Star Gazing Nights – January 2017: Clouds, clouds, go away

The forecast stated that cloudy skies would clear by eight and so we opted to go for this star gazing night.  Unfortunately, the clouds stuck in there after eight, and families started filing out, happy to have had time to run around, but without the extra benefits of viewing the skies through the scopes.

For those who stayed to the very end (8:30 pm), you were rewarded with among the best skies for stargazing that I can remember, even if we had a mere half hour before the clouds covered the view again. A short, but great window into the night sky!

Once the clouds opened up, and as I was pointing out the winter constellations to people who remained, it became apparent that the conditions had been worth the wait. Telescopes were pointed to several objects, including the famous Orion Nebula, Andromeda Galaxy, Double-Cluster, and the Pleiades.

One of the ways that you can tell how dark and transparent the skies are is by looking for and counting stars in constellations rich in stars, i.e. with lots of stars in them. The constellation

Constellation Orion

Orion is one of these rich constellations and it is often used to determine how dark and transparent a sky is for observing. The most recognizable parts are the hourglass arrangement of stars that form the shoulders, knees, and belt of Orion. However, there are other parts to Orion, as well – the sword hilt hanging off the belt, the head, the raised arm usually depicted holding a spear, and the shield. The arm and shield are particularly faint – not usually visible in urban or suburban skies, but they stood out on this night.
On the next clear night, find Orion where you are – one of the most recognizable constellations in the night sky. What do you see?

After the January cloudy evening, Moose Hill has been watching the skies for the February 24 Star Gazing Night and the forecast has not been good – that evening has been cancelled! But, join us for the next night, April 21– we can’t wait to share the stars with you!

Thank you to Craig Austin for this Star Gazing post. Craig is often present during Moose Hill’s Star Gazing Nights, along with a few members of the Astronomical Society of Southern New England, and other local amateur astronomers. Moose Hill is grateful to everyone who volunteers their time to share their scopes and knowledge with anyone who is interested in learning more and seeing the night sky from our open field.

Nature Detective Notes: Mid-late January 2017

Welcome to the New Year—2017!!

Before I share some observations as of late, let’s reflect upon the year 2016 just a bit. One of the warmest years on record here in MA (based on weather records from the 1880’s or so); This translated into:

  • A relatively snow-free Winter 2015-2016 (early Dec-early Mar), with the “white stuff” not staying on the ground too long,
  • An average-early Maple Sugaring season at Moose Hill (late February-3rd week of March)
  • and a very “good year” for Blacklegged ticks (i.e. deer ticks, Ixodes scapularis) from late March-parts of December.
  • It also proved to be one of the driest years in recent memory, as observed by:
    • An infestation of the European Gypsy Moth (Lymantria dispar) in isolated locations within our area and points east and west.
    • Greatly reduced volume of our Vernal Pools/swamps/ponds at Moose Hill (and elsewhere); and although most streams within the wildlife sanctuary are “intermittent” in nature (flowing only during the Winter-Spring months), they were exceptionally low this year, even the cascading stream flowing through the Lower Sugarbush and down into Beaver Brook.

      Wolomolopoag Pond – usually water is up to the shrub line

    • Less mosquitoes throughout AND poor survival of both obligate & facultative species inhabiting those Vernal Pools. For Moose Hill that meant obligate Yellow spotted Salamander nymphs to facultative Predaceous Diving Beetle larvae.

Now, as we transition into the middle of Winter and the coldest time of the year, many questions come up (I am sure) with regard to, “what will the remainder of the year be like?” or are we “out of the drought?”  And again, if you are curious about that sort of thing like I am—a Teacher Naturalist-Forest Ecologist by trade, and a contadino (farmer/worker of the land) by default, PLEASE check out the Climate Prediction Center’s website.  It is updated daily and provides weather forecasts/predictions for various periods of time (i.e. temperatures and precipitation over 10 days, 14 days, 3 months…).

To quickly shed some light on that second question, the answer is “maybe”.  Our southeastern area of MA (we are actually on the “edge” here at Moose Hill, receiving both the moisture and moderating effects of a nearby Ocean—25 to 30 miles—AND some precipitation from weather systems originating farther west, “lake effect” included) has received copious amounts of rainfall since leaf senescence in November and even a bit of snow as of late.  The Climate Prediction Center forecast over a 3 month period is that the drought will persist to some degree, even WITH warmer temps predicted AND an increase probability of precipitation most likely in the form of rain (or “snow to rain” during the Winter months—basically, what we have already been experiencing over the past few months).…..NOT what we contadini want to hear, but that is life and we must adapt our practices.  With a good deal of snow/ice melt that occurred due to sunshine and warmer temperatures earlier this month (not to mention at least ½ inch of rain), we may be in luck for the short-term, though.

