Category Archives: Nature Detective

reworkings of the series Michael A. sends out to our TNS

Nature Detective Notes: early Autumn 2017

A much cooler Summer than in year’s past, following a much wetter March-July.  According to meteorologists, we may moderate a bit as we move into October and November, so what is “cool” for one month will be “warm”, or just right, for the  next.  Oh, how the weather WILL dictate our observations!!

Indian Tobacco or Lobelia inflata

Here is a list (and description) of what I have seen, heard, felt, smelt during September at Moose Hill:

Wildflowers – most Goldenrods are in peak flower at this point in the season and we see a great number a variety of them in our fields and open forests (look for the Blue-stemmed Goldenrod). There are also a few different species of Woodland Asters with Small White Aster, White Wood Aster, and Whorled Wood Aster, being the most common. The tall (up  to 10 feet at times) Joe Pye Weeds, with their pink ball of flowers, have begun to go to seed and a few Lobelia’s can be seen in the open, moist forests such as the Cardinal Flower and Indian Tobacco, a small plant with tiny, blue flowers. At the summit of Moose Hill, you might get a chance to see those purple New England Asters and at the bottom of Moose Hill’s main driveway, you might  notice the fragrant, 4-petaled, white flowers of the vine-like, Virgin’s Bower.

Need help identifying wildflowers? here are a number of websites or books that might be useful to you:

Fall Wildflowers of New England – a fun breakdown of flowers based on a few different factors, including by the flower color you see; good pictures.

Welcome to Wildflowers of New England – may not have all the flowers in our area, but nice pictures and descriptions.

Wildflowers of New England  – a relatively good book regarding New England’s wildflowers but I also recommend having a few other books for additional drawings that can be very helpful in identification such as Peterson’s Field Guide and Newcombe’s Field Guide.

Insect Choristers – Yes, it still seems that I am fanatical about trying  to describe these little creatures and tell you all about them. As a musician of sorts, it all comes naturally to me so here goes, briefly, that is:

1) Daytime choristers (warmer days = singing; cooler/rainy days = quiet, generally speaking)

  • Cicadas – on warmer days (70’s on up) we can still hear the “sawlike” buzzing of those dog days of summer Cicadas, the last species that  seems to emerge from the ground in our area and points northward; a few Lyric Cicadas out there still, with their very noisy rattle heard up in Oaks and other deciduous trees;
  • Ground Crickets – that high-pitched, raspy trill we hear during most mornings, throughout the day, and into the night; very hardy and will sing until the first hard frosts;
  • Sword-tail Crickets, or Trig – the Handsome Trig is the most common species in our area; also produces a raspy, high-pitched trill (almost sounding like a wire “shorting out”), but it is found in our shrub layer, NOT on the ground, like the  previous crickets; a southern species that has made its way northward over the years;
  • Rattler Round Katydids – large, green, and hardly seen, these insects make a lower-pitched rattling and are found in the low vegetation areas of our open forests (think: the “woodlands” along our Vernal Pool Loop;
  • Meadow Katydids – a host of species out there that produce high pitched trills and shuffles, yet the most easily heard is our Lesser Pine Katydid that is found up in….Eastern White/Pitch Pines!;
  • Conehead Katydids – no, not related to Beldar from the old SNL, but a group of katydids that tend to produce “clear, mechanical” songs, most being quite loud; the Sword-bearing Conehead sounds like the “ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ecc…” of a lawn sprinkler (can also be heard during the night time hours); the other one in our area, the Round-tipped Conehead, produces a loud, almost ear-piercing buzz akin to our Cicadas; both species are found in grasses and within fields of goldenrod;
  • Tree Crickets – later in the season, a few species sing into the daytime hours, such as the Narrow-winged Tree Cricket (short, low-pitched trill heard mostly during dawn and dusk), the Two-Spotted Tree Cricket (sounds similar to the  last one, but has raspy breaks in its song), and the Pine Tree Cricket (a lovely, peaceful trill heard high up in  our pine trees). Note that all species produce a “pure tone” liken to an organ versus a “piano keys tinkling” that Ground Crickets seem to make.

2) Night time Choristers (warmer nights = MORE species sing, and at faster rates; cooler nights = less species that sing, and at slower rates)

  • Tree Crickets – the daytime choristers written about above will also sing during the night time hours, along with a few others such as the common, Snowy Tree Cricket, whose song sounds like a more “musical” beeping of a car alarm (“beep, beep, beep, beep,” over and over and over and…, slowing down when the temps get into the 50’s); If you too, are musical, think: 2/4 time during warm nights
  • Field Crickets – that familiar chirping we know well; occasionally, sing during the  daytime hours in low vegetation
  • Jumping Bush Crickets – an odd species that is rarely ever seen, but certainly can be heard with each individual making short trills on a different (yet lower) pitch; sounds like an “orchestra warming up;” found in shrub layer and around housing developments
  • Trigs – often will sing through the night later in the growing season
  • True Katydids – the unmistakable, slow paced and deliberate, “CH-CH, CH-CH-CH” (“ka-ty, ka-ty-did”, ecc) heard high up in deciduous trees and produced by an amazing “file and scraper” located on both their hind wings and dorsal, stridulatory shield; in our area they will sing till early-mid November at times
  • Oblong-winged Katydid – a very similar song to the True Katydid, but weaker sounding, higher-pitched, and given at a faster rate; found in shrub layer along roadsides or within fields of goldenrod
  • Bush Katydids – these guys produce of series of “tsips” and “clicks”, and are sometimes seen more than heard; most live high up in the trees
  • Angle-winged Katydids – the familiar, loud, “tick, tick, tick, tick, ecc.” Heard on the tops of small trees during early Autumn is produced by this species; not commonly seen, it blends in well with the green foliage like its cousins  another species that has migrated northward over the years

Here is a good website regarding our chorusing insects, and is put together by Elliot Lang and Will J Hershberger who wrote the book, Songs of Insects.

