Saturday, September 29, 2012

On the rocks

Talk about blending in...  

This American Bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana) can change color depending on his environment. Here, he is perfectly camouflaged amid the dark and shiny rocks in the stream where he makes his home.

Soaking up the warm September sun helps this aquatic frog stay healthy and active. As winter approaches he will hibernate in mud, but not bury himself completely, and may slowly swim around from time to time during thaws.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Look around you

“In the name of God, stop a moment, cease your work, look around you.” 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

An abundance of pine cones

 Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus) Cones
(click on the photo for a closer view)

In my corner of the world pine cones seem to be everywhere. They began falling in late summer when tropical storms brought high winds. 

As Fall begins many more are pardon the pun falling, and littering woodland trails in the most wonderful way. As a friend said on a recent hike, "It's looking more and more like Pine Cone City around here."

According to folklore an abundance of pine cones portends a harsher than normal winter, something most of us in New England are rather nervous about anyway after the unusually mild winter of 2012. 

Those who understand the natural cycles in pine cone production call this a mast year, when large numbers of cones (applies to nuts and berries, too) provide a greater than usual amount of seeds for wildlife. The high levels of fat and protein in a fall masting help contribute to fat stores necessary for migration, hibernation, and survival of the newly independent young.

Masting seed cone production also helps ensure that some seeds escape predation for propagation.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Autumnal Equinox

Fall officially begins today and even though the weather is mild and somewhat balmy, the nights are growing colder and the morning glories in my garden are turning a deeper shade of blue.
It is the summer's great last heat,
It is the fall's first chill: They meet.

~ Sarah Morgan Bryan Piatt

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Be afraid, very afraid

Photograph: Paul Souders/Corbis

Scientists have reported that Arctic sea ice shrunk a dramatic 18% this year a record low. Since 1979 a significant and worrying decrease in thickness has also occurred. Environmental groups around the world responded with a call for immediate action. 

In a news story in today's Guardian, writer John Vidal quotes author and environmental campaigner Bill McKibben:

"Our response [so far] has not been alarm, or panic, or a sense of emergency. It has been: 'Let's go up there and drillfor oil'. There is no more perfect indictment of our failure to get to grips with the greatest problem we've ever faced."  
Even more damning, the news of the dramatic and unprecedented melting of our ice caps is not on Page One of any political agenda, even in this election year. 

To comprehend that this is happening now, not decades from now, is to be aware of the full scope of environmental events to come. What we have experienced in terms of climate change is only a preface.

Vidal goes on to report: 
"Other leading ice scientists this week predicted the complete collapse of sea ice in the Arctic within four years. "The final collapse ... is now happening and will probably be complete by 2015/16," said Prof Peter Wadhams of Cambridge University.

Read the full Guardian story here.

Also today ―  McKibben and Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo issued a call for a coordinated international response to the Polar crisis.  

Get involved and join Greenpeace's Save the Arctic campaign. Sign the petition to declare the Arctic as a global sanctuary.  

Something else

Hidden lake in the woods

Waiting, done at really high speeds, 
will frequently look like something else.

~Carrie Fisher

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

More monarchs migrating

Sun lights up the wings of Monarchs visiting my garden

A couple of days ago I wrote about one the most amazing phenomena in the natural world the Great Monarch Migration and the monarchs just keep coming. Their numbers have increased dramatically in Massachusetts as they travel to their wintering grounds in California and Mexico.

Their incredible 3,000-mile migration began at the end of August. On Thursday, September 20th, you can check on their progress here.

Yesterday, the Associated Press reported that:

"There were fewer monarch butterflies found during an annual event aimed at tracking their migration through Kansas." Read more.

Did you know?
"Only monarchs born in late summer or early fall make the migration, and they make only one round trip. By the time next year's winter migration begins, several summer generations will have lived and died and it will be last year's migrators' great grandchildren that make the trip. Yet somehow these new generations know the way, and follow the same routes their ancestors took — sometimes even returning to the same tree."

Read more fascinating "and fast facts" about monarchs from National Geographic here. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Into the hills

A trail on the Blue Hills Reservation

Except for the ragweed, which has been bothersome, it was a perfect day to go hiking in the Blue Hills. The weather was wonderful with sparkling blue skies and dreamy Cumulus clouds. It was cool when we started out and comfortably warm by midday. When we reached the top of the Skyline trail, a clear view of Boston awaited us.
We hiked nine miles; the trail was challenging with lots of steep climbs. Some of the hikers were in their 70s and at times the rest of us, all experienced and very fit, scrambled to keep up with them. Living proof of the old adage, Use it or lose it, these elder hikers have lost nothing.

The Blue Hills Reservation is vast with about 7,000 acres. It's a great place to hike and a small ski area attracts many locals in winter. The Reservation is also home to the Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory located atop Great Blue Hill.   

A late summer day like this one is a gift and something to savor. For me there is no greater tonic than spending time  outdoors in the sunshine and fresh air, the farther away from the mad rush of the world, the better. 

