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Nature Journal

September 14. A Cecropia moth caterpillar. Sometime within the past few days it has constructed and entered its coccoon, where it will overwinter and emerge next spring.

August 31. A great Egret, in a swamp near our home, a surprising sight.

August 31. Mountain Ash (Sorbus americana, also called American Rowantree) berries are nearing full ripeness. This is a highly-favored Black Bear food. The berries are also favored by birds, including grouse. Moose feed on the inner bark. This tree is often planted as an ornamental, and although not common at lower elevations, it occurs naturally, as its name suggests, at higher locations in Massachusetts, such as at Wachusett Mountain. If you travel in the Great North Woods above Lake Huron and Superior, you will not soon forget its beauty.

February 9. With John McCarter on his "Carnivore Tracking" program - another of John's amazing finds: a beaver killed, and the excess cached, by a bobcat. After gorging on the beaver, the bobcat had covered the remains of the carcass, and dragged the contents of the abdominal cavity and chest cavity away and meticulously covered that as well.

July 25. White Admiral (Limenitis arthemis arthemis) in our yard during a rain shower.

July 22. Ripe berries of Wild Sarsaparilla, Aralia nudicaulis, in the Ginseng Family. When these berries are ripe, black bears will gorge on these almost exclusively. The plant grows ubiquitously in the Massachusetts forest.

March 1st. Mouse trying to figure out how to get at the bird feeder and avoid the cat below.

February 18th. Otter tracks on the snow-covered ice at Quabbin.

February 17th. It's maple sugar season again at home.

February 14th. Henry David is Thoreau-ly confused about the heart-shaped donut in his hand.

February 13th. Valerie points out some Virginia Opossum tracks in our back yard.

February 12th. A beautiful Bobcat track at Quabbin. Note the distinctive shape of the negative space between the toes and the palm pad.

February 8th. Here a fisher (Martes pennanti, a member of the weasel family, Mustelidae, in the carnivore order, Carnivora)bounded onto this log and bounded off to the left. Many other mammals, including larger ones such as raccoons, red foxes, gray foxes, and even northeastern coyotes, will travel on logs above the surface of the ground. The tracks shown here have a superficial resemblance to those of a bobcat - there are no obvious claw marks, the negative space between the toes and the palm pad is "c"-shaped, and at first glance it looks like there are only four toes. Look closely, though, and you will see a fifth toe, on the inside, in each track. This was undoubtedly a fisher.

Rain drops on spider web.

Bee collecting pollen.

January 7, 2017. A perfect snow at Walden Pond; Red Fox tracks, Gray Squirrel tracks, and Red Squirrel Tracks.

December 26, 2016. Tracking with Valerie, for the love of it. Here is the skull of a male deer found in the Quabbin by our friend John McCarter.

December 11, 2016. The site of a male Fisher that I observed rolling and scenting is visible as the compressed leaves at the base of the tree. A distinctive but not-objectionable liquid had been deposited.

December 6, 2016. Tunnel and tracks of a Short-tailed Shrew (Blarina brevicauda) feeding on a Virginia Opossum (Didelphimorphia virginiana) carcass.

November 30, 2016. Fish nests (spawning beds) at Quabbin, exposed by low water.

November 21, 2016. Quabbin vista.

November 14, 2016. A Raccoon yearling, at WaldenPond, Concord, Massachusetts.

"You still hear from time to time the whinnering of the raccoon, still living as of old in hollow trees, washing its food before it eats it. The red fox barks at night. The loon comes in the fall to sail and bathe in the pond, making the woods ring with its wild laughter in the early morning." - Henry David Thoreau, journal, 1845

November 13, 2016. American Toad, hiding in a nook at the base of a Sugar Maple tree at our home on Walnut Hill. Soon, like many other creatures, they will be hidden away in hibernation.

"I seek acquaintance with Nature, - to know her moods and manners. Primitive Nature is the most interesting to me. I take infinite pains to know all the phenomena of the spring, for instance, thinking that I have here the entire poem, and then, to my chagrin, I learn that it is but an imperfect copy that I possess and have read, that my ancestors have torn out many of the first leaves and grandest passages, and mutilated it in many places. I should not like to think that some demigod had come before me and picked out some of the best of the stars. I wish to know an entire heaven and an entire earth." - Henry David Thoreau, Journal, March 23, 1856

November 12, 2016. A Cormorant, one of my favorite birds. Like the mergansers and the loon, it has an amazing ability to dive and swim at high speed underwater in pursuit of fish.

"Shall I not have intelligence with the earth? Am I not partly leaves and vegetable mould myself?" - Henry David Thoreau

November 11, 2016. Acorn lodged in tree bark. Nuthatches and others do this to feed.

"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

November 7, 2016. A late-blooming rose, the last, in our yard.

November 6, 2016. A very sluggish slug found in the Berkshires.

November 5, 2016. Red Squirrel nest.

Gray Squirrel nests are multiple layers of leaves, while Red Squirrel nests are of woven materials, as seen here.

October 14, 2016. Stickbug.

September 17, 2016. Fresh-water mussel trails.

April 29, 2016. Tracks in mud along Deerfield River: Striped Skunk, Raccoon, Eastern Coy-Wolf, Human. (Having trouble seeing them? - e-mail and we'll send you a copy with the tracks circled).

April 26, 2016. Valerie checking out a Black Bear den site which had been used this past winter. Under no circumstances should you knowingly disturb a bear in hibernation - doing so will put tremendous stress on the animal and possibly lead to its death - they are already under duress and have difficulty surviving the winter in healthy condition. In fact, there is significant mortality as a result of trained wildlife agency personnel "examining" hibernating bears. Steer clear and leave them alone!

April 25, 2016. Red-bellied Woodpecker. Once a rare visitor around here, it has expanded its range northward and is now resident year-round here in western Massachusetts. We are fortunate to have had them nesting in a hollowed-out Sugar Maple for a number of years. In mid-summer, the muttering of Gray Tree Frogs sometimes sounds vaguely like the call of the Red-bellied Woodpecker. The belly is not red, so its name is a curiosity.

April 24, 2016. Trout Lillies blooming on the river bank, Nichewaug.

April 21, 2016. White-throated Sparrow. The plaintive song sounds something like "Sweet Canada-Canada-Canada," or "Sam Peabody-Peabody-Peabody."

April 11, 2016. Mouse teeth marks on an acorn.

April 10, 2016. A day in Quabbin Porcupine country.

April 9, 2016. Rough Horsetail, Equisetum hyemale. The common name is Scouring Rush; because of the high silica content, they were used for scrubbing pots and pans. They were once also used to polish brass and other metals, and in a finishing process for wooden musical instruments including violins. They are part of a plant family related to ferns (they have a rather complex reproductive mechanism), and are very closely related to tree-sized plants from approximatley 300 million years ago (which often appear alongside dinosaurs in paintings depicting ancient times).

April 5, 2016. Song sparrow sings in a sugar maple tree. This song sparrow perched in this branch for several hours, singing his beautiful little song several times each minute: "Sweet-sweet-sweet tweedle-ee-tweedle-ee-tweedle-ee-deet." Perhaps it was my imagination, but his song sounded a bit melancholy today, a bit slower and softer than usual. The temperature was only 14 degrees at daybreak and there were four inches of new snow on the ground from the second snow in two days, covering the greening grasses and the blooming daffodils in a blanket of white.

April 3, 2016. A spring snowstorm! Here is an idyllic spot off the beaten path in the Quabbin.

"To us snow and cold seem a mere delaying of the spring. How far we are from understanding the value of these things in the economy of Nature." - Henry David Thoreau, written March 8, 1859, in his Journal , vol. XII, p. 24.

March 27, 2016. Remains of a Porcupine, found at the base of a Gray Birch, along a Porcupine trail in the Quabbin. Porcupine densities are never very high, if viewed from a greater forest perspective. In fact, they have a very low reproductive rate, the females only giving birth to one young at a time. This, combined with mortality factors (accidents, disease, starvation, predation by Fishers and other Carnivores, persecution by humans, etc.) keeps their numbers low. Remarkably and uniquely adapted, they are of the forest, not just in the forest.

March 21, 2016. Spring is coming, and many animals that were dormant or very inactive for long periods of time, such as this Raccoon, are now out and about more frequently. Raccoons enter a period of winter lethargy from December to March, during which time they lose significant weight, up to 50% in extreme cases.

March 16th, 2016. Maple sugar time.

We have been gathering Maple sap and cooking it down to syrup for several weeks now, and this looks like the final batch - buds are obvious and the sap flow has almost stopped. Our buckets, like these two hanging on one of our beautiful Sugar Maples, will come down, be sterilized and stored for next year along with the spiles and other equipment. Here I am cooking down the last 15 gallons of sap. Thanks to our Sugar Maples for helping us celebrate the transition from Winter to Spring.

"Had a dispute with father about the use of my making this sugar....He said it took me away from my studies. I said I made it my study and felt as if I had been to a university." - Henry David Thoreau

"May it long be the mission of the maple thus to sweeten the cup of life."