Other late Summer-early Autumn Insects: loads of Bumblebees gathering pollen/nectar, various wasps doing the same (those like Paper Wasp, metallic Halictic Bees, etc. Are especially fond of goldenrod), Hornets hunting for an insect meal and adding both girth, and dimension, to their large, paper hives; Syrphid Flies (a “bee mimic” of sorts) becoming more common on those wildflowers mentioned after the first frost; yellow-brown Ambush Bugs are still active on goldenroads, carefully staking out a meal to pounce on; dragonflies such as Meadow Hawks and Darners searching for an insect meal over meadows before they either take a permanent nap, or migrate south.

Frogs!: Gray-tree Frogs call occasionally and can be heard trilling (short duration and on different pitches, much sweeter sounding than those Jumping Bush Crickets) during daytime hours when the temps rise above 70 degrees and humidity in the air increases;  the “autumn chirps” of our tiny Spring Peepers can also be heard in most forests, especially near wetlands;  while the Gray Tree Frogs, True Frogs, Toads, and our reptilian friends start to hunker down for the cold months ahead (the garter snake is one exception I would make), these little Peepers will keep doing their thing until we get at least a hard frost, OR extended period of cold;  I’ve heard them in January, even up in VT, so a tough species.

Resident Birds and Long-Distance Migrants: Blue Jays and Crows have been very active staking out food sources/defending feeding territories, as have Black-capped Chickadees, Titmice, Nuthatches, Cardinals, and other resident birds; Our woodpeckers have been at work too looking for insect meals, and the Pileated woodpecker individuals at Moose Hill have been seen more frequently this year, as has evidence of their excavation; their cousin, the Yellow-shafted Flicker, will soon fly to more southern climes in North America, along with the Gray Catbird (still “meowwwing” out there), the Eastern Phoebe and Wood Pewee (two Flycatchers still singing throughout), Pine Warblers (great to hear their lovely little song), Song Sparrows, Red-winged Blackbirds and Grackles, Bluebirds, a few American Robins, a select few Blue Jays, and a few other species; Interestingly, I have seen/heard more Cedar Waxwings over the last few weeks, moving gregariously from one spot to the next in search of fruit to consume; onsite during cloudy days, or even the sunniest of days, you might hear a Barred Owl exercising its voice.

Fall Foliage Preview: starting MUCH sooner than in year’s past, here in southeastern MA and up in VT, where my family lives; our Flowering Dogwoods have been turning that purple-pink-maroon color since mid August, Red Maples are just starting to turn red-orange-yellow, Sugar Maples onsite tend to turn an “orange-brown” and are beginning to turn (and lose leaves), White Ashes are starting to turn their purple-orange-maroon, Black Gum leaves are beginning to turn scarlet red, and both Poison Ivy/Poison Sumac and Virginia Creeper are ablaze with scarlet-fluorescent reds, oranges, yellows……with the decreasing daylight each day, and each week, “it won’t be long (till we see the  hillsides in full color…and till the snow comes, apologies to my wife about that one)!!”

So, until we meet again in a couple of weeks, keep those eyes-ears-noses-tactile senses to the skies and world around you!! Try closing your eyes to enhance the experience!

And…PLEASE let me know what you all have observed as well!!

Michael 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!

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!

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

    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 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!

Nature Detective Notes: mid April-early May

We are truly into mid-Spring now, with the weather pattern favoring the brilliant sunshine of high air pressure for one week and then a cool rain off the ocean the next!

You all may have noticed how much “higher in the sky” the sun is on those sunny days, as compared to late March. Because of that event, more heat is spread out over a greater area up here in the northern hemisphere AND that “battle ground” between North and South (so typical of March-like weather) has been toned down quite a bit. The result? More tranquil weather and much less wind. Consequently, IF the Earth is allowed to heat up enough and there is a good combination of 1) cold air aloft and 2) the presence of strong low pressure, we will be in for a good rumble of thunder and the typical storm that ensues. That will eventually come once we get out of the very dry pattern we’ve been in for a few weeks.

One other feature of our weather in this part of New England (the eastern portion) that becomes apparent from mid April-June is the “backdoor cold front.”  It starts out cool with intermittent rain moving west to east, but then remains as a showery type with winds constantly out of the east, AND off the cool ocean waters a mere 25-30 miles away. This moderating effect usually slows down budbreak, leaf out, flowering, migration of Neotropical migrants, the metamorphosing of tiny, 1st instar caterpillars, and more.  A very new phenomenon for me, having grown up in VT where things really pop this month, almost unabated.

We WILL get into the heat this Summer, but in the meantime, enjoy the mix of peaceful, rainy days and fantastic sunshine!!

Here are some things the April vacation week campers and I have observed at Moose Hill over the past few weeks—from the ground, UP:

Green Grass and Wildflowers!

