Subscribe via Email

If you're not receiving email notifications of new posts, subscribe by entering your email...

Birdsong not heard for years

Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale

I have not been posting very regularly because I have been so quietly busy. There were preparations for the fabulous Bridge of Flowers Plant sale which went off on Saturday without a hitch. I think we had 36 plants left over. Out of over 1300!

Young Elliott and friends

On Sunday we hosted the Presentation of Elliott (in the plaid suit) and celebrated. And celebrated!

Monday was just one thing after another and yesterday, in the heat, I was out of the house all day,  with first graders at the Bridge of Flowers, at the Clarke School Hearing Center, at the Forbes and Jones libraries, and at a Bridge of Flowers meeting in the evening. Then wild thunderstorms all night that left us the gift of more than 2 inches of rain.

Sargent Crabapple in Sunken Garden

This morning I walked barefoot through the garden to inspect all the newly refreshed flowers. The birds were singing, trilling, warbling, and calling,  as they hadn’t for years. Or, to put it another way, birdsong as I had not heard it for years. What a gift.  And why?

I think I may even be able to hear my tiny fountain this  summer. I am so happy. If only my husband’s morning newspaper didn’t make such a racket!

Compost: Feeds the Soil and the Oppossum

Possum in the Compost Pile

This opossum has been a regular evening visit to our  compost pile. I don’t think it is heating up at this time of the year but at least s/he is loading up on nutrituous peels.

ADDENDUM – I had forgotten that oppossums are Marsupials – just like kangaroos. Only smaller, of course. Lots of fascinating information about oppossums here from the National Oppossum Society.

Cynthia Boettner and the Silvio O. Conte Fish and Wildlife Refuge


Cynthia Boettner


The first thing Cynthia Boettner had to explain to me about the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge is that the Refuge consists of  the 7.2 million acres of the Connecticut River Watershed that runs from the far reaches of New Hampshire, through Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut before it exits in Long Island Sound. That is an enormous charge and responsibility. As Boettner explained how she works to monitor, control and eradicate invasive plant species, it was clear that no one person can even coordinate such an effort and that it takes many other groups like  the Massachusetts Nature Conservancy to enable the Refuge to carry out its mission.

The Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge was established in 1997 and named in honor of Congressman Conte who felt strongly about the importance of conservation. The purpose of the Refuge is  to conserve the abundance and diversity of native plants and animals and their habitats in the Connecticut River Watershed. Boettner joined the Refuge staff 13 years ago when her group was deciding to focus on raising awareness of the importance of eradicating invasive plants

One way they are creating  awareness is through the Invasive Plant Newsbriefs that she sends out through email which include information about workshops, training sessions and conferences as well as information about invasive plant sitings and eradication efforts.

Boettner explained that the Refuge works with many other groups. One result is an Invasive Plant Atlas of New England (IPANE) that was created in cooperation with the University of Connecticut. Over 900 trained volunteers surveyed given areas and collected information about the invasive plants they found. That information is turned over to the national database called EDDMapS (early Detection and Distribution Mapping System) which now includes access through an iPhone app. Any of us with skill in identifying invasives and an iPhone can confidently add to this Atlas and know that our information will be verified.

One eradication effort that many local people are familiar with is the removal of patches of Japanese silt grass in Conway. This plant has been identified fairly recently and the hope is that with early attempts at eradication they can really prevent further spread. Boettner has a fact sheet with colored photos of the plant at various stages. She welcomes information about sightings that include clear digital photos with full location information.

Individuals can also get in touch with Ted Elliman at the New England Wildflower Society, another one of the organizations the Refuge works with.

Once you have identified the silt grass you can pull it up by hand or cut it down with a string trimmer in mid-to late August. This is before seeds have set, and late enough in the season so that it will not have time to regrow and still set seeds. You can also watch for notice of Community Workdays in August to pull up patches. Pulled plants need to be bagged and placed in the sun to rot. Boettner explained that it is vital for landowners to survey their own land and watch for infestation of invasives.

She also reminded me that “ínvasive plant removal is just one component of trying to revive a habitat to bring the balance back and improve it for wildlife. Sometimes we get so caught up in removing the invasives that we forget the bigger picture of what we are trying to achieve. That’s something that I want to be more aware of and focus on in my work. A lot is about setting priorities. For example, one of our refuge properties in Hadley, the Fort River Division, is covered with multiflora rose and Oriental bittersweet. We will be focusing our immediate attention on controlling the bittersweet because we are managing the floodplain forest for migrating birds. As Christian Marks from The Nature Conservancy points out, the bittersweet is bringing down the large canopy trees which the birds need as stopover habitat on their journey. These vines are also overpowering the young saplings that would be the forest of tomorrow. So, it’s the migrating birds we have on our minds as we prioritize work on the forest. In the fields where we want to manage for grassland birds, the multiflora rose may be more of a threat to the establishment of that habitat.”

Education is a very important part of the Refuge’s mission. I have often taken my grandchildren to the Great Falls Discovery Center in Turners Falls without totally realizing this wonderful, fascinating and informative place was connected with the Refuge. It is one of several education centers operating in the Watershed.

I was also fascinated to learn that there is a US Youth Conservation Corps that provides an opportunity for teenagers to work (for pay) as conservationists on several sites over a four to six week summer session, the closest being at Fort River in Hadley. This program is overseen by the North Woods Stewardship Center in Vermont.

Boettner has always loved the outdoors, camping as a Girl Scout and vacationing in northern Michigan as a child. Still, she said it was a Field Biology class she took and loved while studying at the University of Michigan-Dearborn that set her on the road to the work she does at the Refuge. “I love to link people up with the information they are seeking in their quest to do good things for the environment. I find that so satisfying, especially when I ultimately get to see the resulting fruits of their labor!” she said.