March 13th, 2016. Amazing Porcupine dens.

March 13th, 2016. While exploring a remote and little-visited area of the Quabbin with our tracking apprentices, we came upon this remarkable Porcupine den site. The bankside had long-abandoned burrows constructed by Beavers. The beavers have been gone for a long time, judging by the size of trees that have grown up in the drained pond site. Porcupines have since claimed the burrow network for their own dens. In the photo, two of several original Beaver bank burrows are evident, and two of several entrance holes currently used by Porcupines can be seen above (the lower holes are too wet for Porcupines). There are numerous other Porcupine entrances on this hillside, in an extensive network of inter-connected chambers. From the well-worn trails and the appearance of the den entrances, it is clear that the Porcupines have been resident here for many years. This was an amazing find! The Quabbin never ceases to amaze; those who venture forth and keep their eyes open are treated to endless delights in "The Accidental Wilderness."

March 11th, 2016. Springtime - crocuses are here!

March 5th, 2016. Staghorn Sumac, at Mary Cummings Memorial Park, a surprising Nature refuge in the midst of urban development along Boston's "high-tech belt." Nature will recover, if we give it a chance.

March 4th, 2016. For several weeks we have been observing a group of three otters, most likely a mother with her two nearly-full-sized young. They continue to take advantage of a narrow shelf of ice that remains on a local pond, coming up on the ice to feed on fish and other items, or simply to gambol about in endless otter games. Here, the otter in front caught a sunfish, and brought it up on the ice, and seemed to present it to the second otter, almost as though it was a gift.

Late Winter at Quabbin's Moore Island.

Even after over 50 years of living near and exploring the beauty and mystery of Quabbin, every day is a treasure. Here, intimacy with Nature nourishes my soul.

"Nature is full of genius, full of the divinity; so that not a snowflake escapes its fashioning hand. "

Henry David Thoreau

February 22, 2016. Ice breaking up on the Quabbin.

February 21, 2016. Tracking Canada Lynx in Maine's North Woods.

Tracking legend John McCarter joined me and the tracking apprentices for this 3-day adventure tracking the ghost of the north, the Canada Lynx. Here, John breaks trail through deep snow as snow squall clouds gather over the mountains.

John was one of my principal animal tracking teachers, and we have become good friends over the years. It was an honor to have him join us on this expedition to track the rarest indigenous carnivore in the northeast, and I am sure the apprentices felt the same. It was a fantastic experience for all of us.

February 7th, 2016. Otter slides, Quabbin.

December 22, 2015. Clouds on the first full day of Winter.

Bows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I've looked at clouds that way
But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way

I've looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It's clouds' illusions I recall
I really don't know clouds at all

Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels
The dizzy dancing way you feel
When every fairy tale comes real
I've looked at love that way
But now it's just another show
You leave 'em laughin' when you go
And if you care don't let them know
Don't give yourself away

I've looked at love from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It's love's illusions I recall
I really don't know love at all

Tears and fears and feeling proud
To say, "I love you" right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I've looked at life that way
But now old friends are acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I've changed
But something's lost, but something's gained
In living every day

I've looked at life from both sides now
From give and take and still somehow
It's life's illusions I recall
I really don't know life at all

words by Joni Mitchell

- in memory of a friend, William Douglas Rhodes

"Good-night, sweet prince. And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest." - William Shakespeare

November 25th, 2015. Drifting.

November 20th, 2015. Spider egg cases.

November 12th, 2015. Woodpecker nest.

This is a typical nesting hole of a downy woodpecker. It is easy to confuse those of downy woodpeckers with those of hairy woodpeckers. Downies prefer dead trees; hairies prefer live trees. The entrance hole of downies is from 1.2" to 1.4" diameter (slightly less than 1&1/2"); the entrance hole of hairies is from 1.6" to 1.8" diameter (slightly more than 1&1/2"). They both nest up to over thirty feet high. Downies may nest lower, to about 8 feet off the ground; hairies usually to only about 15 feet off the ground. The nest holes of both downies and hairies are nearly round; those of hairies may sometimes appear slightly more oblong vertically, but this is very subtle if at all.

November 9th, 2015. Tufted Titmouse.

To feel the heartbeat of a bird mingling with yours is a gift of joy. This injured bird lived to fly and lead its miraculous life.

November 7th, 2015. Spider web.

November 6th, 2015. Whitetail Deer tracks and White Oak leaf

"The deer we know today are beautiful, alert, graceful, intelligent creatures." - Leonard Lee Rue III, The Deer of North America

November 1st, 2015. Witch Hazel blossoms

A curious shrub, the Witch Hazel flowers in the fall. Soon after the leaves drop, the seed pods explode, sending the seeds up to twenty feet away. Then the bright yellow flowers appear, sometimes persisting after snow has fallen, a delightful and surprising sight to behold.

October 24, 2015. Bear Scat, Quabbin

This Black Bear scat is 100% acorn. This scat, diameter about one-and-a-half inches, was from an adult bear. We have a heavy mast year here for black oaks and red oaks, and bears and many other animals are gorging on the bounty. Although the soft mast (berries) crop was low this year due to drought, the acorns will compensate.

October 15, 2015. Autumn colors, Walden Pond, Concord, Massachusetts

"While I enjoy the friendship of the seasons I trust that nothing can make life a burden to me." - Henry David Thoreau, Walden

October 10th, 2015. Whitetail Deer, all senses alert.

October 1st, 2015. Otter River, Massachusetts.

"October is the month of painted leaves. Their rich glow now flashes round the world. As fruits and leaves and the day itself acquire a bright tint, just before they fall, so the year near its setting. October is its sunset sky; November the later twilight." - Henry David Thoreau, "Autumnal Tints" in Excursions, pp. 224-225

September 14th, 2015. Incisors of an adult Beaver, Castor canadensis.

The Beaver is one of the most interesting wild mammals here in the Quabbin area, where we have one of the highest concentrations in the world. Its ecological importance is tremendous, creating wetland environments that are home to numerous species of plants, birds, fish, insects, amphibians, and other forms of life. Beaver ponds are utilized by many mammals, from Mink, Otters and Muskrats feeding in the water during the day, to Raccoons, Deer, and Moose feeding around the edges at dawn and dusk, to several species of Bats flying overhead feeding on insects in the nocturnal hours. Without Beavers, we would have far fewer of these other forms of life and Nature's web would be impoverished. The long-term stages of occupation and abandonment by Beavers are a never-ending story of change, and a metaphor for life itself.

August 22nd, 2015. Jewelweed in morning dew.

Also called Spotted Touch-me-not (Impatiens capensis), this flower forms a capsule that explodes when touched, sending the seeds flying in several directions - this delights our childish sensibility, no matter what our age is. It grows under the same conditions as Poison Ivy and Stinging Nettles, and the juice of the crushed leaves and stems is a very effective antidote to the toxic skin effects of those plants. It can also be used to help alleviate the itch of conditions such as athlete's foot, and its chemical constituents have been scientifically verified as medically effective. Perhaps most wondrous is the beauty of the plant as it glitters after a rain shower or dew of the morning or evening.

August 16th, 2015. Loon with chick, Quabbin, late day.

This parent was extremely attentive, always staying close as the young loon practiced its diving skills. The adult issued vocalizations that were different from any I have heard in the past.

August 16th, 2015. Chrysalis of Cabbage White butterfly, on a kale leaf.

This was slightly over 3/4 of an inch long.

August 8th, 2015. Great Spangled Fritillary (Speyeria cybele) on Butterfly Bush.

Note the proboscis drawing nectar. Here in the Quabbin area this is one of the largest and most exquisite butterflies. Jewel-like silver spots adorn the underwings, contrasting with striking orange and black geometric patterns on top of the wings, creating ever-changing flashes of color in a mesmerizing show as it streaks about. The eggs hatch in the fall and you may find the caterpillars feeding on violet foliage before they overwinter.

July 28th, 2015. Bee on Coneflower.

Note the pollen sac on the hind leg, soon to be brought back to the hive. If you look closely you may also see pollen dusting the bee all over its body and limbs.

July 15th, 2015. Black Bear straddle tree.

This is a Witch Hazel that was straddled vigorously by a Black Bear and uprooted in the process. Straddling of small diameter trees and shrubs of various species is the most common form of Black Bear sign that can be found in the forest. A great deal of scent is deposited on these, and although the behavior peaks during the mating season, it continues throughout the year. This particular tree was straddled repeatedly for several years, resulting in the twisted growth of the trunk. Straddle trees are only one form of the complex and varied communicative language of bears.

July 1st, 2015. Waiting to fly.

Having emerged from its aquatic larval stage into its adult form, this Damselfly is waiting for its wings to fill with fluid and harden so it can fly. The larval shell is lower on the right side of the blade of grass.

June 30th, 2015. Elderberry Longhorn Beetle

This brilliantly colored beetle is dependent upon the Common Elderberry shrub.

June 26th, 2015. Great Blue Heron nest.