  • In most of our forests of Eastern White Pine-Red/Black/White Oak-Red Maple (competing best on fine sandy loams—VP Loop, for instance), both Canada Mayflower and Starflower have leafed out, providing a lovely carpet of green throughout
  • On lawns, Dandelions and Violets (various, exotic species of blue and white) are in full flower
  • Skunk Cabbage leaves enlarge, hiding their early Spring flowers, and ferns begin to unfurl
    Carolina spring beauty

    Carolina Spring Beauty

    in lovely “fiddlehead” fashion

  • On sites with rich, loamy soils (the Lower Ovenbird, Lower Sugarbush, Wood Thrush Way, etc.), a host of Spring ephemerals are beginning to flower thanks to more intense sunshine and lack of tree foliage—Carolina Spring Beauties, Wood Anemone, Kidney –leaved Buttercup; Over the next few weeks, more will follow so stay tuned!

Shrubs—flowering and leafing out

  • Quince (red flower), early Azaleas (pink), Catawba-type Rhododendrons (purple),
    dogwood flower bud

    Dogwood flower bud

    Magnolia (pink/white), Apples/Crabapples (white/pink), and even Spicebush (in our swamps/along streams) have either flowered or are beginning to flower

  • Maple-Leaf and Arrow wood Viburnums, Elderberry, Hazelnut, Witch Hazel, Spicebush, Willow, shrubby Dogwoods, Highbush and Lowbush blueberries, and a whole host of exotic shrubs have begun to leaf out as well
white oak

White Oak

Trees!—breaking bud, leafing out, and flowering

  • Bud swell of Hickories, Sassafrass, Bigtooth Aspen, and Sugar Maple
  • Most Oaks have broken bud and are slowly beginning to leaf out
  • Black Cherry, Silverbell, Quaking Aspen, Apples/Crabapples, Bradford pear, some Red Maples, and few others have leaf out “small”
  • Some Red Maples, American Elms, and most Willows and Aspens have begun to fruit as well; Something to note here is that due to a very cold 1-2 weeks in early April, trees that are usually adapted to flower and fruit in late April, such as Red Maples and Elms (both wetland species), were pushed earlier and many succumbed to a hard freeze; Not a particularly important crop for birds, but nevertheless, important for the proliferation of these species; Willow and Aspen, being some of the hardiest of flowering trees and shrubs, we not affected as much by this freeze

Return of some Long Distant Migrants!!

  • Different waves of these migrants make their way into our area during the month of April
    Eastern Towhee (rufous-sided towhee)

    Eastern Towhee (also known as the rufous-sided towhee)

    and early May; Usually, the first I notice are the Pine Warbler, followed (in sequence) by the Chipping Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow (NOT as common this year), Yellow-rumped and Palm Warblers, Mockingbirds, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Solitary/Blue-headed Vireos (haven’t heard yet), Hermit Thrush, Rufous-sided Towhees, Fish Crows, and maybe a few other species

  • Along with these chorusing, diurnal bird species, I have been hearing a Screech Owl “whinny” during the early morning hours too


  • More Garter Snakes and even a few Ribbon Snakes were observed over
    ribbon snake

    Ribbon Snake

    the past few weeks, with the latter seen swimming in that large wetland adjacent to the Pepperbush Trail

  • Spring Peepers continue to chorus in the evening and on damp days; American Toads have been heard where I live in Stoughton over the past few weeks, especially on warm nights; a few Green Frogs have been calling, or “twanging” from the edges of wetlands lately; Wood Frogs occasionally visited the Vernal Pools to have a dip and get a bite during those warm, dry days during the past 2 weeks; Tadpoles have finally hatched out of their jelly-like egg masses following the cold weather in early April
predaceous diving beetle larvae

Predaceous Diving Beetle larvae

As of two weeks ago, diversity of life in both our smaller and larger Vernal Pools (just down from the esker along the Vernal Pool Loop) was “fair to midlin,” with water striders, phantom midge larvae, predaceous diving beetle larvae, water mites, a few caddisfly larvae in their casings, water bugs, round worms, fairy shrimp, water fleas, and the ever-present mosquito larvae; Since then, and in the upcoming weeks, the species diversity should even exceed expectations, considering the great volume of water in both pools;

So you’re probably thinking, “with such a warm Winter, how could this be so?” Going back to the last edition of our Nature Detective Notes, remember that the life cycles of these little animals (and ALL animals and plants living in temperate regions of the world, really) are truly dependent upon ultimate environmental cues, rather than just a warm or cold period; these cues include increasing day length and intensity of the sun; Just wait until late May-early June OR even early/mid September!!

Until the next time,

-Acciavatti Instep, Non Stop

Nature Detective Notes by Michael Acciavatti. Michael is our 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!

Nature Detective Notes: Late March-Early April – Amphibians and More

And now for the final installment of the late March-early April edition of observations – spring is such a great and busy time to be out observing what is happening in nature! Don’t forget to check out the previous two installment, Plants and Trees, and Birds and Butterflies, posted the last two days.