With all of those reflections and predictions taken into consideration, now I will move forward and into the sunshine (ahhh!) on this lovely day. Here are some observations I have made over the past few weeks and guaranteed to “brighten your day” a bit more:

  • Increasing Daylength!! Here we are on January 13th, the middle of Winter with its usually cold and dark days; while the cold takes a break till Saturday, January 14, our daylength is actually increasing and will continue to do so, ever so slowly, till the middle of February when the sun climbs noticeably higher in the sky and we gain even more daylight. There is not much difference to be noted in the morning yet (sunrise is at 7:12 am, an increase on 1 minute since January 1), but we have gained 9 minutes in the afternoon (with sunset at 4:32 pm). By month’s end, we will have gained 14 minutes in the morning and 22 minutes in the evening, so a 36+ minute increase since January 1 and the Winter Solstice (which was December 21).  So, 6:59 am sunrise and 4:57 pm sunset—close to a 10 hour day!!  The sun feels so good this time of year and I am hopeful!!
  • Prior to the Snowstorm on Saturday, January 7, frozen soil, frozen wetlands. With fluctuations between colder than average temperatures and warmer than average temperatures, the soils throughout our forests-meadows-wetlands have only “partially” frozen…OR at least the top layer has gone through numerous “melt-freeze cycles”.  Being interested in the “Average Frost Depth” across the lower 48 States, I was able to determine how deep soil freezes in our area of southeastern MA –  between 25 and 30 inches each year, on AVERAGE. With variable topography causing micro-climates, soil at the Bluffs will freeze to one depth, while soils in the “hollows” along the lower Kettle Trail will freeze to another. The same goes for our wetlands and bodies of water—one day, a thin layer of ice on top, the next, melted due to increased temperatures and rain.
  • Evergreen Shrubs and Herbaceous Plants. There are a small handful of these plants living in our forests, and they are wonderful and unique in their own way:
    • The Northern Bayberry (Myrica gale)—found occasionally on the edges of forests and roads….especially along the Access Trail, open to the Wetu Field (from the Old Pasture Trail), and along the lower parts of Moose Hill Street (going south and just before the Upper CSA Field, on the left).
    • Pipsissiwa (Chimaphila umbellata)—I was really excited to find this herbaceous evergreen in the same vicinity of some Northern Bayberry, going south on Moose Hill Street;  NOT a common plant in these parts. Note: the two main roads that cut through our sanctuary are great and wonderful for discovering a number of things AND totally under rated for hiking. However, both Moose Hill Street and Moose Hill Parkway can be busy at times, and with some limited sight lines (especially on the curves), please be careful if you go exploring!
    • Spotted Wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata)—a close relative to Pipsissiwa and much more common throughout our acidic, Oak-Red Maple-Pine forests.
    • Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)—also related to the last two species (and a member of the Heath, Ericaceae family of plants), but this is the one that yields the “wintergreen oil”;  NOT so common at Moose Hill, as well and found in isolated locations such as on Wood Thrush Way, at the intersection of Old Pasture Trail and Summit Trail, and in a few other, isolated locations.
    • Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens)—a creeping, prostrate herbaceous evergreen that is found throughout our forests, IF you know where to look – it really does just lay prostrate on the forest floor – not a climber.
    • Ferns—not too many grace our forests during the Winter months, but IF you look closely, you may find Evergreen Woodfern (Dryopteris sp.) growing in their usual clump (along the “pine forest” of the Vernal Pool Loop) or even Common Polypody (Polypody sp.), covering a few rocks “off the trail” at Hobbs Hill

      Evergreen Woodfern

      Common Polypody

    • Club Mosses (Lycopodium sp.)—the most common in our forests is Tree Club Moss (with its bristly “branches” and noticeable strobili), but you also may find Princess Pine/Running Ground Pine (with its scaly, flattened “branches”) and even Staghorn Club Moss (similar to Tree Club Moss, but with numerous “branches”).  Both of these were found growing next to each other along the Vernal Pool Loop, as you cross over a pile of stones on the trail and just before descending to the small bridge—at the intersection of the Vernal Pool Loop and the Kettle Trail.

      Tree Club Moss

      Princess Pine Moss

      Staghorn Club Moss

    • Sap Mushrooms sure are tough! Pinwheels in early January and last seen on a very warm (high 50’s) Thursday, January 12. HOW such a soft and mushy little organism can be “active” and growing one day and quite dormant the next is quite amazing to me. Nature is awesome and makes every day out an adventure, full of discoveries just waiting to be found.

