the day visiting woods, meadows, swamps, ponds and other wild places, beginning at 9am and ending at 4pm. It was my kind of day, spent in the company of like minded nature lovers.

Peter and I visited this rookery last spring. The adults were still sitting on their nests and only a few young had hatched. Still, it was exciting for me, because I have a special fondness for Great Blue Herons and make weekly visits to a much smaller rookery near me throughout the spring and summer. Visiting this one in late June allowed us to view young at several stages of maturity ― soon to fledge, ready to fledge any day now and some still only a few weeks old.

This is a busy, raucous place. The young are very vocal as they keep a keen eye out for parents returning to the nest with breakfast, lunch and dinner. Cak, cak, cak, cak, cak ― is the sound they make most often. But once they spot a parent returning with food, their cries become much louder and urgent, perhaps the loudest hoping to be fed first. Later, when the young are full and content, the sounds of bullfrogs, green frogs and red-winged blackbirds provide a lovely background chorus.

This habitat is ideal for Great Blue Herons ― a swamp created by
beavers doing what beavers do best. Stands of tall dead trees surrounded by water are perfect for the platform type nests that herons build and keep the young safe from predators.

Watching the parents coming and going and the young herons stretching their wings to develop the muscles they need to fly was a memorable experience. Seeing my first green heron was also thrilling.

I will share more about my tour of wild Concord in upcoming posts.

Peter Alden is a world-renowned naturalist, lecturer, ecotourism guide and author of 15 books on North American and African wildlife, including the "National Audubon Society's Regional Field Guide Series." He is considered to be an authority on birds― and larger mammals of the world and is often consulted by the media and the ecotourism industry for his expertise.

Trevor Lloyd-Evans is an ornithologist and avian conservation senior scientist. For more than three decades he has worked as a specialist in bird populations at the Manomet Center for Conservation Services. He is also an expert on invasive plants, migrant birds, bird banding programs and bird molting.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Gray seals off Monomoy

Gray Seals (Halichoerus grypus) feeding in the Atlantic
Click on the photo collage for close up views

This is my last post about my trip to Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge:
I went to Monomoy to see gray seals and I was not disappointed. Though our naturalist guide expected to find vast numbers of them hauled out and resting, we arrived during their lunch time when feeding was optimal for them. Instead, we watched them surf the waves and dive for eels and fish. I could not have been happier ― seeing them on the move and in their natural element was wonderful. They’re very curious and some of the juveniles briefly swam in close to shore to get a better view of us!

The gray seal has a wide variety of coloring. Males tend to have a dark brown-gray to black coat with a few light patches. Females are generally light gray-tan, lighter on the chest, with dark spots and patches. Adult males, and some older adult females to a lesser extent, have a characteristically long nose with wide nostrils, which is why this species is called "horsehead" in Canada, and why its Latin name translates to "hooked-nose pig of the sea." Gray seals have been known to dive to depths up to 300m for as long as 20 minutes. Females live up to 35 years of age, males up to 25 years. The maximum recorded ages are 46 years for a female, 29 years for a male.

Gray seals are found in the north Atlantic Ocean separated into three distinct populations: the western Atlantic population is found off the coast of Canada from north Labrador down to New England occasionally as far south as Virginia. The eastern Atlantic population is found around the coasts of the United Kingdom and Ireland, and on the coasts of the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Norway, and northwestern Russia as far as the White Sea. Smaller populations are also found on the French, Dutch, and German coasts, and wandering individuals have been found as far south as Portugal. The third known population of gray seals is located in the Baltic Sea.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Limulus polyphemus

Translucent molts of growing horseshoe crabs
(Limulus polyphemus)

More from my trip to Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge: I gathered these molts from baby horseshoe crabs that I found while walking on the beach.

A female horseshoe crab will lay 90,000 eggs or more during a spawning cycle. But only about 10 horseshoe crabs will make it to adulthood.

As larvae and hatchlings, juvenile and subadults, they will shed their shells or molt as they grow. Males are sexually mature after about 8 or 9 years and 16 molts. Females are not sexually mature until they are about 10 or 11 years old and have molted 17 times. Some horseshoe crabs continue to molt even after sexual maturity. No one knows how long horseshoe crabs live.
Source: National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Ancient Mariner

A horseshoe crab (Limulus polyphemus) swims in the shallows off Monomoy Island. Click on the photo for a better view of the seaweed and mollusk beard on his shell.