Amphibians and More

wood frog egg masses

Wood Frog egg masses: Quite an early start to the breeding season for our little wood frogs AND a sporadic one at that—occasional warm and rainy nights; In the main swamp at Moose Hill and within the usual vernal pools/wetlands that comprise the Vernal Pool Loop, I was hearing them call during the second and third week of March, and then seeing the egg masses a few days later; these are tough amphibians, that is for sure, and according to Robert Parker Hodge (author of Amphibians & Reptiles in Alaska, the Yukon, and Northwest Territories), these MOST northerly of herps; their jelly like egg masses only provide so much protection from the elements and are quite vulnerable to sub-freezing wind chills; Luckily, though, in our parts, they are laid a good distance below the water’s surface and are generally protected from late freezes—a modifying effect of the water in these vernal pools; But we shall see how many survived this last cold spell in week’s to come.

yellow spotted salamander egg masses

Yellow-Spotted Salamander egg masses: almost as tough as our Wood Frog egg masses, these are slightly different in that an extra layer of “jellylike protection” (a matrix) covers them;  Certainly, another adaptation to surviving more northerly climates AND varying water conditions within the Vernal Pools/swamps they are laid in.



garter snakeGarter Snake: the most northerly of reptiles also inhabits our forests and can be seen basking in the sun on a bed of leaves during late March through leaf out in May;  Quite early this year and no doubt resting in a den at the moment; A quick shift in temperature regimes (like we’ve had the past few weeks) might stress some, though; we will keep an eye for them in the forest.

Ticks and different stages of development: “Do ticks really have a purpose on Earth?”, said my wife a few weeks ago after I found one imbedded for DAYS; the adult males and females are out during early Spring, as long as the temps are above 40 degrees F; Something tells me this will be a rough year with both temperature and moisture regimes being higher than normal; DON’T be fooled by the recent cold snap, it won’t be enough to knock back their populations too much.

non-glowing firefly beetle

Non-glowing Firefly “beetles”: One of the first insects we start to see in the Spring, especially along and within bark; a harmless little group of insects with a soft elytra (or winged covering) that is unlike most beetles; good food source for birds this time of year and tough, as most beetles tend to be.

Until the next time,

-Acciavatti Instep, Non Stop

Nature Detective Notes by Michael Acciavatti. Michael is our 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!

Nature Detective Notes: Late March-Early April – Birds and Butterflies

There was so many things to report in my observations, that this is the second installment of the late March-early April edition. Don’t forget to check out yesterday’s installment, Plants and Trees, and check back tomorrow for the final installment.

Birds and Butterflies


Robins!: It’s so wonderful to hear these backyard Thrushes during the early morning hours! They seemed to be “on time” this year, as well—with their arrival and with their singing; Most tend to hunker down during snow storms and then are able to feed on available tree fruits and invertebrates; they spend a good deal of time on the ground, so always seem happy when that snow melts and exposes grass or bare ground—worms and insects…yummy.


Phoebes!: another Spring migrant that “says its name” when singing—“phoe-be!” (last syllable up in pitch) “phoe-be!”(last syllable down in pitch)”; Very adaptable to the presence of humans, as are Robins, but a bit more selective in their nesting habits; they CAN find food sources during early Spring snow storms, yet depends on how long that cold lasts; I will monitor whether they come to the Visitor Center and Billings Barn areas; usually it’s “now I’m here, now I’m not” with these birds.

tree swallows

Tree Swallows!: I couldn’t resist this picture, being a romantic and all!; These fast little flyers and gliders in our meadows were back in, almost, full force last week, feeding on the many flying insects that were present; Sadly enough, on my way home during the snow storm this past Monday, I noticed them “chasing snowflakes”, perhaps, and scraping at the barrel to find a meal along Prescott Pond where we live; Although they are able to forage on certain fruits like Bayberry, I’m not sure how well they made it through the storm; I am sure we’ll have another wave of migrants come through and hopefully they don’t endure the same conditions.

red-shouldered hawk

Red-Shouldered Hawks: I’ve seen a number of these hawks circling overhead and making that distinctive, loud “Kyah! Kyah! Kyah!” over the past 2-3 weeks, often in pairs; Like Robins, Phoebes, Tree Swallows, and a handful of other birds, these are your “long distance migrants” that overwinter down in the southeastern US; So great to hear and see them back again down in these parts! A pair nested at the sanctuary at the Museum of American Bird Art last year and I am guessing that they’ll favor that again, instead of the woods around us; A little smaller than your Red-Tailed Hawk with a tail that isn’t always so “broad”, reddish coloration in spots and banding, are good field marks.

blue jay at feeder 3_21_16A

Blue Jays mimicking: blue jays are such an intelligent species and I love that they will often “mimic” the call of Red-shouldered Hawks AND Red-tailed Hawks; But why do this in the first place (and I have heard them carrying on around our Visitor Center)?? To monopolize food resources, of course!  Plenty to read about this behavior, so check it out on the web!


red-bellied woodpecker

Yellow-shafted Flickers and…Red-Bellied Woodpeckers: two similar-sized woodpeckers with fantastically similar ranges, migrates (the Flicker) and the other does not (the Red-Belly); Down south they may occupy a similar niche, but not around here; the Red Belly (pictured here) tends to be a little more secretive, nesting in the forest, and occasionally making its squirrel-like “chuck, chuck, chuck” call;  whereas the Flicker tends to nest closer to forest edges and human settlement…often foraging for ants on the ground, and alighting with a “kek, kek, kek, kek…” and showing the yellow shaft beneath its wings; no wonder it doesn’t spend much time here in the Winter!

Male Belted Kingfisher. Canon 40D with 300mm f/2.8L IS, 580EX flash with Better Beamer in ETTL mode FEC 0.