      Pinwheel Mushrooms

  • Birdsong! Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches, Blue Jays, and House Finches – I have heard all singing to some degree, but only on warmer, sunnier days. That will change when we get into parts of February or March when the birds respond even more to those ultimate environmental factors, along with the proximate ones. We saw a Tree Sparrow at the feeder the other day, which was nice, considering it’s not the harshest of Winters. No Fox Sparrows, Redpolls, etc. yet, but a few Pine Siskins have been observed from time to time.
  • Walking the “back 40” of the Hayfield (the big field where we do our Star Gazing Parties) on the afternoon of Friday, January 13, I was happily surprise to see a flock of Eastern Bluebirds gathering food in the meadow, flying from tree to tree as I strolled along, and even perched upon our nest boxes. Not something I am used to seeing in mid-January, and it reminds me of my Winter down on the NC-SC border back in 2005 while I was pruning trees on Bartlett’s Arboretum—more Titmice, Cardinals, and Carolina Wrens than we have here, and Mockingbirds, Towhees, and Bluebirds, of course, in great abundance.
  • Snowstorm on Saturday, January 7 into Sunday, January 8:
    • “Drifting” and “metamorphosis of snow—When I first drafted this edition, I was considering adding a whole bit about the properties of snow like I did last Winter. With these wonderful, powdery and fluffy flakes piling up to 8-10 inches in our area….for just a few days, I have decided to omit any lengthy discussion. IF you are interested in learning more, then please refer to Surface Features from Winter 2015-2016);  Any amount of snow falling and collecting, be it light and fluffy with temps in the 20’s like this past storm, OR heavy and loaded with moisture, should be cherished this year check out the blog post from last year done in late January 2016.
    • Glistening snow and refraction. Only fresh snow that is powdery and has defined flakes (large, visible crystals or tiny versions clumped together) will produce any amount of refraction and hence, a “glistening” effect; the combinations of changes in temperature, moisture, wind, etc. will cause this new-fallen snow to “decompose” (compact, melt, evaporate, and even sublimate) rather quickly—destructive metamorphism, that is.
    • Yellow Birch seeds and bracts on the snow’s surface—wherever birch trees grow, you can count on their 1”, oval strobiles to disintegrate during the Winter months, peppering the snow’s surface with tiny seeds and bracts (which hold seeds within the strobilus). Check out the Lower Summit Trail, Woodthrush Way, or lower parts of the Bluff Trail after a snowstorm to see this sort of thing.
    • The overall importance of SNOW to plants and animals in our forests-meadows-wetlands of New England—Like our Wha-he-stah-he-stah legend (told to Grades K-2 during the Native American Life school program), I cannot emphasize how important snow is for plants and animals that choose to live in New England during the Winter months. It is that blanket protecting tree roots and burrowing animals, that source of water that slowly melts and percolates through the soil, or goes through various melt-freeze cycles and adds volume to our Vernal Pools, providing life for those that require it, etc. And when the snow remains on the ground for just a short time, the temperature fluctuations at the soil surface (and below) become quite drastic for all those who need more consistency during these lean months. Add a good dose of rain, and those burrows not sealed up so well will get wet, leading to potential death due to exposure by chipmunks and other ground dwellers…regardless of their food stores. On the other hand, more southerly animal species (especially our feathered friends) do benefit from the lack of snow, being able to find more food resources on the ground and in the trees.
    • Clear skies following the passage of a cold front and storm system that provides snow—this phenomenon is NOT something we usually saw growing up in VT, unless a very strong cold front invaded the area; lots of clouds much of the time up there, so our weather post storm down in southeastern New England is a bit more pleasant – and just calls for you to get out, on the trails, and explore in the beauty of the day.
    • Animal Tracks in the powdery snow—I did see the usual squirrel, fox, and coyote tracks, along with a raccoon pattern that wandered across them. Again, I will save a more “snow-focused” set of Nature Detective Notes for February….that is, IF we ever get more snow that sticks around more than a week.
    • Melting Icicles—they sure formed fast and provided some great refraction of sunlight, especially if you have a south-facing window at home. So interesting to watch them form—melting, freezing, clumping up, and even becoming something of a “column”, as in cave stalactites and stalagmites
  • The unusual, “extended”, Winter Thaw from Wednesday, January 11 through Friday, January 13.  “Here today, and it’s gone….tomorrow, it’s here and gone so fast….”, to quote an often forgotten song from the Beach Boys (really Brian Wilson), Pet Sounds album of 50 years ago. Most years do not bring temperatures (in mid-Winter/January) that last more than two days, so unusual and something we may need to live with periodically over the upcoming years. The positives of this thaw, and the accompanying melting of most of the fluffy snow pack (ONLY large, iceberg-like piles and snow found in cooler, shaded, northern slopes remain), ice in the soil, and increased rainfall have allowed water tables to increase a little bit. The fact that we have been in a drought may be relative during this time of year, really, as we ALL know that evaporation rates are quite low…till March, at least.

So other than a few changes I have noticed while hiking the trails of Moose Hill or walking the “back 40” of the Hayfield (as mentioned above), we are back to where we were a month ago when I typed up my last set of Nature Detective Notes—the earth tone hues of our Oak-Red Maple-Pine forests set against a blue (or gray) sky, the sweet smell of the Earth…wanting to wake, yet content to sleep some more, the rustling of the oak leaves and comforts of the wind, drowning out I-95, a mere mile to the west, and the twittering of our resident (and visiting) birds.