These nestlings are very nearly grown and will soon leave the nest. We are at a remarkable time in the modern history of Great Blue Herons. It is very likely that their numbers are at the highest since the arrival of white people on this continent and the eradication of the beaver that followed. Since beavers have returned, suitable heron nesting sites have once again become available. Dead trees, in the middle of beaver ponds and surrounded by water that discourages predators, are a requirement for heron nests. As beaver ponds persist and mature for many years, the dead flooded trees eventually rot and fall away. Hence, the number of total suitable nesting trees is declining, resulting in a somewhat diminished number of herons after the initial bubble in their population numbers that followed the return of the beavers. As always, nature will adjust and reach an equilibrium, if allowed to do so.

April 17th, 2015. Titan's Piazza

This mammoth rock formation, found in the Holyoke Range in Hadley, western Massachusetts, was formed by lava flows (basalt)in the late triassic/early jurassic, approximately 200 million years ago. It is one of the geologic marvels of our home area.

April 12th, 2015. A Wild Turkey.

Wild Turkeys, if seen with an eye open to nature's majesty, bring wonder to the observer. Ever alert, ready to explode away in a burst of powerful flight, these creatures epitomize the ability of wild animals to adapt and thrive if given the chance. Destruction of habitat and, especially, uncontrolled hunting eliminated these birds from virtually all of their range. Reintroduced a few decades ago, they have re-established themselves in most of their former range in Massachusetts and some other states. I recall first hearing turkeys while fishing on the Swift River in Belchertown in the late spring of 1972, and wondering what creature made this intriguing sound. Now they have become an integral part of an ecosystem that is recovering some of its former health. It is bewildering to hear people speak dismissively or disparagingly of these and other animals that have become widespread and abundant. Their beauty and ability to survive in the wild are testaments to the power of the creative force of the universe. Would that we could stand in awe of, and with respect for, nature's hand, rather than with the neglect or even contempt that humans hold for living things they deem commonplace and trivial.

March 24th, 2015.

Spring plays peek-a-boo: now you see it, now you don't.

March 4th, 2015. "This we learned from our experience with the four seasons: We want them all. We want the rounded year. We crave no unending Golden Age, no perpetual spring of old mythology. We cherish the variety, the whole sequence of the seasons. In truth, as William Browne wrote in the seventeenth century: 'There is no season such delight can bring as summer, autumn, winter and the spring.'" - Edwin Way Teale, Wandering Through Winter

Alder, encrusted in ice. Alders, Birches, American Hornbeam, and Hop Hornbeam are closely related; in fact, they are all within the Birch Family.

March 1st, 2015. "In wilderness we can get our equilibrium back just by watching water flow. Nature follows a reliable pattern. Season follows season. It's a faithful security that we cannot always count on in our relationships with other people, because they change, or they think differently than we do and we are surprised, maybe hurt. But nature does not surprise us in that sense." - Maxime Saint-Amour, chief naturalist, Forillon National Park, Canada's Wilderness Lands


February 14th, 2015. A day in deep snow and bitter cold on the apprenticeship program. The threat of another imminent snowstorm lingered in the air, and intermittent light snow fell through the afternoon. What better way to feel the thrill of winter?

Tracking this Eastern Coyote (Coy-Wolf), we found a dig, where he had apparently scented a dead, frozen, Hairy-tailed Mole, but declined to eat it (Moles, like Shrews, are known to be extremely distasteful to Carnivores). This was odd, as Moles at this time should be well beneath the surface of the earth; could another predator have unearthed it elsewhere and either dropped it unintentionally, or perhaps cached it? Later on in the trail, we found where the Coyote had done a similar thing with a pile of soft Grouse scat, digging it out and leaving it. These sorts of behaviors make us wonder whether the Coyotes and other Carnivores are having a difficult time with this extended period of harsh cold and deep snow. They appear to be having a hard time moving about to find prey, and are certainly burning fat reserves just to stay warm in this unusual cold.

Coyote trail; in deep soft snow, he is moving in a walk rather than his favored trot.

Coyote trail on the left, Bobcat trail on the right. Normally, the Coyote's trail would appear more narrow than the Bobcat's, but since he is in a walk, his trail looks wider and messier.

Deer incisor marks from feeding on the bark of Witch Hazel, a not-uncommon food source.

Here was a hole where a Long-tailed Weasel entered the subnivial world below.

Here a Mink dove through a snow drift along its way bounding through the forest.

Mouse trail, short, even bounds in deep snow.

A Porcupine "Bonsai tree," caused by generational feeding on an Eastern Hemlock, a favorite winter food.

"Nip twigs," feeding debris from a Porcupine aloft in the Hemlock. The vast majority of feeding occurs at night year-round, and during the winter almost all Porcupines take shelter rather than spending the day sleeping in a tree as they usually do in warm weather months.

Debarking by a Porcupine on a small-diameter White Pine. This is a common winter food source; although the Porcupines feed extensively on Hemlock foliage during the winter, they do not feed on Hemlock bark as often as they do on White Pine bark, presumably because of the high tannin content of Hemlock bark, which interferes with digestion.

Porcupine tracks evident in a deep trough created by the body.

Porcupine scat and urine on the trail. If you have never smelled Porcupine urine in the winter, you have missed an amazing "piney" smell.

Here is somewhat of a surprise: a deer feeding on a dead tree trunk. It was actually going after a fungus growing on the tree trunk.

The beautiful trail of a Red Squirrel.

February 9th, 2015

“But alone in distant woods or fields, in unpretending sproutlands or pastures tracked by rabbits, even in a bleak and, to most, cheerless day, like this, when a villager would be thinking of his inn, I come to myself, I once more feel myself grandly related, and that cold and solitude are friends of mine. I suppose that this value, in my case, is equivalent to what others get by church-going and prayer. I come to my solitary woodland walk as the homesick go home. I thus dispose of the superfluous and see things as they are, grand and beautiful. I have told many that I walk every day about half the daylight, but I think they do not believe it. I wish to get the Concord, the Massachusetts, the America, out of my head and be sane a part of every day. ... I wish to forget, a considerable part of every day, all mean, narrow, trivial men…, and therefore I come out to these solitudes, where the problem of existence is simplified. I get a way a mile or two from the town into the stillness and solitude of nature, with rocks, trees, weeds, snow about me. I enter some glade in the woods, perchance, where a few weeds and dry leaves alone lift themselves above the surface of the snow, and it is as if I had come to an open window. I see out and around myself. . . . This stillness, solitude, wildness of nature is a kind of thoroughwort, or boneset, to my intellect. This is why I go out to seek. It is as if I always met in those places some grand, serene, immortal, infinitely encouraging, though invisible, companion, and walked with him.”

- Henry David Thoreau, Journal, January 7, 1857

February 2nd, 2015; another snowstorm.

“Only by looking closely can we begin to understand and appreciate the intimate interrelationship of all living things to one another and to the earth. It is impossible...to more than hint at the complexity of the pattern. We can, however...open the door to a vision of the forest world of which all life is an inseparable part.” - Sigurd F. Olson The Hidden Forest

January 25, 2015. Perfect cat tracks, bifurcated anterior lobe on pad, trifurcated posterior lobe.

January 12, 2015. Winter Magic

December 5th, 2014. A short walk in the Quabbin forest to rejuvenate the spirits

A Deer playground, digging for remnant grasses in an open field, and a Deer antler rub on a Speckled Alder at the edge of a Beaver wetland.

Two Moose antler rubs in close proximity: one, on a White Pine, and the other on a Birch.

Tracks of a Fisher in a walk, and tracks of a Porcupine in a walk. Fishers walk a great deal more than people may expect. Strides can match those of a Porcupine, and under certain conditions the shape and orientation of the tracks may appear remarkably similar.

Remnants of Moose feeding on the tender tips of a tall Red Maple sapling, and bite and claw marks of a Black Bear on a Red Pine. The former is feeding behavior, the latter is communicative behavior.

The first ice is forming fantastical patterns on small ponds in the forest.

A Beaver lodge and fresh cutting nearby. The lodge is in fine repair and a winter cache, anchored in the mud of the pond's bottom, is obvious in front, which will help the Beavers survive the long Winter should they become locked in by the ice. Note also the channel behind and to the right, with mud piled high on either side. Fresh cuttings of a Black Birch verify that the Beavers are here.

Beaver artwork, and Beaver tracks.

Fresh Black Bear sign. These are what we call "climbing whammies" - the Bear climbs a tree (in this case two White Pines), and intentionally rips the top off the tree. Note the major mark tree in the foreground.

“It is hard to say exactly what any animal is doing. It is impossible to know when or where an event in an animal’s life begins or ends. And our human senses confine us to realms that may contain only a small part of the information produced in an event. Something critical could be missing and we would not know.”
- Barry Lopez

December 1st, 2014. Fancy footwork by an Opossum.

November 28th, 2014. Eastern Coy-wolf scent post.

November 27th, 2014. A Quabbin Thanksgiving snow!

November 16th, 2014. Deer track artwork.

From out of the earth
I sing for the animals;
I sing for them.