"IT is an ancient Mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three.
By thy long beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp'st thou me?"

~from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

By Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)
English Romantic lyrical poet, critic, and philosopher

More from my trip to Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge (see previous post):
I encountered this fellow as I was making my way from the beach on North Monomoy Island back to our boat. The horseshoe crab is a distant relative of the spider and is probably descended from the ancient order Eurypterida. Horseshoe crabs are among the world's oldest and most fascinating creatures and are estimated to be at least 300 million years old.

For many decades, humans have harvested the horseshoe crab for use as fishing bait. Since the 1970s, horseshoe crab blood has also been used for medical purposes to the point where their kind have declined significantly, and so have their egg numbers.

Their decline is especially important to the red knot, a small shorebird that is a global traveler of the most impressive kind. The red knot makes one of the longest migrations of any animal — a journey that takes it from one end of the earth to the other. To accomplish this feat, it relies on the eggs of the horseshoe crab. Without these eggs, the red knot is doomed.

To learn more view Crash: A Tale of Two Species, from NATURE.
Horseshoe Crab Information Source: Crash: A Tale of Two Species

Monday, June 21, 2010

All Things Are Possible – Again

This beach appeared as if in a dream
North Monomoy Island Wildlife Refuge

As the amount of oil gushing into the Gulf continues to boggle my mind and sadden my heart, I felt compelled to make a "Cape Escape." Afterward, I realized this is something I need to do more of from now on. Nature is my elixir and I'm just not getting enough.

My destination: Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, off the coast of Chatham, Massachusetts. I went to observe a large population of gray seals and spend some time on North Monomoy Island.

The day was near perfect – sunny and clear, a bit too warm on land, but much cooler out at sea. Speeding along, the waves rolling high on either side of the boat, gulls and terns flying overhead, I felt alive again. Days later, this feeling continues.

I felt the same joy and elation speeding out into the ocean when I visited South Monomoy Island 16 summers ago to go birdwatching.

For me, there is power in this place, something about Monomoy Island resonates with me on a profound level. Spending time there fills me with inspiration and hope, and infuses my senses with the magical elixir that only places in nature can. Maybe it's just a coincidence, but since my return I feel I can face anything now, even the catastrophe in the Gulf, with a renewed sense of mission and a belief that I can make tomorrow better.

I’ll share more photos from my time on Monomoy in the next posts.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Wayward Hayward

President Barack Obama after speaking

"Their leaders talked
and talked
but nothing
could stem the avalanche."

~opening narrative,
The Road Warrior, 1981

Click on the green links for more on Hayward and Obama.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

We interrupt this catastrophe...

The fierce but beautiful Baby

The Baby is much smaller than her sister Daisy take a much-needed "Baby" break. Too much death, destruction and incompetence surrounding the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and the Baby is a welcome distraction.

After watching President Obama speak last night I am still processing my thoughts, though "hellfire" would probably be the best word to describe my first reaction. More on that in an upcoming post.

Back to Baby. Unlike her much larger sibling, Daisy, I'm beginning to think this petite girl might have run alongside Diana the Huntress in a past life. If I didn't have a mouse problem I'd object, but Death by Baby is merciful compared to traps or poison, neither of which I can stand to consider. As long as she sticks to mice, and she does excel at finding and dining on them, even foregoing the usual cat and mouse games, I figure it's a quick death.

The fact that she's likely to face a quick death of her own in the next year is the other reason I allow the Baby to go on mouse patrol. There's no way to know when that will happen but she seems bent on packing in a lot of living.

Fierce as the Baby may be when hunting, she's incredibly charming and fetching when not. She possesses an allure and charisma that are difficult to describe. And, she's a wicked flirt.

When I first adopted the girls last summer, I did so knowing that the Baby had a serious heart condition, which had stunted her growth. I was still heavy with grief for Rock then but when I saw her, I knew I had to have her.

I wasn't the only one to recognize something special about her. Several expensive and highly experienced veterinarian cardiologists took the time and trouble to evaluate her, free of charge, while she and her sister languished at a city shelter. But nobody wanted to adopt both girls until I came along.