Be well, stay warm, and keep in touch,

Michael P. D. Scutari Acciavatti

Nature Detective Notes by Michael, Moose Hill’s full-time teacher naturalist who often heads out on the trails to stretch his legs and observe what is happening. His enthusiasm and knowledge make for wonderful updates about the nature of Moose Hill. We hope that you will be inspired to head out on our trails as well and enjoy the changes that each season, or better yet, each month brings to Moose Hill. We look forward to seeing you here!

Star Gazing Nights – December 3: Breaks in the Clouds

More than a dozen people came to the December Star Night, meeting with a dozen astronomers who had binoculars and telescopes. Clouds overhead partially obscured the view, but where the clouds broke, people were able to see several winter sky objects. Here are some highlights.

The Pleiades (M45 as designated in Messier’s Catalog) is an open cluster (a loose, irregular grouping of stars that usually have a common origin) in the constellation Taurus.  The stars in the Pleiades are in a shape like a small pan. In mythology, the Pleiades are known as the “Seven Sisters,” nymphs who were the daughters of Atlas. Orion pursues them, even to this day in the night sky, but Zeus, in the form of Taurus the Bull, blocks and protects the nymphs from Orion.

image from Wikimedia Commons

The Andromeda Galaxy (M31) is a spiral galaxy very similar to the one that our sun resides in, the Milky Way. It was difficult to see with the naked eye that night, but thankfully we had binoculars and telescopes on-hand to aid our viewing.

Andromeda Galaxy as seen by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer

The Orion Nebula (M42 and M43) is a cloud-like fan-shaped object that is made of dust clouds in our galaxy. It is visible with binoculars as a small, fuzzy cloud. Most telescopes also resolve the four stars (referred to as “The Trapezium”) within it.

image from Wikimedia Commons

Recently, I heard on Science Friday on National Public Radio (NPR) a list of science-related books. The Glass Universe, by Dava Sobel, is a book about women who, as human “computers”, i.e. math whizzes, devoted stargazers, aided Harvard Observatory in Cambridge, MA. They made significant contributions, including the creation of a system to classify stars that is still used today. Also, the movie, Hidden Figures, about minority women “computers” at NASA, was just released. If anyone has read the book or seen the movie, drop a line to Moose Hill and give your review!

Finally, ever curious, I decided to take apart the eyepiece assembly and telescope mounts on one of my scopes to understand how they fit together. The telescope itself was not touched – this should only be done by those who know what they are doing (I don’t!).  The photo below are the unassembled components. Now I just need to put it all back together in time for the next Star Gazing Night….

…which is January 27 at Moose Hill. This free program is cancelled if sky conditions are cloudy/milky or in the event of deep snow/extreme cold; call Patti at 781-784-5691 x8103 after 6pm the night of the event for a recorded message concerning the status of the program prior to attending. We look forward to, hopefully, clear skies and to seeing you there – dress warmly!

Please note that some information was taken from A Field Guide to the Stars and Planets, by Mentzel & Pasachoff.

Thank you to Craig Austin for this Star Gazing post. Craig is often present during Moose Hill’s Star Gazing Nights, along with a few members of the Astronomical Society of Southern New England, and other local amateur astronomers. We are grateful for those who share their scopes and knowledge with anyone who is interested in learning more and seeing the night sky from our open field.

It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye

As the end of each calendar year approaches, it’s hard not to look back and reflect on the many wonderful experiences, sometimes a few challenges, and the continued successes that propel us into our next year.kay

This year, one of our reflections is to look back over the time that Kay Andberg (Mrs. A) has spent at Moose Hill. After 23 years of leading Moose Hill’s camp and school and group programs, Kay has decided to retire. With grandchildren calling her name, the timing just seemed right.

Over the last 23 years, Kay’s passionate, positive, and supportive role as Camp Director has connected children of all ages with the wonders of the natural world around them. When you have an education coordinator who finds wonder in everything around her and then wants to share that with everyone, and we do mean everyone, that she meets, well, let’s just say it makes it hard to say goodbye.

When we reflect on our programs, it’s easy to see how Kay’s guidance has provided campers, camp-2014-week-11-098students, teacher naturalists, counselors, volunteers, and even visitors with a place (Moose Hill) where they can feel at home. It has become a place where those teaching can find equal value in watching and engaging with the campers or the students; play becomes a natural way to engage with the world around you and to discover and learn so much more.

But, while Kay may not be with us on a daily basis, she will continue to be involved here at Moose Hill – with advice, with stories, with ideas, and with grandchildren, family, and friends in tow as she introduces them all to this great big backyard of exploration.

So what happens next? Moose Hill is actively seeking our next Education Coordinator and Camp Director who should be with us as spring of 2017 begins to arrive. In the meantime, our incredible education staff and teachers will still be here, channeling Kay’s inner voice and continuing to provide the engaging, fun, and educational programming expected by our campers, our students, and our visitors.

Kay’s last day will be Friday, December 30, 2016. She will, appropriately, be spending that last week with vacation week campers.