Photo courtesy of Friends of the Blue Hills.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Butterflies need our help

American  Lady (Vanessa virginiensis) and 'Cornwall Blue' 

"There can be few experiences more idyllic and relaxing than to be in a garden on a warm summer's evening, surrounded by the color and wafting aroma of Buddleias and watching the industrious and gentle activity of butterflies flitting from flower to flower."

Plants that come in various shades of blue are the mainstay of my garden. I grow two blue Buddleias, (Butterfly Bush)  'Adonis Blue' and 'Empire Blue' and this spring I planted another, Cornwall Blue' (Buddleia davidii).

It lives up to its promise of having flowers very close to true blue. Like lilacs, buddleia blooms have small individual flowers packed into clusters called panicles. You can extend their long flowering season (from July until frost) by regularly deadheading the spent blossoms.  

Planting buddleia in your garden is one way to help  butterflies, especially migrating monarchs.

In case you haven't heard, the incredible 3,000-mile migration of the monarch butterfly is fully underway. Check on their progress here. 

Each fall, hundreds of millions of monarch butterflies migrate from the United States and Canada to overwintering areas in Mexico and California where they wait out the winter until conditions favor a return flight in the spring. 

The perils monarchs face on these long distance journeys are immense, but they are also under extreme threat from development, genetically modified crops, roadside management practices and climate change (as are many other butterflies).

To find out how you can help them, click here.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Young Rhodesian Ridgeback

This little girl needs to run free in a safe area

This young and very fit Rhodesian Ridgeback was out with her person on a long and lovely walk around a local lake. Seeing her triggered a distant but vivid memory of the first time I encountered this powerful and beautiful breed. 

It was on a visit to the Blue Mountains in Jamaica. One night we drove to a large estate to have dinner at an enormous manor house. The front of the house had large columns and a man stood at the entrance waiting to greet us. Beside him were two large Rhodesian Ridgebacks. When the dogs saw us approach their posture became tense and they began to bark ferociously. The man commanded them to be quiet and immediately they obeyed. When I asked what kind of dogs they were, he said, "Ridgebacks, guard dogs, good dogs."

True to her breed, this girl was a bit concerned when she first saw me ― Ridgebacks are reserved and on guard around strangers. Once her person said I was okay, she relaxed and kept stopping to wait for me! The traits that distinguish her breed sweet, intelligent and people loving were very much in evidence. It was a pleasure to have her company.

About Rhodesian Ridgebacks: These dogs have great stamina and require a lot of exercise every day. They enjoy walking or jogging and absolutely need time off leash, so it's important to exercise them where they can safely run free. They respond well to training but need an assertive, experienced owner. Above all, like most dogs, Ridgebacks need companionship. If you are someone who works away from home most of the day (four hours or more), you do not have the right lifestyle for a dog, especially a Ridgeback.

You can still enjoy having dogs in your life by volunteering to walk them on weekends at a local shelter or going walking where dog people go.  

To learn more about Rhodesian Ridgebacks, visit the Rhodesian Ridgeback Club of the United States.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Bee and Anise Hyssop

Bees love Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)

I am partial to this herb and so are bees! (Click on the photo for the best view.) The leaves have a nice licorice scent and in addition to bees, the periwinkle blue flowers attract butterflies, hummingbirds and Goldfinches (they perch on the spikes and eat the seeds in the fall). Anise Hyssop is easy to grow from seed and I love that it blossoms in late summer. 

Click here for a truly exceptional article about growing Anise Hyssop. And if you want to enjoy a fabulous image gallery of these plants, click here.

According to writer Harold A. Roth at

"Native Americans found many uses for this North American plant. The Cheyenne drank a tea of this herb to relieve a "dispirited heart." The Cree included the flowers of this magick herb in medicine bundles, and the Chippewa made a protective charm of it. Plant it around your back door for protection or add it to a back border." 

Monday, September 10, 2012

If you love roses...

'New Zealand' from the September garden

Some people think roses are too high maintenance, or believe they'll need to use chemicals to grow them successfully. Too much fuss is the number one reason I hear from people who admire my garden roses but won't grow their own. 

My garden is chemical free and my approach to growing roses is "green." I feed them with well rotted composted  manure. When conditions are dry, I use the water from two dehumidifiers to keep them happy, and I control blackspot by spraying the foliage with a concoction of baking soda, water and mild detergent.

If you love roses and wish you could grow them in your garden, late summer and early fall are good times to plant them. Wait until next spring if you can't plan them soon roses need time to get their roots firmly established before the ground freezes.

Program yourself for success by choosing roses that are  disease resistant and plant them where they will get at least six, and preferably eight, hours of sun.

The American Rose Society is a great resource and because I'm fond of old roses, which are very disease resistant, I recommend The Antique Rose Emporium.

To learn more about 'New Zealand' click here.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

So it begins

The color of early September

The signs are everywhere in my garden. The impatiens are finished. Yellowing leaves have been falling from the mulberry tree for nearly three weeks now. Poke berries are turning purple and gathering blackbirds fill the sky in the early evening. Compared to the long, lingering dusks of July, darkness falls much faster now. 