Red Streaked Around the Face
Hunkpapa Sioux

November 15th, 2014. Red-tailed Hawk at Quabbin.

We are thankful to be alive.
Everything wants to live.
Hawks and eagles kill so they can
eat. It is the same with wolves and
weasels. The Creator intended it to
be that way; it reminds us that one
day we, too, will die.

Paul Goble, I Sing for the Animals

November 15th, 2014. Black-capped Chickadee

Dave Vincenti tames a chickadee on the apprentice program.

November 15th, 2014. Gray Squirrel bite marks on a Black Locust tree.

November 15th, 2014.

Tracking apprentices plotting a compass bearing out of the Quabbin as evening approaches on a cold, windy day.

November 2nd, 2014. Ripples of time.

"Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains. I would drink deeper; fish in the sky, whose bottom is pebbly with stars."Henry David Thoreau

November 1st, 2014. Rushing water.

October 31st, 2014. Self-portrait on Halloween.

October 30th, 2014. Quabbin Moose tracks at sunset.

October 29th, 2014. Mink tracks in riverside mud.

October 28th, 2014. Birch forest, Quabbin.

October 27th, 2014. Two old roads in the Quabbin.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost: The Road Not Taken

October 26th, 2014. Watching.

Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain;
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
And rise and sink and rise and sink again;
Love cannot fill the thickened lung with breath,
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
Yet many a man is making friends with death
Even as I speak, for lack of love alone.
It well may be that in a difficult hour,
Pinned down by pain and moaning for release,
Or nagged by want past resolution's power,
I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
It well may be. I do not think I would.

Edna St. Vincent Millay: Love Is Not All

October 25th, 2014. Time passes.

Cellarhole, abandoned long ago, near the extinct village of Puppyville in the Quabbin.

When I was a boy growing up in the area, there were still many old-timers who had been born in the towns or tiny villages of the Swift River valley and its lovely hills. Their life stories fade with the passing of time. Crumbling cellarholes like this one, its nameless occupants scattered long ago, remind us of a simpler, more innocent time that will never return.

October 23rd, 2014. Between sky and earth, water.

October 20th, 2014. Falling.

October 19th, 2014. Moose antler rub on White Pine on a crisp Fall day.

October 18th, 2014. Amazing Bear acorn scat found by Anne Marie.

During Fall hyperphagy, the period of fattening up on mast such as acorns with high fat content, Bears can consume as much as 15,000 to 18,000 calories per day. This Bear was obviously gorging on acorns, getting ready to survive, through hibernation, Winter's dearth. (Incidentally, hibernation is no longer defined by torpor; it is a term indicating extreme physiological changes induced in order to survive a period with a lack of water and/or food, e.g., northern Winter).

"...I picked up some white-oak acorns in the path by the woodside - which I found to be unexpectedly sweet & palateable, the bitterness being scarcely perceptible - To my taste they are quite as good as chestnuts... Their sweetness is like the sweetness of bread - and to have discovered this palatableness in this neglected nut - the whole world is to me the sweeter for it." Journal, Henry David Thoreau, 8 October 1851

October 17, 2014. Magic.

October 16, 2014. Floating.

October 5, 2014. Mergansers running on water.

October 1, 2014. Wasp.

American Pelecinid (Pelecinus polyturator), female, about 2 inches long in this curved position. Adults feed on nectar. The larva feed on Beetles: the adult female, such as the one pictured, pushes her abdomen into the ground and lays one egg on a Beetle; the egg hatches and the larva feeds on the host Beetle, killing it, and then feeds on the remains and remains there until it pupates.

September 30, 2014. The World Wildlife Fund has reported that the world populations of vertebrate animals (fish, birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles) fell overall by 52 percent in the forty-year period between 1970 and 2010, far faster than previously thought. The primary factors are hunting, fishing, and destruction of natural habitats; other important factors are global warming, invasive species, pollution, and disease. According to Ken Norris, science director at London's WWF, "There is still hope. Protecting nature needs focused conservation action, political will, and support from industry."

September 29, 2014. Mating Meadowhawk dragonflies. The male is the red one, the female the yellow-gold. Valerie's arm is the background. These are one of the last Odonates you are apt to see flying in the fall as colder weather arrives.

a closer look

September 27, 2014. Valerie is pointing to a Red Fox front track, facing left, with the bar in its heel pad showing. The hind track is slightly forward, also facing left.

September 26, 2014. A mature Northern Water snake, Quabbin gate 5. As these get older, their distinct body markings are more obscure, and from a distance they may appear all black. This was a large individual.

September 25, 2014. Classic Porcupine nip twigs from a White Oak.

This appears to be a heavy mast year for oaks, red and white. Besides Porcupines, the acorns provide food for many animals, including Deer, Turkeys, various Squirrels, Raccoons, Black Bears, and many insects. The acorns are high in fat, providing energy, but low in protein, so Porcupines will continue eating leaves from preferred species such as Basswood, high in protein (in the raw form as nitrogen) and low in tannins.

In the tree canopy, a Porcupine will cut small branches and harvest the acorns, leaving the acorn caps on the branch as it falls to the ground. Although quite a few acorns remain attached to branches that hit the ground, Porcupines do not normally eat the acorns on the ground, leaving a bonanza for animals such as Deer and Turkeys that do not climb trees to feed. During this period Porcupines will reach their heaviest weight of the year, preparing for the dearth of food in the winter.

September 19, 2014. Arthropod tracks, approximately 7/8 inch wide, possibly from Mole Crickets (Gryllotalpa hexadactyla).

September 18, 2014. Jerusalem Artichokes are in full bloom.

The tubers can be harvested and used like potatoes. These plants are prolific spreaders, and it is easy to get a substantial stand growing in your yard, attracting bees and late-flying butterflies, as well as providing a food source for you. Their beauty is reward enough. There are several varieties of Helianthus in our area.

September 17, 2014. Red Maple and Water Lily leaves.

September 16, 2014. Roses.

The last roses of summer have passed on.

September 16, 2014. Chipmunk.

We often overlook the commonplace, and in so doing, walk through life as though blind to the myriad wonders surrounding us. Yet, we can cultivate our awareness to, at least temporarily, open our eyes and see through the fog. Something as seemingly ubiquitous as an Eastern Chipmunk may then dazzle us with its presence. Here are acorn shells (Red Oak, Quercus rubra) opened by a Chipmunk, and a Chipmunk scat.

September 15, 2014. Quabbin shore.

horizontally, front to back: Porcupine tracks, old Deer tracks, Human tracks, Eastern Coyote tracks, Deer tracks, small Deer tracks; Beaver tracks on right edge heading toward the water.

September 14, 2014. Porcupine tracks.

The tracks are heading away from the bottom of the image to the top. You would be hard-pressed to find any quill marks (the ventral, or belly-side of the porcupine is devoid of stiff quills, but rather soft under-fur and guard hairs). Note also that the feet do not display a "pigeon-toed" orientation in this set of tracks. During warm weather months porcupines are often found near water, and tracks will often show the animal entered the water. They are after salts contained in aquatic vegetation.

September 13, 2014. Quabbin driftwood.

September 12, 2014. Bobcat and deer walk in different directions.

On Quabbin's shore we wandered, like ancient supplicants, among tracks of Bobcat, Deer, Coyote, Red Fox, Beaver, Otter, Porcupine, Crow, a world of animals. Somewhere across the water, the tremolo call of a Loon, echoing. Crossing the setting sun and its accompanying sun-dogs, a Bald Eagle, high above the water. A Great Blue Heron overhead. Popping noises from a Raven. A Northern Water Snake, flat against warm sand - now alive and sidewinding into water. The juice of wild grapes in our mouths. Asters and Goldenrods and Joe-Pye Weeds in a riot of color. Tall grasses rustle and sway. Summer melts imperceptably into Fall.

September 9, 2014. Hot peppers.

Jalapenos, habaneros, cayennes, serranos, poblanos, and more are ripe in the fields at our farm share - all you can pick. Time to make pepper jelly.

September 8, 2014. Ring-billed Gull, Walden Pond.

September 7, 2014. Spider acrobatics.

September 6, 2014. Caterpillar.

Caterpillar of the Pale Tussock moth(Halysidota tessellaris).

September 5, 2014. Highbush Cranberry.

Highbush Cranberry (Viburnum trilobum) fruit are edible, but sour.

September 4, 2014. Jewelweed glowing in early morning sun.

Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) is in its glory at this time. It is also known as Spotted Touch-me-not, named for the way the flower forms a capsule that explodes when touched, sending ripe seeds flying. Sap from the stems and leaves lessens the itch from Poison Ivy and Nettles, and is also a legitimate fungicide that relieves symptoms of athlete's foot and other fungal problems.

September 3, 2014. Nuthatch.

The White-breasted Nuthatch has long been a favorite bird. Winding its way downward on a tree trunk in search of insects, it captures our interest. Its call notes are a familiar sound in forest and backyard throughout the year. In winter it is often part of a "mixed flock" along with the Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Slate-colored Junco, Kinglet, and other foraging birds.