Wished you had a chance to say goodbye? Don’t worry, you can! We will have a goodbye gathering for Kay on May 21, 2017, when the weather will be more cooperative. Come and have a chance to share your stories and memories with Kay. More details to come in April, so watch our enewsletter, News from the Hill, for updates.

Catching Up With the Past

MH100_fullcolorIt’s hard to believe that 2016 has come and has almost gone. After 100 years as Mass Audubon’s first wildlife sanctuary, one year seems like a short period of time, yet despite the quickness by which this year has seemed to go by, what a year it has been.

Celebrating 100 years kicked off in March as Moose Hill celebrated 44 years of maple sugaring. With programs for schools, groups, and visitors to learn about the process of turning sap into syrup, this time honored annual event continues to connect people with a truly New England crop – maple syrup -oh how sweet it is. Join us at a program or for Maple Sugaring Weekends in 2017.

classic George and Martha

George and Martha, our 250 year old maple trees, are ready for sugaring season.

On April 7 as we welcomed back David Clapp for a Fireside Chat. David grew up in Sharon, was one of the very first campers Moose Hill ever had, and later became one of the sanctuary directors here. An evening of stories, shared memories, and even some great pictures and other keepsakes was enjoyed!

The celebration continued on April 9 with a “100th day of the year” celebration. All Mass Audubon sanctuaries were open for free that day – some with programs that visitors could attend, some with cookies or cakes, but all with the opportunity to share our wonderful sanctuaries with visitors – those that had never been to a sanctuary before and those that enjoy the sanctuaries all the time. It was a great day for greeting old friends and making new ones too!

raccoon at sign 1958

Lotor, the raccoon knows where to hang.

Here at Moose Hill, we had the pleasure of meeting one of the sons of a former sanctuary director, Al Bussewitz. His son, Al, stopped by on April 9 and shared photos and stories, and we even took a tour of the old nature center – the home in which Al had lived when he was younger. It was great to finally hear the truth behind some of the stories that we have heard and to learn what it was like to grow up at a wildlife sanctuary.

staff and volunteers gather for Statewide Volunteer Day in April

staff and volunteers gather for Statewide Volunteer Day in April

With 100 years to celebrate, Moose Hill wanted to provide as many opportunities for people to visit and experience our great sanctuary as possible. On April 30, Moose Hill was one of the host sites for Mass Audubon’s Statewide Volunteer Day. With staff working by their side, volunteers joined us to spruce up our gardens, spread wood chips, weed the fields for our Community Supported Agriculture program, and scrub down the camp garage. Laughter, along with a lot of much appreciated work, was done! We look forward to next year’s volunteer day so we can do it all again.DSC05128

June brought camp – 67 years strong – back to Moose Hill. Our summers just wouldn’t be the same without campers exploring the trails, discovering the farm fields, catching frogs, experimenting with science, dabbling in art, and venturing new places. Building appreciation for the natural world, providing hands-on science learning, and helping children develop important life skills, such as teamwork, leadership, and self-expression remains our focus. Registration for summer 2017 begins soon!barn-display2

As summer ended and campers headed back to school, it was time to turn our attention to fall and Halloween Prowl. With another visit from a former director, Mike Shannon and his wife, Margie, we discovered that so much of this event follows the traditions that Mike and Margie created when they started this event 34 years ago. Each year, the costumed characters change, but since this was our 100th year as the first sanctuary, we decided to bring back our favorites to have on the trails and the opossum, great blue heron, dragonfly, and dung beetle did not disappoint. Of course the luminary lit trails started with a druid and ended with a celebration fire followed by hot chocolate, camp fire songs and even S’mores to finish off the night! Guess we’ll do it again next October; we just have so much fun.

Welcome Mass Audubon staff!

Welcome Mass Audubon staff!

But we didn’t limit our celebrations to events, visits from past staff and campers, and programs, Moose Hill also hosted the Mass Audubon Board of Directors for a meeting in June with a tour of our fabulous sanctuary and organic strawberries from our farm. Then, in early September, we were delighted to be the gathering site for the Mass Audubon annual staff outing, sharing the sanctuary and a few of the surrounding attractions with our colleagues from across the state, and the islands.

And to top it all off, every visit provided everyone the opportunity to explore our Gallery. The four shows this past year all reflected in some way on Celebrating 100 years:

  • Looking Back…Moving Forward – highlighting artists who have exhibited at Moose Hill before, showcasing their creativity and individual expressions of nature with pastels, oil, watercolors, and photography.climate-change
  • What Have We Got to Lose? – an opportunity to capture the potential loss of our natural resources through the impacts of climate change through an artist’s eye.
  • Hidden Treasures at Moose Hill – a return of the innovative photographs by Fred Martins that were featured in Moose Hill Art calendars from 2006-2011. Each photograph explored the many hidden treasures of the sanctuary and invited visitors to get out on the trails and explore the wetlands, vernal pools, streams, and pine forests at Moose Hill.
  • Birds of Prey – noted for their keen vision and powerful talons, birds of prey intrigue and fascinate and were the perfect ending on the year – after all, any exhibit that features birds reminds us of the story of Mass Audubon.