The first week after they came to live with me I dreamed that the Baby had died. I was very upset even though she had only been with me for a short time. In the dream the lady from the shelter tried to console me by reminding me that I still had Daisy.

"Yes, but the Baby is the prize," I told her.

I dreamed that I said that then but I am certain when I say it now. Much as I love Daisy, the Baby is the prize, and Daisy seems to feel the same way.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Apocalypse in Barataria Bay

The Bald Cypress Swamp of Barataria Preserve, which is more biologically diverse than the Everglades and serves as a nursery and breeding ground for the gulf's shrimp, crab, oyster and fish. Photo by Carolyn Cole for The Los Angeles Times

From ASSOCIATED PRESS, June 14, 2010

Barataria teems with wildlife, including alligators, bullfrogs, bald eagles and migratory birds from the Caribbean and South America. There are even Louisiana black bears in the upper basin’s hardwood forests.

Before the Deepwater Horizon explosion on April 20, oyster and shrimp boats plowed through these productive bays as fishermen snapped up speckled trout and redfish within minutes of casting their lines.

Now it resembles an environmental war zone.

“The whole place is full of oil,” said fishing guide Dave Marino. “This is some of the best fishing in the whole region, and the oil’s coming in just wave after wave. It’s hard to stomach, it really is.”

Everything from crabbing to bait fishing is shutting down, and the anger on the bayou is palpable.

“It’s scary, you know, man,” marine mechanic Jimmy Howard said from his hurricane-battered fishing shack, a cigar stub stuffed in his mouth. “I see them doing what they can, you know. All the boats going out, all the boom. I’m hoping they can contain it.”

“We got little otter families that swim in and out, we got ’coons — all that good stuff, man,” Howard said. “It’s good for the kids out here. Keeps them off the streets. They swim, work on the boats, fish.”

Barataria has played a vital role in Louisiana history. It is where the pirate and Battle of New Orleans hero Jean Lafitte established his colony of Baratarians. The estuary was also the setting for “The Awakening” by Kate Chopin. Like other wealthy 19th-century New Orleanians, Chopin spent summers on Grand Isle, to the bay’s south, and made the evocative island a focus of her work.

Barataria was a wild place back then. It was covered in virgin cypress trees, some believed to be thousands of years old. Throughout the marsh and forests, shrimp-processing towns and American-Indian settlements hummed with activity in the bay, which is at the heart of a 1.5 million-acre delta basin formed 3,000 years ago. But heavy erosion has been pushing the bay closer to the brink of collapse in recent years.

Since the damming of Bayou Lafourche in 1904 cut off a supply of fresh water and nutrients, Barataria has declined rapidly. About 500 square miles of marsh, mangrove, mudflats, sand ridges and cypress forest have been lost to the encroaching salt water of the Gulf. It’s a familiar story in coastal Louisiana, where 2,000 square miles of wetlands have been lost since the 1930s.

Scientists fear the oil may overwhelm Barataria’s remaining defenses, already stressed by erosion.

“There is no good estuary to spill oil in, but this estuary is particularly fragile,” said Mark Schexnayder, marine biologist with the Louisiana Sea Grant program, an affiliate of Louisiana State University

C.C. Lockwood, a wildlife photographer whose iconic images of the vanishing coast are a coffee-table feature, has been out in the slick capturing its impact.

“It looks to me like the roots (of marsh plants) are pretty much smothered and they will die at the edges,” Lockwood said. “I saw what I counted to be about 1,000 dead hermit crabs. I saw blue crabs with faces covered in oil.”

"I’m pissed — and you can print that,” said Donna Hollis, 39, hanging out in a tank-top and with a cigarette at Jimmy Howard’s camp in Wilkinson Canal.

She echoed Jefferson Parish council chairman John Young: “This is a battle. Oil’s our enemy right now. This is going to destroy the livelihoods of these people in south Louisiana.”

Sunday, June 13, 2010

What The Spill Will Kill

A dead sea turtle on the beach in Gulf Port, Mississippi
Photo by Brandon Kruse for The Palm Beach Post-ZUMA Press

A dead seabird in the surf on Elmer's Island, Louisiana
Photo by J. Sisco for The Times-Picayune-Landov

The title of this post is Newsweek Magazine's cover story for June 14, 2010, which tackles the oil spill's environmental, economic and political toll. The story opens with:

"Giant plumes of crude oil mixed with methane are sweeping the ocean depths with devastating consequences. ‘I’m not too worried about oil on the surface,’ says one scientist. ‘It’s the things we don’t see that worry me the most.’"