September 2, 2014. Water Chestnut fruits.

Water Chestnut (Trapa natans) is a non-native aquatic invasive species, with both submerged and floating leaves. The floating leaves are spade-shaped, with toothed edges, arranged in a rosette. The submerged leaves are feather-like, arranged in whorls along the stem. The fruit, pictured here, has 4 barbs and contains the seeds. Like other invasives, it outcompetes and eventually eliminates native species, upsetting the food web and destroying the balance of nature that has taken millenia to evolve. And like other invasives, once established it is difficult or even impossible to eradicate; prevention is the best solution, itself difficult or impossible with our "world economy."

September 1, 2014. Galls.

Galls are a reaction by a plant to an invading insect. Here are two examples found on Oak trees; when dry they will appear as a brittle, papery shell.

August 28, 2014. Tree of Peace.

Valerie and the Jake Swamp Tree of Peace. This white pine, named in honor of the Mohawk Chief who led the Trees of Peace movement until his death in 2011, is the tallest tree in New England. The Trees of Peace grove can be found at Mohawk Trail State Forest in Charlemont, Massachusetts. More information can be found at the Native Tree Society web site (formerly Eastern Native Tree Society, co-founded by Bob Leverett).

August 27, 2014. Oak twig.

This oak branchlet was "cut" by an oak twig borer. The smaller hole shows the entrance, and the larger hole the exit after gestation and feeding occurred. The twig, then hollow, snapped off. You will find these on the ground during mid to late summer. If the branch gets caught aloft, you may mistake it for porcupine feeding sign. The base of this twig was about 1/2 inch in diameter.

August 26, 2014. Beautiful even in death.

A giant silkworm moth (family Saturniidae) - a beautiful Polyphemus (Antheraea polyphemus). The green Luna moths and reddish Cecropia moths are perhaps the better-known silkworm moths, but all three are native to North America and are magnificent finds that amaze when first encountered. This individual had a wingspan of 5 &1/16 inches.

August 25, 2014. A "fairy ring."

A kicker, not a picker. Do not tempt fate by eating any white-gilled mushroom that you find. Amanitas produce an insidious and horrible death.

August 24, 2014. Fading road, setting sunlight.

76 years after abandonment, a road lies crumbling in the Quabbin, vanishing slowly like those who once travelled there.

August 23, 2014. Late summer's nectar.

Bumblebee on buttonbush blossom.

August 22, 2014. Bear scat.

Black Bear scat, about 1&3/8 inches in diameter (small adult or yearling), comprised mostly of vegetation and a few blackberry seeds.

August 21, 2014. Fall is in the air.

Leaf of a Black Birch, Betula lenta; as the species name hints, the lenticels, used in gas exchange (transpiration) through the bark, are usually more obvious than other Birch species.

August 20, 2014. Wood Frog, Rana sylvatica.

Rana sylvatica - its species name derives from the root word for wood, tree, forest, etc. Its duck-like mating calls are heard early in the spring, often starting earlier than the calls of Spring Peepers, and for a shorter period.

August 19, 2014. Indian Pipes.

These are saprophytic plants. Lacking chlorophyl, they are unable to produce their own food through photosynthesis, relying instead on decaying organic matter to derive energy.

August 18, 2014. Quabbin sunset.

August 12, 2014. Fly.

A member of Family Tachinidae, genus Winthemia, known for depositing eggs on caterpillars.

August 11th, 2014. Chicken Mushroom, also called Sulphur Shelf, Laetiporus sulphureus; found most often on dead or dying Oaks, either on the trunk, or at the base as here, or on the roots of the tree.

August 10th, 2014. Spring Peeper.

Pseudacris crucifer gets its species name from the cross, or crucifix, on its back. Now that they are mostly silent, they are less obvious, and found farther from the breeding pools of Spring. During summer and autumn you may hear its "rain call," which is less musical than its springtime mating season calls.

August 8th, 2014. Water carving rocks.

"Glacial potholes," Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts.

August 7th, 2014. Storm clouds gather.

Deerfield River, Massachusetts.

August 2nd, 2014. Mute swan drinks water.

Walden Pond, Concord/Lincoln, Massachusetts.

June 23, 2014. A brief life.

The alarm calls of Robins caught my attention. From the heights of a tall White Pine came a ball of fluff, half floating, half plummeting, a Blue Jay attending its fall. The Robin nestling was dead on impact. The alarm calls of the parents faded into the distance as they pursued the Blue Jay.

May 6th, 2014. Sugar Maple flowers, buds, and tiny leaves.

Porcupines will be eating the swollen buds of maples at this time. Once the leaves have opened, they will abandon a particular tree, as the tannin level of the leaves makes them indigestible. It is a very short window of time.

April 17, 2014. Moose in water leaves tracks in sand below.

April 16, 2014. A spring snowfall surprises us overnight.

April 12, 2014. Sometimes the obvious escapes our eye.

This Sugar Maple has been browsed by Porcupines for many years, giving the tree a characteristic look that tells a tale. Porcupines head for sugar maples at this time of year for a brief period of feeding. Once the sap has stopped flowing (and the Maple Sugar men have removed their buckets), the buds on the Sugar Maples will swell. At this time the Porcupines will climb to feed on the buds, which contain a high level of protein,up to 22% (the high quality 7-grain cereal I ate this morning has 13% protein by comparison). As the buds open and form leaves, the levels of tannins (phenolic compounds or phenols) rise dramatically, from less than 2% to over 6%. These are defensive compounds that protect the leaves from consumption, and the porcupines will abandon the Sugar Maples. In short, the buds are food but the leaves are poison. Thus there is a brief window of time between April and May when you will find Porcupines feeding in Sugar Maples. This results in the pruning that creates the characteristic shape of twigs as seen in the photo above.

April 4, 2014. Winter's long-frozen waters have been survived.

Beavers have been attempting to maintain a lodge at this location on an extremely small pond for several years, and have not been very successful. This year, despite the rigors of an extremely long and often extremely severe winter, they finally made it. Note the remains of the winter cache in front of the lodge - food stores anchored in the bottom of the pond that enabled them to survive. An adequate water depth below the ice allowed the beavers access to the cache; in some cases, especially in shallow ponds such as this, the ice may freeze to the bottom of the pond, stranding the beavers in their lodge with no access to food until the spring thaw.

April 2 and April 3, 2014. Two more baby goats, a brother and sister.

Day 1, a few hours old.

Day 2, about 24 hours old.

March 28, 2014. A Spring birth; a swirling dance of life and death.

This baby goat was born, appropriately, on the first day of spring. It was a difficult birth, with the second baby breached and lodged dead in the birth canal. The mother was near death during the first two days and it took a great effort to save her, but she is on her way to recovery. On the third day, the baby took a turn for the worse, going into shock and nearly dying; again, he pulled through with a lot of help from a large-animal vet. It's now a week later, and mother and baby are doing amazingly well. Life is a miracle and hangs by a thread.

March 25, 2014. Swift-flowing water and snow-covered spruces.

Here is a view in the North Woods about this time last year. This winter has been much more severe up there - I am looking forward to our trip up north at the end of April!

March 24, 2014. Orange and yellow flower dancing like wind.

The Spring Bulb Show at Smith College's Botanic Gardens is over. Here is a shot from our trip there on March 11th last year, when, rather unbelievably, considering our weather this year, it was warm enough for short sleeves.

March 23, 2014. Ice gives way to flowing water day by day.

March 22, 2014. The sweet sap of Sugar Maples is now flowing.

In this day of ubiquitous plastic, blue tubes are strung in New England woodlands to maximize the production of maple syrup, eliminating the need to hang buckets and check them on a regular basis. Something seems missing in this approach, and it is heartening to see places where it is done the old way, requiring hard work and effort that leads to greater appreciation of the end result, and a deeper connection to the role of Nature behind this. Squirrels tap the trees as well, and it is not hard to imagine the first human witnessing this and thinking of a way to replicate it. One of the greatest delights that children (and adults) have lost is knowing the sweet subtle taste of Maple sap as it comes from the tree.

March 21, 2014. During the month of March rises the Hunger Moon.

Hemlock bark like that eaten here by a Deer is starvation food, filling the belly in times of desperation. A long and severe winter reminds us of the fragility of life. Wild animals like Deer have an amazing ability to survive; who could not marvel at their lives?

March 21, 2014. A Deer has left sign, searching for food under snow.

Partridge Berry vegetation was the goal here, judging by the shallow scraping and the long runners and bits of green left behind, as well as actual berries, which the deer usually do not consume.

March 20, 2014. Vole artwork.

These are teeth marks of a vole or voles stripping bark and the cambium layer of a willow branch for food. This was probably covered with snow when done, and the spring melt has now revealed it.

March 19, 2014. Weeping Willows on the last day of Winter.

Today is the last full day of Winter. I always find this time of year bittersweet, as the Winter is a time of quiet and reflection, with astounding beauty. By day, snow reflects light like billions of tiny stars, as breath-taking as the vast reaches of the universe shimmering in Winter's nighttime sky.