Kingfisher: Every Spring I always look forward to hearing the coarse “rattle” of this bird as it flies through our nearby marsh and pond, flapping its wings in a type of unison; They spend their winters in the southeastern US and tend to do a bit of moving around in order to find open water in which to dive into and fish; Females (like the one in this picture) are slightly more colorful than males, and that brownish band on the chest is a giveaway; Unusual in the bird world, but it works for them!

great blue heron

Great Blue Heron in flight: Graceful, majestic, patient, and more are all adjectives I would use to describe this fantastic bird; No doubt that the latest Spring snow storm forced many to the coast OR had them hunkering down beneath a tree; masters of disguise, keep an eye out for them in these places, along ponds, and in the air.


Spring Azure: an early Spring Butterfly in our forests.

Eastern Comma: another early Spring butterfly found within open forests and forest edges; like the Spring Azure, Mourning Cloak, and a few others, they overwinter as adults.

Mourning Cloak: always one of the first, early Spring butterflies I grew up seeing in VT; saw one a few years ago at Habitat laying dormant beneath a hollowed-out log; A big question is “will these butterflies rebound from this past week’s cold and snow?” they are slightly more delicate than other insects, but northerly species and tougher than we think.

Check back tomorrow for the next installment: Amphibians and More.

Until then,

-Acciavatti Instep, Non Stop

Nature Detective Notes by Michael Acciavatti. Michael is our 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!

Nature Detective Notes: Late March-Early April – Plants and Trees

Welcome to Spring!!

Quite a March it has been with large swings in temperature, plenty of wind (as a battleground sets up between North and South), flower buds popping, more birds singing, froggies chorusing, and even a little snow.  Thanks to that strong, March sun and a warmer than normal surface temperature, the “white stuff” didn’t last more than a few days.

Well, that was what I was INTENDING on starting our notes with, but….Old Man Winter has reared its head just to remind us that we live in New England and it’s “only April.”  I was as shocked as you all to see this much snow down in southeastern MA, but having lived in both VT and upstate NY most of my life, snow storms like the one we had on April 4 were more the norm.  Back in late April of 1983 we had over a foot in NY where I was visiting relatives.  And in the foothills of the Green Mountains back in 1997, we also had close to a foot of snow with scant amounts in the Valley below.

And how about those torrential rains on April 7?!  We must’ve had close to 2” in spots.  Combine that with temperatures rebounding into the 50’s and we have, “Bye, bye snow…for now!”

Remember, the months of March through mid-April continue that “battle of North and South”—not a Civil War reference, but a meteorological one, where cold air out of Canada (Polar or Arctic in origin) clashes with subtropical air from the Gulf of Mexico.  Lucky for us, it’s usually just snow and a few rumbles of thunder that we need to contend with VS. tornadoes in the southern Plains, southeast, and mid-Atlantic. We might get some more of the “white stuff” over the next few weeks, but by month’s end, more consistently warm air will be the norm, as the days lengthen and the sun’s angle gets higher in the sky.  Lots of light at the end of this tunnel!!

With Spring arriving there are so many things to share with you. In order to make this long list a little easier, I am dividing this into three groupings: Plants & Trees, Birds and Butterflies, and Amphibians and More. Check back over the next two days for the next two installments of the observations I have made in the last few weeks.

Plants and Trees

Daffodils: daffodilsquashed under 4-6 inches of heavy snow earlier this month and no doubt gasping for air, but lovely and perky in this photograph just a few weeks ago; Our flower garden variety Daffodils are not from these parts, yet are well-adapted to survive the rigors of New England seasons—bred in even more northerly climes; one of my favorite Spring ephemerals that lasts but a month or two (leaves and all, shriveling back).

blue snow drops

Blue Snow Drops: another Spring ephemeral that’s “up with the sun and gone with the wind”; one of the earliest flowering plants we see, blanketing our lawns with this lovely blue or white; like the Daffodil it is also non-native and able to withstand these great changes in temperature that occur up here in New England

Forsythia blooming: No doubt that the recent temperature plunge AND resulting snow have crushed many of these flowers, so brilliant a week earlier.male red maple flowersfemale red maple flowers

Red Maple flowers—male: Some of the earliest of our trees to flower, giving off a “reddish-orange” hue from a distance; Driving along our roads and highways, this is one tree that you can identify clearly this time of year; the male flowers usually appear before the female ones to spread their pollen…hopefully, before the ravages of an early Spring snow

Red Maple flowers—female: These bright red flowers tend to appear just after most male flowers have opened up AND for good reason too: “Why bloom any earlier than you need to?”  New seeds (and genetic potential for the species) will be produced IF they are properly fertilized during the Spring; And IF that happens like usual, standing or flowing water will carry them to a scarified embankment so that they may potentially germinate;  After the madness of the weather, let’s just say that I am monitoring each flower closely for development into these samara-type seeds

male willow flowers

Willow flowers (male): this genus of plants (especially the shrubbier species) also inhabits our wetlands and displays its flowers nice and early; One of the most northerly of shrubs, willows are a hardy lot, so no worries about their being able to survive cold temps and snow!  Just look at those little “pussy cat mittens!”