Click here to continue reading.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

BP Stands for Baby Pelicans

Oil-covered brown pelican chicks stand in contrast
to clean chicks on Cat Island, LA
Photo by Charlie Riedel for AP

The BP Gulf oil spill disaster occurred in the middle of breeding season, dooming the hatchlings now sitting in marshland nests waiting to be fed. If exposure and/or ingestion of oil and chemical dispersants doesn't kill them, starvation will – many are waiting for parents that will never return.

Heartbreaking as this nursery nightmare is, the worst is yet to come. Marine life, including rare and endangered turtles, and dolphins, have been washing up on beaches for the past few weeks, something BP doesn't want you to know.

However, the more BP tries to hide the truth of the irreparable harm they have caused in the Gulf, the more damage they do to BP, the company. What goes around still does come around.


In the end nothing can bring back what we've lost. No dollar amount can compensate, and no act of justice can even begin to rectify this crime against nature. This is an epic event and the losses will be staggering.

We must be vigilant in protecting what remains.

Monday, June 7, 2010

We owe it to them

Oil-covered brown pelicans huddle together in a cage at the International Bird Rescue Research Center in Buras, LA. Photo by Lee Celano for Reuters

Shannon Griffin, Julie Skogland and Darene Birtell clean a brown pelican at a rescue center set up by the International Bird Rescue Research Center in Buras, LA. Photo by Bill Haber for AP

Today's numbers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other groups involved in the cleanup show that 413 oiled birds have been collected alive, and 594 dead birds have been picked up. Of all those birds, only 39 have been released back into the wild.

Rick Steiner, an Alaska marine biologist who was involved in the 1989 Exxon Valdez cleanup and is now assisting Greenpeace, said from a boat in the Gulf that he and the crew turned in a heavily oiled young egret for cleaning just today.

"It was in horrible shape and I doubt seriously that it will survive the day. But, you know, we caused their pain and suffering, so we owe it to them to do everything we possibly can to give them a fighting chance of survival.”

A crime against nature

Dead seabird covered in oil on a Louisiana beach.
Photo by Charlie Riedel for AP

At a public appearance in Watertown, MA on Wednesday, June 2nd, U.S. Rep. Edward Markey called the Gulf of Mexico oil spill “a crime against nature.” As a resident of Massachusetts I am proud that Markey has chosen to draw attention to the most innocent victims of this catastrosphe. While the spill is tragic for humanity, it is a death sentence for wildlife.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

What have we done?

photo by Win McNamee for Getty Images
photo by Charlie Riedel for AP

Brown pelicans coated in heavy oil
wallow in the Louisiana surf.

"I remember a time of chaos,
ruined dreams, this wasted land...
when the world was powered
by the black fuel..."

~opening narrative,
The Road Warrior, 1981

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Remembering my Rachmaninoff

Rachmaninoff, my beloved Maine Coon cat, in days gone by.

One year has passed since I lost Rock. It is difficult to comprehend and it seems like such a vast amount of time, and yet I worked hard to get here. The grief is lighter now but he is never far from my thoughts. Eighteen years is a long time and now I understand what a gift it was.

When Rock was diagnosed with kidney failure I sometimes took refuge in the countryside to grieve so he would not sense my sadness (he was amazingly sensitive to my feelings). I found myself driving one particular route most often, past horse farms and open meadows, and eventually I made it my "grief drive." In the months leading up to his death, I grieved in anticipation. In the days, weeks and months after his death, it became an important ritual to help me grieve his absence.

I continue to take my grief drive, though there is no real pattern now. Surrounded by the beauty of the countryside, I am free to grieve openly; my sunglasses are huge and the roads are mostly deserted. I can release whatever grief has been building up and be done with it. And, I can talk to my boy and tell him how much I miss and love him without worrying if anyone will understand (I doubt most would understand that one can have such a strong bond with a cat).

This grief ritual has helped me immensely and I can't yet imagine the day when I will no longer carry it out. But I know that day will come. And, when it does, it will be all right.