March 11, 2014. A Shrew hunts at the edge of winter and spring.

I watched this Shrew (Blarina brevicauda, "Short-tailed Shrew") hunting for a long time time today. It would burrow around under leaf litter for considerable amounts of time, and occasionally dash into holes in the snowbank, especially if I made the slightest movement or if the wind gusted. Eventually it seemed to tolerate my presence, perhaps even attracted by the high-pitched noises my camera focus indicator made, and at one point made a few passes over my boot tip, emitting high-pitched squeaks. Its tiny eyes and long snout hint at its lifestyle, relying on its nose rather than its eyes in an environemnt devoid of light. At times it appeared to me that it was using its nose as a feeler under the leaves (Moles, another member of Order Insectivora, rely greatly on the tactile sensitivity of their noses, and I suspect this may be true to some degree for Shrews as well).

March 9, 2014. A dead Deer remains part of its forest home.

Rattlesnake Gutter, Leverett, Massachusetts. This Deer had been cached in a rock crevice, most likely by a Bobcat. The contents of the rumen were deep within the rock cavity where the body had lain. Large bone fragments showed the crushing power of Eastern Coy-Wolf jaws; the bone marrow showed the deer was in a weakened condition, with most of the fat content depleted and the hollowed bones containing only a red jelly-like substance rather than healthy marrow. The surrounding area was a tangled maze of hundreds of tracks of visitors including Coy-Wolves, Red Fox, Bobcats, Crows, Ravens, and many smaller birds and mammals. This Deer has literally become part of these other animals, remaining in the area where it had lived its days.

March 8, 2014. Moose antler rub glows in the winter forest.

Fever Brook, West Branch, near the Dana-Petersham line in the Quabbin. This particular antler rub still looks extremely fresh, although it was made by a male Moose in the early Fall.

March 6, 2014. Dawn comes to a still silent swamp frozen blue.

Swift River, Middle Branch, New Salem, downstream of Lake Mattawa. Even fast-moving brooks like this one are still locked in winter's hold. Although this winter's long stretch of cold weather seems extreme, in actuality it is what winter should be in this area - cold. I talked with an "old-timer" last week, who spoke of regularly ice-skating on this brook as a child; it has almost never frozen in recent decades. As described by the Milankovich cycle of the tilt of the Earth's axis, we should be in the midst of a cooling period, unlike the warming that we have been experiencing for many years. One season of "extreme" weather does not balance out the long-term trends, nor does it negate the fact that man-made global warming is increasing.

Is Winter retreating, or is Spring advancing? Is there an unbiased perspective? Within Yin lies the seed of Yang. Within Yang lies the seed of Yin. Overextended Yin collapses into Yang. Underextended Yang explodes into Yin. Who rises? Who falls?

March 1, 2014. Skunk tracks.

There are domestic cat tracks in the foreground and tracks of a Striped Skunk, Mephitis mephitis,in the background. The skunk left what some call a "running pattern." It is actually a "slanting lope," or "transverse lope." Although skunks often leave notoriously messy trails, this pattern is not uncommon. The direction of travel was from left to right. Look at the second group of four tracks and you will clearly see front-hind-front-hind (the larger track is the hind foot for a skunk); that makes it a lope. Note also the sequence: left front - left hind - right front - right hind; that makes it transverse.

Another view of the same Skunk trail.

Peace Pagoda, Leverett, Massachusetts.

There are few places where humans are comfortable with silence; this is one.


Animals rely on two basic strategies when faced with danger: freeze or flee. This mouse remained motionless.

A beautiful Bobcat trail on a snow-covered pond at the Women's Federated Forest near the Quabbin.

Another winter storm has painted the earth.

Porcupine precipice.

Porcupines shape trees by repeatedly browsing them over many years. This does not normally cause fatal damage, as the tree responds with toxins that end the browsing until the following year or later. Peculiar long-term growth patterns are the result. Occasionally, especially if the tree is stressed from other factors, such as poor soil depth and/or water retention, the tree will succumb. Below the edge of this overlook are numerous Porcupine winter dens, sheltered in the rocky outcrops.


Bobcat tracking a human tracking a squirrel.

On one of our tracking programs, Anne Marie caught sight of some tracks and walked over to check them out - they turned out to be squirrel tracks. When I returned the next day, a Bobcat had walked precisely in her footsteps to the squirrel trail, and turned to follow the trail. Here the Bobcat is on the squirrel trail as it heads into the trees. Wild animals, especially predators, often walk in each other's footsteps. It seems that it involves more than just ease of travel through the snow - there is awareness, curiosity, and attention here, an intelligence at work in the wild.

Tracking a Black Bear in snow is always a delight, and especially surprising in late January. Special thanks go to our friend Dick Cooper the Woodsman for giving us a heads-up.

I had an amazing day-long adventure back-tracking this bear. This shot is looking forward in the direction the bear was moving. The trail width was narrow and the strides long for a bear in a direct-register walk, but not long enough for a trot.

Here the bear checked out a partially hollow tree (Yellow Birch), possibly as a potential den site. The bear had travelled to another partially hollow tree, and numerous brush piles as well; they often utilize these for hibernation.

Here the bear checked out a White-tailed Deer bed. It did so repeatedly, veering out of its way several times, which was remarkable. I talked to Alcott Smith and John McCarter about this, and they both agreed it was notable; John said he would not be surprised if the Bear was checking for an easy meal, in the same way that Bobcats and Eastern Coyotes often do.

The bear crossed a frozen swamp twice - as the tracks show here.

It seems that bears cannot resist walking on logs, and this bear was no exception.

He walked a long-abandoned stone wall deep in the forest as well.

Here was the den site, beneath a swath of bent-over white pines, amid dense undergrowth on a steep slope.

Coy-wolf tracks walking onto ice at Quabbin.

As though unsure of the strength or slippery nature of the ice, this Eastern Coy-wolf modified his gait from a trot to a tentative walk. The tracks come in from the lower left.

Gray Squirrel with bite marking on a Linden tree.

This is an example of a suite of techniques employed by Gray Squirrels to communicate with others of their kind. Wild mammals have a surprising number of communicative devices, far more than the auditory ones that we humans occasionally hear.

Cardinals survived the blizzard overnight.

Rivers of time appear frozen in a stone.

Ice crystals forming a magical forest.

November 29, 2013. Picking wild cranberries on Quabbin's shore.

November 25, 2013. Eastern Coy-wolf tracks in newly fallen snow.

Fresh Moose incisor scraping on Witch Hazel.

Bear scat of Shagbark Hickory nut remains.

November 12, 2013. The first snow dusts the world with a brush of white.

October 30, 2013. A petrified spider. "Happy Halloween."

October 17, 2013. A praying Mantis watches my every move.

October 12, 2013. Animal tracking on Quabbin's sandy shore.

October 11, 2013. Bison under a dramatic line of clouds.

October 10, 2013. Foggy sunrise over the Quabbin valley.

October 8, 2013. Autumn water falling at Lost Acres Brook.

September 24, 2013. Autumn is here, and so are the mushrooms. Here's Valerie with a harvest of giant puffballs, one of the best wild edibles.

June 22, 2013. Mountain Laurels are fantastic this year, the best in years.

June 21, 2013. Happy summer!

June 19, 2013. This is a male Black Bear engaged in marking behavior at a major mark tree on a ritual trail at the peak of mating season. This is at a site that we regularly monitor near the northern part of the Quabbin. Both males and females mark these trees. Male bears have been intent on one thing only - finding mates - so intent that they may have lost 20% of their weight during this period; considering that they may have lost up to 20% of their weight during hibernation, this is a huge amount of weight loss. The male spends the breeding period that lasts for several weeks (up to 7 or 8 weeks) wandering in search of females, mating with as many as possible. His wandering may include the territory of up to 7 to 15 females! Once mating season is over, he will resume normal activity, which means "eat, eat, eat!" Most bears will consume anywhere from 4,000 to 8,000 calories per day during the growing season, until berries ripen in late summer, when they enter the period of hyperphagy, consuming up to 15,000 to 18,000 calories per day. In the Northeast, this continues into the fall as hard mast ripens (nuts of oaks, hickories, beechnut). If there is a good berry crop and a good nut crop, the male will regain his lost weight, and, hopefully, grow (males continue growing until age 12, females until age 6).

June 18, 2013. Showy Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium reginae). These have become extremely rare here in New England and should not be picked or transplanted. John Green and I spent the day in a central Vermont bog photographing these and enjoying their exquisite beauty. It was cool, calm, overcast, drizzly with occasional downpours - perfect!!!

June 15, 2013. Here was a painted turtle waiting to cross the road.

June 14, 2013. These two butterflies are closely related. On the left is the White Admiral, and on the right is the subspecies, Red-spotted Purple. The White Admiral is more northerly in its distribution. Here in western Massachusetts, we have both resident. There may also be intermediate hybrid forms between the two.