Between the Rows  November 10, 2012


Beavers are at work – on Wordless Wednesday

Beaver pond

Beavers have been working this area out on Rte 8A and now the water has risen nearly to the road.

Beaver pond

The pond has become quite large and there is more.

Lower beaver dam

It’s hard to see the steps of the dam below the beaver pond but the water is rushing here.

Beavers worked here

And here is evidence that work continues.

For more (almost) Wordlessness this Wednesday click here.


Black Swallowtail Caterpillar – Provoked

Black swallowtail butterfly caterpillar

I think the black swallowtail butterfly caterpillar (Papilio polyxenes) is really pretty and I have never complained that it eats so much of my dill. How unlike the  Giant swallowtail butterfly caterpillar I showed yesterday. However they both have the forked osmeterium that they exhibit when they are provoked and alarmed. It  sends out a bad smell to discourage predators. I got to see what I thought was a forked tongue when I was trying to put my caterpillar into a jar, but when I wanted him to perform for my husband by poking him (gently) he remained cool. Or shy. I don’t know which.

What I learned. There is more than one type of swallowtail. I should have known that. What are the odds there is only one type? And I learned each variety has a different range (understandable) and slightly different appearance in each stage of development. Male and female also have slightly different markings. So much more to learn.

Thank you to Wikipedia for the photo.

Does This Look Like Bird Poop to You?

Giant swallowtail butterfly caterpillar


Some creatures will do anything to keep from  getting eaten by a bird! Great camouflage Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes).

For more  Wordlessness on Wednesday click here.

Nature Red in Tooth and Claw – and Stinger

Frank the cat and his prey

Frank, a natural creature,  is red in tooth and claw. He has caught a few of the many rabbits that have been marauding my garden, and gardens all over Heath this year, but he doesn’t usually bring them in doors.

This rabbit was mortally wounded. It was amazing that it had so much energy to run around the kitchen.

Wasp nest


I  went out to cut flowers for an arrangement for church and I became the prey.  I got a nasty sting from a  wasp, that was nesting in my Limelight hydrangea.  Somehow the hidden wasp nest had been damaged and wasp were buzzing around unnoticed by me. The back of my hand  swelled slightly but two days later I am just a little itchy.

We  often don’t like facing this truth, but nature is based on the conflict between predator and prey and we are a part of that system, in the garden when we are squashing bugs, and in a slightly different form every time we eat a hamburger.

Deer – Come and Gone

Deer damage

Deer have come and gone in my garden. Our gardens (and house)  are essentially in the middle of a large field bordered by woodland. The deer population crosses the field and goes down to our Frog Pond. Very beautiful when they are not hungry and there is plenty of forage. But are they satisfied?

Earlier in the spring I did not see any deer in the garden and I thought perhaps I had planted so many deer resistant flowers like astilbe, yarrow, Russian sage and northern sea oats that the deer didn’t think there was anything at all in the garden that appealed. Or, perhaps they they had satisfied themselves in the field this year. Then one morning I went out to admire my Casa Blanca lilies, just budding up, but the buds were gone. At that point I received a sample of Everguard Deer Repellent and set out to spray.

I do not use any poisons in my garden but Everguard Deer Repellent is a scent and taste repeller. Out in the air the scent does not repel me, but obviously the deer don’t like the smell of putrified eggs or cinnamon, thyme, clove and garlic oils. I don’t actually think the deer get too far into actually tasting the plants sprayed with Everguard. I sprayed the phlox, shasta daisies and echinacea thoroughly the first week of July and repeated the dose a month later. There was no rain during that month so the Everguard did not wash away. Just the other day, after heavy rains, I noticed that some of the new growth on one clump of phlox had been nibbled. I was reminded that the directions on the Everguard bottle did recommend watching for new growth which might need a touch up every four or five days. I was very grateful that the Everguard worked so well

Everguard Deer Repellent is recommended as a rabbit repellent as well, however the bunnies that have been such a scourge in my garden this year prefer the vegetables and Everguard warns that spraying vegetable plantings will ruin the taste. To deter the rabbits I had to turn to floating row covers, well pinned down.

Everguard Deer Repellent

Athol Bird and Nature Club Garden Tour July 15

Athold Bird & Nature Club Tour - photo by Joseph Superchi

As Athol celebrates its 250th anniversary, the Athol Bird and Nature Club celebrates the gardens of Athol, 12 in ’12 – a self-guided tour of 12 outstanding gardens on Sunday, July 15 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Four themes dominate this tour: the drama of glorious gardening and natural rock, the surprise of secret treasures, the bounty of home vegetable gardens and locally grown food, and the ecology of gardens that appeal to birds, butterflies and other pollinators – a value of especial note to the ABNC.

Of course, all these gardens add aesthetic value, too – colorful annuals and perennials, cozy nooks and sweeping beds, bold and whimsical garden ornaments, still or flowing water features, and a good deal more.

Day-of tickets will be available at the Millers River Environmental Center, 100 Main St., Athol (which itself offers a bonus, a habitat garden being created by the North Quabbin Garden Club). Plants will also be available for purchase at one garden and at a nursery associated with another.

Advance tickets are available at Agway and Bruce’s Browser in Athol, at Noel’s Nursery and North Quabbin Woods in Orange, and at the New Salem General Store.

The tour is sponsored by the Athol Bird and Nature Club in support of the Millers River Environmental Center. Assistance with the tour is provided by the North Quabbin Garden Club.

More information about the tour is available from Susan Heinricher, 978-544-6372; more information about the Center, the ABNC and the NQGC can be found at


Surprises on Wordless Wednesday

Toad in watering can

Toad finally leaving watering can

Succulent flowers - big and small

The first tigrida blossom

For more Wordlessness this Wednesday click here.