It truly has been a wonderful year and we thank everyone who visited, shared stories, pictures, memories, and time with us. It is the land, the staff, the volunteers, and all of you that make Moose Hill still as vibrant today as it was 100 years ago!

We look forward to seeing you on here in 2017 as we begin the next 100 years of Moose Hill Wildlife Sanctuary.

A Visit from Robo Rampage

Recently Moose Hill had the pleasure of seeing a presentation from a local FIRST Lego League groupRobo Rampage. This group of six students attend middle schools in both the Sharon and Canton Public Schools and part of preparing for competition during this tournament season is to present their challenge project to various professional groups in order to practice their presentation, ask questions, and listen to our thoughts or questions to help improve their overall project.team

When Pooja, Soumil, Arun, Daniel, Thanh, and Arjun arrived to present their project, you could see just how much this team is a team. This is their 5th year working together, a few members have left and a few new members have joined, but you would never know that from the interactions we saw, and they have done well as a team at competition. They were excited about this year’s project and had lots of questions for us – and we had a lot of questions for them, too.team-websitetalking-about-the-gallery

So what is this year’s challenge? Animal Allies – identify a problem when people and animals interact; design a solution that makes the interaction better for animals, people or both; and share your problem and solution with others. Team Robo Rampage set their minds to the task and each team member brought at least one project idea to the table. After presenting their ideas to each other, a vote was done to determine the winning project.img_0985

The winning project? To build a thermal detector for cars that would help drivers to know of an animal that might be crossing the street – say a deer – and would then help the driver to brake the car to avoid any collisions. I think we all realize how useful this could be, especially on those back roads, late at night, or at dusk when it can be hardest to see what animals might lay ahead.inputting-information

So what happens at competition? The audience mostly sees teams playing the Robot Game, but the teams are actually judged on a few things: Core Values, Project, and Robot Design.demonstrating-the-robot

We wish Team Robo Rampage the best of luck at the competition on Saturday and we cannot wait to hear how you did! Thanks for visiting and sharing your project – it’s awesome!

Nature Detective Notes: December/late Autumn-early Winter

The darkest days of the year are upon us at the moment, but this doesn’t always translate into “cold and snowy” conditions.  This past November was a much warmer month then in year’s past, with a brief cold spell in the latter weeks. Precipitation was mainly in the form of rain and accumulated in average amounts, despite what seemed like a deluge at times.  We are just NOT used to seeing so much at one time during this dry year—our area still needs 8-10 inches of measurable precipitation to catch up to those 100 year averages and provide our watersheds what they desperately need.

As for the darkest, shortest days of the year (sunrise is now around 7:00 am and sunset is close to 4:15 pm), these usually extend from late November into late December.  With that sunrise time staying quite constant until early in February, waking up will be tricky for all of those diurnal creatures. Sunset times, however, will REALLY rebound by January, and just in time to shovel snow under better lit conditions.  Not that we will have as much as “snowmageddon” during the Winter of 2014-2015, but there is evidence to suggest (from the Climate Prediction Center) that we will have more snow than last year.

The ½ inch of snow from the “storm” on December 5 was quickly washed away by copious rainfall and melting upon contact with most of the ground. As the ground surface cools (and it will with a short blast of Arctic air during the latter part of the week), please by careful out on the roads.  Late Autumn-early Winter here in New England means a good deal of “black ice” and slick roads at times for reasons just mentioned.

Remember that our seasons in these latitudes are relative with no truly defined “boundaries”, as calendars would have us believe with the “first day of Winter (Winter Solstice) arriving on December 21”.  That is merely in “astronomical terms” and indicates the Earth’s position to the sun OR the angle of elevation of the sun ON that particular date—the lowest in the sky for the year, resulting in the shortest day.

With the Nature Detective Notes, I speak in “meteorological terms”—when the coldest days occur, when the warmest days occur, etc., and usually at 3-month intervals, as expressed by not only our weather forecasters (or meteorologists), but also ecologists and WE that focus on the applied sciences for a living.

Consider this idea and the fact that EVERY season goes through its stages—early Autumn chill and migration of birds, mid Autumn leaf senescence and frost, late Autumn leaf fall and grey, rainy days.

So…, early December-early March (Winter), early March-early June (Spring), early June-early September (Summer), and early September-early December (Autumn).  Note: with the impeding warming of our planet and Climate Change,  like I “hint at” below, in our lifetime we may begin to see a shortened Winter season from mid December-mid February, just like the Piedmont of North Carolina.