American Elm flowers: the Massachusetts state tree is one of the larger species to floamerican elm flowerswer in the early Spring, also within wetlands and alongside streams & roads; still occasionally ravaged by Dutch Elm Disease in certain areas (western MA and up through VT), there are many healthy individuals in our neck of the woods IF you just look carefully enough—check out their classic form (below) and swelling flower buds as you drive from Cobb’s Corner up the hill to Sharon Center….there is one on the right (beside the best Daffodils ever), then a larger individual quickly on the left, and finally another large tree on the right just past the white Chabad House; ALL are in flower now and hopefully made it through the storm.american elm tree

The “vase-like shape” of an American Elm: those 3 trees I just mentioned (in Sharon) possess some of this lovely form, but not quite like those that grow in more open areas of New England.

Check back tomorrow for the next installment: Birds and Butterflies.

Until then,

-Acciavatti Instep, Non Stop

Nature Detective Notes by Michael Acciavatti. Michael is our 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!

Nature Detective Notes: Updates for early March

Almost as soon as we posted the last Nature Detective Notes, there was an abundance of activity that needed to be added, so here’s a little update about what’s happening out and about at Moose Hill.

Timberdoodles!!—these amazing upland shorebirds (also known as the American Woodcock) Woodcock_earthwormare back from the southern US to stake out a breeding territory along forest edges/wet meadows AND perform their famous “courtship flight dance”;  They seem to be “on time” in their arrival when I look at previous years notes; I observed them a few nights ago above the wide meadows on The Trustees property that abuts Moose Hill Wildlife Sanctuary. At least 6 separate males “dancing” through the air (the whistling, twittering, etc. being caused by wind passing through their wings). I also heard them making their characteristic, “BEENT! BEENT!” call from the ground and air; VERY difficult to visually observe in flight due to their erratic behavior, and on the ground because of their wonderful ability to camouflage.

Brown Creepers!—I heard a fbrown creeperew of these little tree climbers singing the other morning (earlier than I usually hear them) up at the Upper Sugarbush – that’s an area of Sugar Maples off of the Billings Loop, just past the Billings and Bat barns. A lovely, “whistling-type” song that always reminds me of a weaker version of the Eastern Meadowlark…just in the forest.

Eastern Bluebirds!—I’ve noticed a few pairs staking out nesting territories in several of our fields that have cavity nesting boxes; so wonderful to have them back and pretty much on time, preceding the arrival of the more aggressive Tree Swallows. Check out their lovely (albeit weak), little warble:

Spring Peepers!—Yes, these little chorus frogs CAN be heard singing almost any time of year, with the exception of hot, summer days/nights OR the deep cold of Winter; they’ve been commonly heard “peeping”, orspring peeper really “attempting to peep or squeak” at least once each month (early December-early March) during this second mildest winter on record. Because it is still early in the season, their activity is limited….BUT I did hear them chorusing a little bit in the large wetland beside the Pepperbush Trail. Remember, “as frogs go”, they are habitat generalists and much more adaptable to varying conditions (weather, etc.) than our obligate, Wood Frogs.

Skunk Cabbage!—You might “smell” the flowers of this common, swamp/wetland plant a gskunk cabbage2 editedood distance before you actually see it!  Their presence along the main boardwalk through the Swamp appears to be on time this year, and with snow/ice-free surfaces, they may continue to flower a bit longer, especially if the water level is kept up (moderating the temperature and all)

Have you observed or heard something on your visit to Moose Hill? Please share!

Until then, be well and enjoy this glorious, Spring day,


Michael Acciavatti…Instep Nonstop

Nature Detective Notes by Michael Acciavatti. Michael is our 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!

Nature Detective Notes: Late February

“As the days lengthen, the cold strengthens,” seemed to be an appropriate saying to explain the stone wall in swampmajority of February 2016.  With a small handful of snowstorms and at least one, Arctic outbreak (albeit short-lived), our temperatures throughout New England seemed to moderate nicely AND keep the second warmest Winter on record from topping ALL the record books.  Hence, the El Nino winter we are experiencing.

No doubt, as the Earth’s overall temperature continues to warm (progressively and ultimately over time), large swings in temperature will be more prevalent, as will massive storms.  This past November-February is no exception. With temperatures around 30 degrees one day, to negative 10 degrees the next morning, and then back into 50 degrees once again the following day.

The question now remains, “When will Winter end and Spring really begin?”  This is all relative and beyond what is considered astronomical Winter or Spring in the northern hemisphere—this refers to the position, or angle, that the sun is in the sky AND the amount of daylight we receive.  Around December 21 (Winter Solstice) the sun is at the lowest point in the sky and we receive just under 9 hours of daylight.  Conversely, on March 21 (Spring Equinox) the sun is a bit higher in the sky (above the Hemlocks in the front at Moose Hill) and we receive around 12 hours of daylight…AND darkness, hence “equinox.”

But…As another old, VT weather saying goes, “the first day of Spring is one thing, the first Spring day, yet another” (Ludlam, David; The Vermont Weather Book). Each year is different, obviously.  What we can be certain of, though, is that the sun has increased its “elevation” in the sky significantly since early February, thus yielding warmer day time highs and lows—low 40 degrees during the day and down to about 20 degrees at night, on average—AND longer days. Over the past month we have gained close to 70 more minutes in our day, i.e. from 10 hours to 11 or so. If you have been out and about on these days, I’m sure you noticed how the 25-32 degree temperatures felt a bit moderated by the sun’s warmth.  A very different feel than 25-32 degrees in December!