June 12, 2013. An antler from a White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus). Deer antlers are an amazing structure; they are made of extremely fast-growing bone (not keratin like hair or fingernails or horns) and are shed each year by the male deer. The top three points of this one were gnawed off by an animal with powerful jaws like those of an Eastern Coyote or Black Bear. This antler will return to the forest around it as other creatures continue to feed on it, including rodents chiseling away, until there is not much left except a few bits of minerals absorbed into the soil.

June 11, 2013. Valerie is pointing out some recent Black Bear marking on a Red Pine at a ritual trail site in Massachusetts.

June 10, 2013. I helped move a large snapping turtle off the road to safety today. It was too late for this Spotted Turtle, which had been clipped by a car. The carnage wrought by automobiles is mind-boggling. Consider this: in the Florida Everglades last year, 19 highly-endangered Florida Panthers were known to have been killed by automobiles; this is by far the leading cause of death, and with a population of less than 160 left in the wild, this is an on-going tragedy. Many animals are never seen, as they are thrown by the collision, or crawl off to die. How can we lessen this impact? Slow down? Pay attention? Do slow-moving animals like turtles, beavers, opposums, and porcupines have a chance? Should we even care?

June 9, 2013. Nature is indescribably complex. If our minds were truly open, we would be in a perpetual state of awe.

June 8, 2013. Gray Tree Frogs are engaged in rolling choruses, especially when the temperature and light are just right. Seldom seen, they are often one of the most ubiquitous sounds in the spring, lending a primordial feel to the forest.

June 7, 2013. Quaking Aspen leaves. These are almost never stationary, and the slightest breeze sets them quivering. When all else is still in the forest, they will be moving ever-so slightly, as though exhibiting their own inner energy, or perhaps responding to some other unseen force.

June 6, 2013. Bobcat track, front foot. If you're having trouble seeing the edges, look for the shine of the moisture that has accumulated in the floor of the track. This is extremely large for a Bobcat. In fact, with a length of 2&7/8 inches, width 2&3/4 inches, and heel pad width 1&7/8 inches, it exceeds all the parameters. In fact, the maximum heel pad width for Bobcat is supposed to be 1&1/2 inches. However, you can't rely on one track alone.

June 5, 2013. Pink Lady's Slippers (Cypripedium acaule, Pink Moccasin-flower) are in full bloom at Nichewaug near Petersham, Massachusetts.

May 21, 2013. When the oak leaves are the size of squirrel's ears and warblers are at their peak, the fishing is best here in the brooks that feed the Quabbin. We always bow in prayer to the four directions and give thanks to the trout.

May 17, 2013. A male Tree Swallow tries to impress a female with his aerial gymnastics and song. She finally accepted his advances.

May 8, 2013. A fresh Black Bear scat. At diameter 1&7/8 inches, this is from an adult bear of fairly good size. As you can see, it is full of black oil sunflower seeds. Unfortunately, this is often a staple for bears at this time of year, as there are few highly nutritious wild foods available - "unfortunately," as invariably this predilection for bird feeder contents leads to conflicts with humans.

Here are two wildflowers that are often confused with each other. On the left is Ajuga reptans, known by the common name of "Bugle." (This plant is often mis-identified as "Heal-All," Prunella vulgaris, which has pointed leaves). On the right is Glechoma hederacea, known by the common names of "Gill-Over-The-Ground" or "Ground-Ivy." Both are Labiatae (Mint Family), and both are widespread, well-established aliens. Look closely at the lower-right corner of the image on the left and you will see both plants together.

May 7, 2013. White Ash (Fraxinus americana) is one of the last trees to leaf out, after the maples and after the oaks, making it easy to spot in the canopy at this time of year; curiously, it is one of the first trees to drop its leaves in the fall, resulting in a very short season. The image on the right shows a White Ash and a Sugar Maple side-by-side for comparison.

White Ash is dioecious, meaning each individual tree is either a male or female (Maples, Oaks, Beech, Birch, are monoecious, bearing male and female flower structures on the same tree). Ash, like Maple, produce a prodigious number of seeds, a significant food source for squirrels and other small rodents.

May 5, 2013. "Wet with the morning dew, the tips of ten thousand grasses all contain the light of day."

- Dongshau's Essential Path, the capping verse; from a talk given by the late John Daido Loori, Roshi, during a retreat at Zen Mountain Monastery.

A family gathering today honored the traditional Orthodox Russian Easter celebration, as our late mother would have wished. The day also marked the 30th anniversary of our father's burial. During conversations with family and friends, questions arose several times along the lines of "Have you been doing any tracking?" The question always gives me pause, as the answer is not a simple one, and not one that most people appreciate, so I would talk about tracking Lynx and Pine Marten this winter and our Black Bear research project now that the bears are out of hibernation. The answer, if I was truthful, would be "Yes, I'm tracking all the time." This gets to the heart of the matter, which is whether there is such a thing as a definition of tracking. Daido's talk on Dongshau's Essential Path explains tracking better than I ever could, although he never mentions the word "tracking" at all. In discussing this koan, Daido talked about goal and process in photography. Hearing this, I thought we could substitute the word tracking for photography. Whether tracking or photographing (or whatever we're doing), if we focus on the process, we lose the goal; if we focus on the goal, we lose the process; but if we realize they are one and the same, then at some point, within some step in the process, we will realize the goal is already there. "Paying attention," "enlightenment," "being awake" - all are saying the same thing. When all seperation between the observer and observed ceases, you are in the moment. And that is all there is. When you "realize" that, you are tracking. There is no path to this, no prescribed steps, no formula, no methodology. It's here, you just have to let it "reveal itself," for if you chase after it, it keeps receding; in the commentary for this koan, Daido said "If you linger at the source you'll miss the radiance; if you chase after shadows, you'll get tangled in brambles." It's already there, we don't create it and we don't have to go looking for it. We just have to get out of the way in order to become it. But people always want to know how to do this. I remember reading (I think in a book by Thich Nhat Hanh) the emperor once asked the Buddha "What do you and your disciples do?" The Buddha answered "We sit, we walk, we eat." Irritated, the emperor exclaimed "But everyone does that!" The Buddha answered "When we sit, we know we are sitting. When we walk, we know we are walking. When we eat, we know we are eating." That says it all.

April 16, 2013. Hepatica (Hepatica americana; Ranunculaceae, Buttercup family). Sunny skies this morning opened the blossoms. This is one of the earliest wildflowers to bloom in our area, a true "spring ephemeral," and by the time other wildflowers are in bloom, it is gone. Look for it carefully in leaf debris, as the flowers often barely rise above the litter and the leaves may remain hidden. It is sometimes called "Liverwort," this name owing its origins to the resemblance of the leaves to the human liver, especially when the evergreen leaves turn a reddish-brown color when stressed, dying, or dead; early herbalists used the plant to treat liver ailments because of this resemblance. Besides Hepatica and Liverwort, here are some other names for this beautiful harbinger of spring: Round-leaved Hepatica; Round-lobed Hepatica; Liverleaf; Common Liverleaf; Kidney Liverleaf; Noble Liverwort; Heart Liverwort; Three-leaved Liverwort; Liverweed; Herb Trinity; Golden Trefoil; Ivy Flower; Mouse-Ears; Squirrel Cup. A plant that has 16 or more common names is an example, albeit extreme, of why it may be best to learn the scientific name.

April 15, 2013. Today's mystery involved figuring out who killed one of our roosters. The clues are in these four images.

Note the huge number of feathers at the initial point of contact.

Close-up of above image. Note the lack of shearing.

There are two large piles of feathers here, a couple hundred feet into the woods. There were no tracks in the mud in the horse pen between the chicken coop and here. Note the upper left corner of the photo.

The final piece of evidence pointing to an owl that took the rooster as he was outside the coop during the night.

April 11, 2013. Auricularia auricula. This edible jelly fungus (Tremellales) has various names, commonly called Tree Ears in the U.S. In Chinese it is also known as Cloud Ears (Yung Nge) or Wood Ears (Muk Nge). You may also find a closely related cultivated species (A. polytrica) sold in a dried form in Chinese markets as Mo Ehr. It is most commonly used in Chinese cuisine in soups, and I have used it in my own hot-and-sour soup and egg-drop soup. I also have used it in scrambled eggs, where its gelatinous quality blends well. According to studies, it affects blood coagulation; this may be correlated with low instances of coronary disease in China where it is eaten in quantity. I find it growing on dead branches and twigs in cool damp weather; you can collect it and dry it, or use while fresh. If you dry it, it will shrivel down to a miniscule size, but when reconstituted it will swell back up. Do not confuse it with cup fungi, which grow directly on the ground. As with all wild mushrooms, you should cook it before eating, and only eat a small amount at the first sitting.

April 9, 2013. "'Looking deeply' means observing something or someone with so much concentration that the distinction between observer and observed disappears. The result is insight into the true nature of the object. When we look into the heart of a flower, we see clouds, sunshine, minerals, time, the earth, and everything else in the cosmos in it. Without clouds, there could be no rain, and there would be no flower. Without time, the flower could not bloom. In fact, the flower is made entirely of non-flower elements; it has no independent, individual existence." - Thich Nhat Hanh, Living Buddha, Living Christ 1995

April 8, 2013. Beaver, near gate 21a, Quabbin. Although their eyesight does not appear keen, their sense of smell seems sharp, and appears to be the main way that individuals recognize me once they become familiar over a period of time. They appear to imprint on my voice as well.