And yet, it still feels like and still is summer. Call it late summer, call it whatever you like ― it was downright tropical today, and last night I almost turned on the air conditioner. All the roses are blooming and hummingbirds come to sip nectar from the Cardinal Climber, Buddleia, Anise Sage and Mandevilla

As much as I'm loving it, I know autumn is coming. But until it does, I remain in the moment. 

And the moment is Summer.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Tiny Terror

Who me?
 Baby gets ready to cut loose
She looks so sweet and innocent and she's just a little bit of a thing. But make no mistake, the Baby can be a tiny terror when she's juiced up on catmint and I grow a lot of it. She loves to roll around in it and stretch out in long, luxurious ballet like moves. Just when it appears that she is dozing off, she jumps up and with a startled look on her face, goes into a full blown Tasmanian Devil dervish before making a mad dash into the woods.

Okay, so she loses her cool, but I have to give this little girl props for the way she minds her p's and q's around the wild turkeys even in what appears to be a hallucinogenic state. If she's zigging in one direction as she's heading for the woods and sees the turkeys straight ahead, she makes an immediate zag in the other direction. I swear she has a tape of my voice playing in her head: No bothering the turkeys. No, no, no.

I'm very proud of her. 

This month the Baby and her sister Daisy turn ten years old. And while I celebrate them, that milestone reminds me that this is the third September I have been without my Rachmaninoff.  I miss him.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Another kind of dustbowl

Dustbowls (top) after rain and (bottom) in August

The drought-stricken regions of the U.S. have received much needed rain in the wake of Hurricane Isaac, but the damage has been done and a lot more rain needs to fall before the 2012 Dustbowl can be consigned to history.  

In New England, we've been blessed with moderate weather for the past couple of months and Isaac was tuckered out by the time he blew through here. Tropical rains fell, but nothing like what the poor folks in the Gulf region have been living through.

Therefore, the dustbowl situation here is as follows: Wild turkey-made, hen and poult approved.

These birds dearly love their dust baths so I leave some areas of the garden to them. It's fascinating to see them  spin around and dig with their feet and wing feathers to create these slightly sunken, round "baths." I wouldn't care anyway, but as you can see, they do little to disturb the surrounding flora.

Observing wild turkeys as they enjoy the peace of a late summer afternoon, reminds me to appreciate the simple things in life and to count my blessings.    

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Bee in lavender field

“It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see.”(click on the photo)

Monday, September 3, 2012

Monarch in late summer

“Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.”

~ Rachel Carson

Click here to read a review that appeared in the August 31st edition of The Wall Street Journal. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The face-off

  Baby and Daisy (orange foot)

These two are sisters (and look a lot like bookends) and though I know they'd be lost without each other, they don't always get along. They're not super affectionate with each other, at least not when I'm around. They do play together and sleep on the bed, but each in her own "territory." 

Mostly, this is because Baby is so bossy and can be downright possessive of anyone or any thing she takes a fancy to. Now and then Daisy will give her a good slap upside the head, but overall Baby is the boss and she likes to throw her weight around, little brat that she is. 

However, when it comes to food Daisy rules and will, if given the opportunity, steal as much food from Baby's dish as she can.  That doesn't happen anymore because I keep their bowls on opposite sides of the room and stand guard. Consequently, Baby has filled out in size and Daisy is no longer overweight. 

Click on the collage and view from top to bottom and left to right. What you see is a classic example of how things go with these two and who ends up winning.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Cormorants and Mallards

Double-crested Cormorants and Mallards

Immature Double-crested Cormorant 

While out walking around Lake Waban near Wellesley College, I was delighted to see several Double-crested Cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus), including this family of adults and an immature bird. The immature bird is browner and palest on the neck and breast. The Mallards, all female, appear to be an adult with two young. It's likely they were born this past spring. While I wish the close up of the immature cormorant was clearer, keeping a respectful distance is paramount for this photographer.

In Massachusetts the Double-crested Cormorant is a summer resident. I had the pleasure of seeing one at Walden Pond in August. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is an excellent source of information about this and many other birds. The following information is from Cornell, but I recommend visiting the link when you have a chance.  

Double-crested Cormorants are the most widespread cormorant in North America, and the one most frequently seen in freshwater.

A cormorant’s diet is almost all fish, with just a few insects, crustaceans, or amphibians. They eat a wide variety of fish (more than 250 species have been reported), and they have impressive fishing technique: diving and chasing fish underwater with powerful propulsion from webbed feet. The tip of a cormorant’s upper bill is shaped like a hook, which is helpful for catching prey.  

Double-crested cormorants are gregarious birds that are almost always near water. Their main two activities are fishing and resting, with more than half their day spent on the latter. When at rest, a cormorant will choose an exposed spot on a bare branch or a windblown rock, and often spread its wings out, which is thought to be a means of drying their feathers after fishing. (Cormorants have less preen oil than other birds, so their feathers can get soaked rather than shedding water like a duck’s. Though this sounds like a liability, this is thought to be an adaptation that helps cormorants hunt underwater more effectively.) When swimming atop the water, cormorants ride very low, and often only their long necks are evident.