Because we have little or no snow on the ground (in most locations), as we progress through the month of March there will continue to be more absorption of incoming solar radiation (insolation), the soil will warm more quickly, retain that heat each day, AND cause the “events” of Spring to happen much more quickly: sap flow in Sugar Maples, spring ephemerals blooming, grass/herbaceous plants greening up, more birds singing, frogs chorusing, chipmunks active, and more.

Consider each season in “stages” with a progression of these events—early Spring usually includes snow melt, wood frogs chorusing, and birds singing (latter parts of March); mid Spring includes spring ephemerals/grass greening up and more birds singing (April); late Spring includes bud break, leafing out, black flies, caterpillars, and Neotropical migrants (May-early June)…this is the concept of meteorological seasons and what is usually observed during a 3-month period, including progressions up/down in average, daily temperatures. Spring is not a season to rush, so enjoy every minute of it!! Before you know it, we’ll be in the heat of Summer!

Yes, I have rambled enough. In keeping with the “stages” of Spring and the hows/whys (as mentioned above), here are some signs of Spring that I’ve seen at Moose Hill:George and Martha ready for sugaring

  • Maple Sugaring: classic shot here of a Sugar Maples all geared up at Moose Hill. Sap flow is slowing down here after some very active runs in late Winter (February). With those increasing global temperatures yielding such a warm Winter in New England, I often wonder how much longer we’ll be able to go about this practice. No doubt, the insect leaf feeders are way ahead of the curve, acclimating (and even adapting) faster than our Sugar Maples to these warmer temps.
  • Chipmunks active: I’ve seen these little woodland sprites over the last few weeks at Moose Hill, especially near the stone walls just past Wood Thrush Way on the Billings Loop AND “chipmunk alley”. Thanks to a great mast crop in the late Summer-early Autumn (acorns on the ground from late August-October) AND the lack of Winter snow, chipmunk populations are doing better than they have in years.
  • Crocuses blooming: a commonly planted spring ephemeral and often the first flower to blossom in our area; check these out on the very south side of the Camp Barn!
  • Daffodil leaves: these tend to be some of the first, planted spring ephemerals to pop out of the ground, occasionally in parts of February. With slightly warmer than average February (as mentioned above), they were up 6” in my neighborhood. they are able to withstand temperatures down in the teens; now those are some tough leaves!
  • Snow drops blooming: aha! The first Spring ephemerals to both leaf out AND flower!  We saw some with the kids this past week on that little “curve” of trail when leaving the Billings Yard and entering the open field (on the right), with the line of bird boxes.the big Vernal Pool
  • Vernal Pools and running water: In any case, many vernal pools are full to capacity at the moment (due to the copious amount of rain this Winter) and still have portions that are frozen, especially around the edges.

On a side note: remember that frozen water (in the form of snow, ice, etc.) is imperative in the continued formation of these pools; a good slug of rain won’t necessarily fill up them up AND with the increasing elevation of the sun by late March-early April, increasing ambient air temperatures, evaporation will also occur at a higher rate, causing many vernal pools to shrink in area/volume; bring on the rain!!

Back to early March, though…. it won’t be long before….

  • The return of Wood Frogs and Yellow Spotted Salamanders!! These amazing little amphibians are STILL sleeping, believe it yellow spotted salamader crossing roador not. I kept thinking that they might be active over the past few weeks, as both temperatures and humidity levels seemed just right, but after observing a number of vernal pools, I was incorrect in my assumption. So what is it that “wakes them up” from their slumbers beneath leaves and the soil?? Well, maybe I should rephrase my question: “What are the ‘environmental queues’ that these amphibians respond to?” During my Animal Behavior courses at the University of Vermont, we discussed this at great length, and my professor introduced the word, zeitgeber, a Germanic word referring to ‘environmental queues’.  Some of these queues may be proximate, and others ultimate.  Without getting into a large discussion ourselves, you can probably figure out what these mean. Here are some examples, though: Spring Peepers (tiny chorus frogs that frequent our forests and wetlands) respond to short bursts of warmth and humidity much better than other amphibians, hence, proximate environmental queues; whereas Wood Frogs and Yellow Spotted Salamanders tune in to the slowly increasing angle/warmth of the sun OVER TIME, hence, ultimate environmental queues. This, should therefore help to answer a part of our question – perhaps a more detailed conversation in a future posting in regards to these species.
  • Red-winged Blackbirds and Grackles!! These lads are back from their sojourn in the southern U.S. and are singing/defending breeding territories in full force around these parts. Such a wonderful sign of early Spring!! Are they responding to proximate or ultimate environmental queues??  Birds are trickier to pinpoint in this regard, so both answers would be appropriate here, as early- to mid-March is usually the time that Red-winged Blackbirds return to shower us with their “conglareeeee” song early in the morning within our wetlands. They have been frequenting the feeders at Moose Hill, a wee earlier than usual this year, but great to see!!


Michael Acciavatti…Instep Nonstop

Nature Detective Notes by Michael Acciavatti. Michael is our 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!

Nature Detective Notes: Late January

Buon giorno mi amici!!

If I had a letter to describe what I have observed over the past few weeks, it would be “S”:

Snow!! (more of it)


Song!! (birdsong, of course)

While many in the mid-Atlantic up through the New York metropolitan area are still digging out pine grove 1987from an unprecedented snow storm (over 24 inches in spots), we New Englanders are enjoying a little fresh powder AND…..the amazing sunshine!! While sitting outside in our garage yesterday, basking in the sun, I was inspired to focus on these topics.