Here are some observations I’ve made  over the past few weeks, as we transition from late Autumn to early Winter:

  • Frozen ground and Melting Frost—each year I attempt to keep track
    rime-ice-on-a-surface

    Rime ice on a surface

    of WHEN the first, hard frost occurs, and each year it tends to happen later. This time it occurred just before Thanksgiving, and even then, the soil holding my potted trees wasn’t frozen solid. While scraping the thick frost off of my car this morning, I was struck by how quickly the sun’s rays melted this frozen “rime ice” and water droplet; this is December, after all and NOT March; WHAT are things like in your area? Have you had to scrape your windshields? Do you park your car so that the early sun can be aiding in the removal of that ice?

  • But it feels like late March or early April in southern New England—while walking down one of our trails last week I really felt like I had been transported to these months, that it was much later in the day, AND that the “timberdoodles” (or American Woodcock) would be making their flight display in, what we affectionately call the Poison Ivy field, off the Billings Loop. Sure, the greys-browns-tans-lawn greens/piney greens are all VERY early December (or late November) in our area, but there was a smell in the air, a feeling that we had skipped all of that cold and snowy weather. DO you sense some of what I am sensing?  All very typical of Winters down in the North Carolina piedmont region, actually, just not so typical of what we have been used to in the past.

    red_black-oaks-with-late-season-leaves

    Red/Black Oaks with leaves still hanging on

  • Down come the Oak leaves—After the 2-3 inches of rain that fell last week, many of our Oaks (especially the Red and Black types) have lost their leaves, littering the side walks and forest floor in most areas. Those trees devastated by Gypsy Moth larval feeding produced a much smaller amount. Along the roadside and forest edges, you might find younger individuals who have retained their scarlet-russet leaves, as is characteristic of these tree species in our area.
  • European Buckthorns tough it out—the most common of our exotic invasive shrubs, this species will keep its leaves attached until the colder and snowier weather arrives.
  • Winter Moths—These exotic invasive, insect pests don’t seem to be as common as in past years and thank goodness for that. I am guessing that certain density dependent factors might be at play here – disease, parasitism, etc….I just started seeing them around Thanksgiving, which is at least 2 weeks later than usual. Read more about these moths here.
  • Garter Snake!—a large individual, possibly a female, was seen just  off of the Kettle Trail last week with our preschoolers. The latest I have ever seen one active in this area, and interestingly, the ONLY Herp (short for herptile – a reptile or amphibian) seen or heard that day. Usually, a few Spring Peepers will call during damp days in the 50’s-60’s, but not the case where we were. In any case, this species/subspecies is the most northerly of our native reptiles, able to exist in parts of the Yukon and Northwest Territories, so go figure.
  • Where have all the turkey’s gone?—by this point in early December, I usually step in numerous piles of wild turkey poo, either tracking it in the Nature Center or smearing it on my clothes; not so this late Autumn-early Winter season. My guess is that with ample food supplies throughout our Oak-Pine-Red Maple forests (last year was a bumper crop for nuts and acorns, and this year is almost as good in spots), these re-introduced, native birds DO NOT need to crowd our feeders at Moose Hill, put down a chicken farm’s share of waste, and roost in the trees just across the street, looking southward. Then again, maybe their populations have “tanked” due to disease or other density dependent factors… Read more on this idea here.pinwheel-mushrooms
  • Pinwheel Mushrooms on Hardwood tree bark—I love finding these little, Basidiomycetes on the bark of Sugar Maples, Red Maples, and White Ashes, feeding  on dead lichen, moss, etc., thanks to the warmer, moister air last week, they woke up from their dormancy; a great strategy that allows many creatures to survive the weather extremes in southern New England

Back to peeling my Italian Chestnuts and dreaming of collecting a basket or two of our native ones, here in southern New England.

Be well,

Michael P. D. Scutari Acciavatti

Nature Detective Notes by Michael, Moose Hill’s full-time teacher naturalist who often heads out on the trails to stretch his legs and observe what is happening. His enthusiasm and knowledge make for wonderful updates about the nature of Moose Hill. We hope that you will be inspired to head out on our trails as well and enjoy the changes that each season, or better yet, each month bring to Moose Hill. We look forward to seeing you here!

Good byes and Popcorn

So with the season coming to a close, I would like to say thank you one last time for being a member of our CSA, and giving time to help us harvest and weed throughout the season. Many have you have mentioned to me that it feels like this season has “flown by”…In my mind, during some of those scorchingly hot days I couldn’t agree less, yet on the other hand, these past few weeks have indeed passed quickly. This may be due to the fact that the days are shorter and the weather quite pleasant, but also because I will miss seeing you all during distribution:)

For anyone interested, we will be having a deep cleaning of the barn this Tuesday from 8 until noon, as well as 5 – 7 pm. We will also be doing a few tasks out in the fields, so feel free to join during this time for a final good bye.

 

Lastly, several of you have asked about how to make popcorn, so I wanted to provide some tips about how to make it in the microwave and over the stove:

Microwave:

Very simple and easy..Simply microwave 1/4 cup of kernels in a small brown lunch paper bag. Make sure the bag is closed and folded over 3 or 4 times and firmly crease the seam so that it stays closed. No need to add any oil to the kernels as this won’t make much difference. If you wish to add more kernels, use a larger paper shopping bag.