April 6, 2013. Valerie, with an impressive Northern Red Oak, Quercus rubra. We had the pleasure of joining Old Growth sleuth Bob Leverett on one of his exceptional Tree I.D. programs. Bob (in the orange hat in the background of this photo) took us into the heart of the forest above Dunbar Brook in Monroe State Forest. Patches of snow and ice made for a memorable climb among awe-inspiring trees. As with all trips with Bob, it's not just about identifying species, but a communing with forest denizens in their native habitat. These types of trips in nearly primordial forests conjure up words like "spiritual," although words are limited in their ability to describe such experiences.

April 5, 2013. Sunset at Gate 35, Quabbin. The ice is out, except in a few sheltered coves.

April 4, 2013. Tree Ent of Quabbin.

April 3, 2013. An impressive scat from a remote area in Quabbin. This has more Feline characteristics than Canid, and is at the maximum diameter known possible for Bobcat.

April 2, 2013. A perfectly-formed Pileated Woodpecker scat from Harris Hill, Quabbin. As is most often the case, it was filled with the exoskeletons of carpenter ants.

March 31, 2013. Maple sugaring at North Prescott, Quabbin. The snow is gone, but the sap is still flowing. It's been a good year for sugaring in the hills of the North Quabbin, with days in the 30's and nights below freezing, with no heat wave to interrupt the cycle.

March 28, 2013. Porcupine near Golden Lake cemetery in the Quabbin. Note the long claws, used for climbing, digging, and grasping vegetation.

March 8, 2013. This is a kill site of a Snowshoe Hare, taken by a Female Lynx and her (yearling) kitten. Their hunting method appeared to favor an almost nonchalant walking together or slightly apart and capturing Snowshoe Hare without a prolonged chase. I found two successful kill sites today. According to some studies, one Hare per day is sufficient to sustain a Lynx. For me, it was a priviledge to get a glimpse into their lives. Seeing their tracks floating on the surface of the snow, it is possible to imagine their silent journey through the forested landscape.

Here is a photo of the trail of the two Lynx mentioned above. The mother's trail is on the right, the juvenile's is on the left. Note the difference in strides. The mother's strides ranged from 20&1/4 to 23&1/4 inches, while the juvenile's strides ranged from 14&1/2 to 22 inches with most below 20 inches. The mother's tracks measured 4 inches wide, and the yearling's tracks measured 3&1/2 inches wide. Note also the Snowshoe Hare trail crossing from left to right.

"When I Was a Child in Arkansas" - Valerie Camp Wisniewski

Valerie and Nick at Little Buffalo River, near Jasper, Arkansas, in the Ozark Mountains.

Program with Finger Lakes Community College - February 2 & 3, 2013

February 3, 2013 - A Red Squirrel nest, or "drey." Note that these are made of woven grasses, shredded bark, mosses, etc., rather than made of layers of leaves as are those of the Gray Squirrel. This example is a bit unusual in that most Red Squirrel nests are found among conifers; in this case, there are no conifers, only deciduous broad-leafed trees where the Red Squirrels are resident.

"Our science is only as good as the questions we ask." - Michael A. Steele and John L.Koprowski, North American Tree Squirrels, Smithsonian Institution, 2001.

January 17, 2013 - A Beaver sculpture. Beavers remain active through the winter, and if there is open water we often find their sign. There were fresh tracks and fresh woodchips throughout this area.

"I don't want to end up simply having visited this world." - Mary Oliver

January 17, 2013 - Another beautiful snowstorm, with wet snow clinging to the treetops. I decided to take a long walk to one of the more secluded spots in Quabbin. Not far from here, John McCarter, in 1997, found the first verified sign of a Mountain Lion in Massachusetts in nearly a hundred years. For me, this remote area always conjures up feelings of wildness and provides respite from a hectic human world. As I lose myself in the forest, something else remains.

December 1,2012 - The second snowstorm of the season - an inch or so. Tracks such as these of a domestic cat provide an opportunity to learn about, among other things, animal locomotion. Domestic cats as well as Bobcats will overstep in toward the medial line, as opposed to out to the lateral line; this tells us that the animal was moving toward the camera.

November 27, 2012 - First snowfall of the season!

The thin snow now driving from the north and lodging on my coat consists of those beautiful star crystals,…Nature is full of genius, full of the divinity; so that not a snowflake escapes its fashioning hand.
. . . The same law that shapes the earth-star shapes the snow-star. As surely as the petals of a flower are fixed, each of these countless snow-stars comes whirling to earth, pronouncing thus, with emphasis, the number six…

What a world we live in! where myriads of these little disks, so beautiful to the most prying eye, are whirled down on every traveler’s coat, the observant and the unobservant, and on the restless squirrel’s fur, and on the far-stretching fields and forests, the wooded dells, and the mountain tops. Far, far away from the haunts of man, they roll down some little slope, fall over and come to their bearings, and melt or lose their beauty in the mass, ready anon to swell some little rill with their contribution, and so, at last, the universal ocean from which they came. There they lie, like the wreck of chariot-wheels after a battle in the skies. Meanwhile the meadow mouse shoves them aside in his gallery, the schoolboy casts them in his snowball, or the woodman’s sled glides smoothly over them, these glorious spangles, the sweepings of heaven’s floor. And they all sing, melting as they sing of the mysteries of the number six, - six, six, six. He takes up the waters of the sea in his hand, leaving the salt; He disperses it in mist through the skies; He recollects and sprinkles it like grain in six-rayed snowy stars over the earth, there to lie till He dissolves its bonds again.

- Henry David Thoreau, Journal

November 23, 2012 - Valerie, Wes, and I went on our annual search for landlocked salmon spawning in a remote brook feeding the Quabbin. Although we found no salmon this time, it was a beautiful day in an amazing place.

At the Quabbin shore, we found Bald Eagle tracks. Perhaps it was searching for the same salmon we hoped to find...no salmon this time, but it appeared to have taken a duck and fed upon it at the water's edge.

The Bald Eagle's tracks can be as large as those of the Great Blue Heron. Note, however, the bulbous toes, as well as the talons made for gripping.

"When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world." - John Muir

November 21, 2012. Sugar Maple leaf and Red Fox track.

November 19, 2012. Wild cranberries at the Quabbin. The first hard freeze seems to bring out their sweetness, and picking them has become a pre-Thanksgiving tradition for us. The high level of Quabbin's water in the spring gradually subsiding through the summer and fall creates an ideal growing situation for these wild berries. Oddly, we have not found evidence of this abundant food source in the scats of wild animals. Perhaps they are too acidic? An hour of picking produces several pounds of these beauties; mixed with sugar and chunks of orange, they are another reason to be thankful during the holiday get-together.

November 18, 2012. A Gray Squirrel drey, or leaf nest. By now, our Gray Squirrels have moved to hollow tree nests.

November 17, 2012. Tamaracks, our only native deciduous coniferous tree, are ablaze in golden glory.

November 11, 2012. Most crops have been harvested in the Connecticut River valley, and winter rye is in. Inspired by Barbara Kingsolver's Animal Vegetable Miracle, we have been striving to eat as much local or regional food as possible this year - a challenge, but gratifying to know that we are doing a small part in reducing our negative impact on the earth's natural systems, especially by reducing oil consumption that is used in the distribution and transport of food across great distances.

"If we do not permit the Earth to produce beauty and joy, it will in the end not produce food either." - Joseph Woodkrutch

November 10, 2012. "Wild (naturalized)" asparagus plants are festooned with bright red berries at this time.

November 8, 2012. A great example of Bobcat scat, found on the shore of Quabbin today while leading a special program for the Wildlife Society (Valerie's famous finger, pointing).

November 3, 2012. Oyster mushrooms are one of the most prolific, and delicious, wild mushrooms. Here they were growing on a Sugar Maple, yielding several pounds for our table.

October 24, 2012. Colors such as these during the fall remind us what an amazing planet this is. The foliage this autumn was especially vibrant, and long-lasting.

"October's poplars are flaming torches lighting the way to winter." - Nova Blair

October 18, 2012. Dogwood leaves and hay-scented fern fronds catch the last few rays of sunset near the southern end of Quabbin.

"Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower." - Albert Camus

October 17, 2012. Overlooking Moosehorn Brook valley toward Quabbin's Harris Hill at daybreak.

"Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like falling leaves." - John Muir

October 7, 2012. A Flying Squirrel peeking out of its nest, at WFF adjacent to the Quabbin. Note also the squirrel bites around the entrance hole.

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

- Dust of Snow, Robert Frost

"How Swiftly the Days Pass!"

Walnut Hill Tracking & Nature Center
325 Walnut Hill Rd, Orange MA 01364Phone: 978-544-6083
E-mail: walnuthilltracking@verizon.net
All photographs on this site are by Nick Wisniewski