Sssssssso, how are these topics—Snow, Sun, and Song—all connected in some way??  Let’s have a look:

SUN!! We have gained over 30 minutes of daylight in the afternoon and at least 10 minutes in the morning since the beginning of January. With the sun now rising at around 7:05 am, and setting close to 4:50 pm, the days are getting noticeably longer as the Earth tilts its axis “closer” to the sun.  It’s certainly a warmer, brighter sun than what we had a few weeks ago, and will only get better for us “sun lovers” as we get into February. If you are concerned about skin exposure, make sure you get that sunscreen out. But why even consider this in the first place?…..

SNOW!! These ice crystals formed in the clouds (through condensation) do a number of things when the reach the lower levels of the atmosphere.

  • Evaporate, especially in very dry air coming from northwest (continental Polar air from central Canada), like what happened January 22-24; Hence, one reason we didn’t get as much as the more humid, mid-Atlantic
  • Melt and/or Re-Freeze as they fall through layers of air with varying temperatures, thus causing a cold rain to fall OR compacted, “ice covered” flakes called graupel (“corn snow” up in VT), bouncing off the ground like ping-pong balls
  • Combine and interlink with other snow crystals, AND accumulate on surfaces as they fall; The colder the air, the more surfaces will cool off and allow this accumulation to occur, AND before you know it, you have a lovely surface of fresh fallen snow that is incredibly reflective, especially on those sunny days from January through March (or April, if you’re a Spring skier);  THIS is a “property of snow” called Albedo, or the percentage of insolation (Incoming Solar Radiation) which is reflected off of a surface, in this case, new-fallen snow;  According to winter ecologists, James C. Halfpenny and Roy Douglas Ozanne (authors of Winter: An Ecological Handbook, and one of my favorite texts to refer to during this time of year), you need to have a fundamental understanding of the way in which snow “bends like warm tar, absorbs heat, reflects incoming solar radiation, insulates, and much more” in order to understand HOW it affects the plants and animals that need to find coping mechanisms for survival during WINTER (We humans are included in this bit as well); Here are some other Properties of Snow you all might want to look into:
    • Density
    • Age—the longer snow is on the ground (exposed to the wind, sun, other forms of precipitation, and the melt-freeze cycles that accompany it) the more dense it will become AND the less reflective it will be; so it is white as a wedding dress one day, tarnished as the pages of an old book the next day
    • Plasticity—Melting of snow within the snow pack causes liquid water to flow, then freeze, flow, then freeze, causing this unique feature; In teaching these concepts to kids over the years, having an understanding of the difference between adhesion and cohesion (both of WATER) goes a long way
    • Thermal Conductivity—low for Snow, therefore it is a great insulator
    • Absorption—of Incoming Solar Radiation, being much better with new fallen snow versus nasty, salty, dirty, wind-driven, compacted snow
    • Attenuation—reduction of “detectable” Incoming Solar Radiation

There is sooooo much to learn with regard to SNOW (and the Winter)!

Now you’re probably wondering, “How long will this snow be on the ground this year?”  Meteorologists and Climatologists have put their heads together to give a best guess regarding the next 90 days plus.  Here, again, are some links you can refer to:

Predictions, merely predictions.  No “practically snowless” winter this year (like 2011-2012), yet no “Snowmageddon” like last year either in our area.  In any case, the snow is not on the ground long, especially in an El Nino year like this, where we’re in a pattern of accumulation, melting, accumulation, melting; even down in the mid-Atlantic where there is a good deal of snow on the ground presently (24 inches plus).  That’s where the “melt-freeze cycles” really come into play, although with the considerably warmer weather they’ll be having (50’s Tuesday-Thursday), much of the snow pack will “ripen”, leaving behind the dregs.

One thing to keep in mind related to this vast amounts of snow pack, there is a “refrigerating effect” that snow has.  The more that is on the ground, the colder and more humid a particular area will remain during the overnight hours AND even into the day.  So if you’re planning a trip to D.C. this week, don’t be surprised if the night-time temperatures approximate ours (teens to low 20’s during late January-early February).

Use your imagination here!

SUN-Part deux: “As the days grow longer, the cold grows stronger,” is an old, New England snow trail along wall 1986 William Mercersaying from years past and usually holds true for at least the first part of February; that’s according to David Ludlam, author of the 1990’s edition, The Vermont Weatherbook.  He says, “by the second half of February, the worst of Winter’s sting is over and soon, the ‘Snow Kingdom’ will be in retreat.”  And I would add that although February is generally the snowiest month of the year (we broke records in 2015), it’s one of the best times to be outside enjoying the Winter season!  Just keep in mind how much melting-freezing is going on around buildings, driveways, and on roads, so as not to slip and fall or spin out. And, while you’re enjoying the fresh powder and scents of the season (the snow and the earth beneath), have a listen for ….

BIRD SONG!! Here are a few of our feathered friends that are beginning to sing in earnest now: Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches, and Blue Jays. Here are a few others we’ll be hearing by mid-February, if you don’t hear them now: House Finches, Cardinal, Pine Siskin, Carolina Wren (although you tend to hear them year round), and Great-horned Owl.

Don’t let those subterranean homesick blues get you down this Winter. Be well, get outside, enjoy these warmer days, and keep those eyes-ears-hands to the skies and noses to the ground!!


Michael Acciavatti…Instep Nonstop

Nature Detective Notes by Michael Acciavatti. Michael is our 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.