Microwave for 2 – 4 minutes. Listen closely — when the time between pops slows to about 2 seconds, your popcorn is ready. Depending on your microwave, popping can finish in as little as 2 minutes or take as long as 4 minutes. Do not wait for all the kernels to pop; your popcorn will burn. It’s normal for there to be un-popped kernels in the bag.

Add some melted butter or oil and sprinkle with salt when finished cooking.

Stovetop Popcorn

Yields: 2 servings  Cook time: 10 minutes

Ingredients

  • 3 Tbsp coconut, peanut, or canola oil (high smoke point oil)
  • 1/3 cup of popcorn kernels
  • 1 3-quart covered saucepan
  • 1 Tbsp or more (to taste) of butter (optional)
  • Salt to taste

Method

1. Heat the oil in a 3-quart thick-bottomed saucepan on medium high heat. If you are using coconut oil, allow all of the solid oil to melt.

perfect-popcorn-1

2. Put 3 or 4 popcorn kernels into the oil.

perfect-popcorn-2 perfect-popcorn-3

3 When the kernels pop, add the rest of the 1/3 cup of popcorn kernels in an even layer. Cover, remove from heat and count 30 seconds.

This method first heats the oil to the right temperature, then waiting 30 seconds brings all of the other kernels to a near-popping temperature so that when they are put back on the heat, they all pop at about the same time.

perfect-popcorn-4

4 Return the pan to the heat. The popcorn should begin popping soon, and all at once. Once the popping starts in earnest, gently shake the pan by moving it back and forth over the burner.

Try to keep the lid slightly ajar to let the steam from the popcorn release (the popcorn will be drier and crisper).

Once the popping slows to several seconds between pops, remove the pan from the heat, remove the lid, and dump the popcorn immediately into a wide bowl.

With this technique, nearly all of the kernels pop, and nothing burns.

5 If you are adding butter, you can easily melt it by placing the butter in the now empty, but hot pan. Note that if you let the butter get just a little bit brown, it will add an even more intense, buttery flavor to the butter and to your popcorn. (Here’s more info on how to brown butter.) Just drizzle the melted butter over the popcorn and toss to distribute.

6 Salt to taste.

Reference:

Week 18 Pickup List

So the final week has arrived! Next Monday, October 3rd will be the last distribution day, and since we would like to provide as much produce as possible for each pickup day, there will be no more extras at the end of distribution. Tomatoes, Melons, Peppers, and eggplant are all very thin as you all know, thus we may not have enough of all of these crops for every distribution day. The winter squashes and pumpkins may collectively serve as one pickup item, and we have the addition of popcorn as well! Lugi’s 1 lb honey jars and cookbooks will both be sold at $12. Here is this weeks list:

  • Potatoes
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Watermelons, cantaloupe, musk melon (certain distribution days)
  • Tomatoes (certain distribution days)
  • Peppers
  • Hot Peppers
  • Eggplant (beginning Wednesday)
  • Popcorn (beginning Wednesday)
  • Red onions
  • Acorn and Butternut squash
  • Sugar Pumpkins
  • Pick your own zinnias
  • Egg and fish shares for those who registered

Quite the summer it has been!

With the season winding down, I wanted to give a special thanks to all of our shareholders for supporting us this year. This has been a wonderful learning experience for me, partly because of the opportunities I’ve been given to get to know several of you more personally. Several of you are certainly not afraid to give some good input and suggestions about the CSA, all of which is very helpful and certainly taken into consideration. Although there is only one week remaining, I would love to receive more suggestions about what we could grow more or less of next year, or any other ideas about the way distribution is run, what to include in the blog, etc…I have been in communication with one shareholder about holding a canning and pickling class next year for instance, and hopefully this project will hit the ground running when next year’s growing season comes around.

I would also like to provide a brief “shareholder spotlight” on Carol Fraser, who has been a shareholder for several years now. Almost every week Carol has provided unique and tasty recipes at distribution, and given great tips about how to cook and roast our produce. Carol also makes food pantry deliveries to Foxboro and Brockton, and clearly exhibits a certain joy in providing fresh food for lower-income families.

Carol Fraser

Carol, in addition to many shareholders, have helped make this community supported farming experience that much more enjoyable. Next week I would like to share the spotlight on a few other active and involved shareholders, as long as I can snap a photo of them. Although I won’t be able feature as many members as I would like to, I hope these posts can serve as a “shout out” to all of the members as a token of our appreciation. I can’t say enough about those of you who have given me some great ideas about ways to increase a sense of community; not to mention the people who volunteered to help spur of the moment  when I was left to run distribution alone…Life savers!

the crew

Here is a quick shot I got of our farmhands and farm manager Mathew – the coolest cats this side of Sharon.