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Author: Elise

Black Bear (Ursus americanus)

Black Bear (Ursus americanus)

Although black bears (Ursus americanus) spend the winter hibernating in New England, there are still opportunities to find signs of bear activity from previous seasons or previous years. For example, on a recent walk in Asheville, MA with naturalist and tracker Kathy Dean, we found a tree sprinkled with claw marks. Discovering a tree marked by a black bear climbing activity is not uncommon, since these animals are known to forage in oak trees for acorns, in beech trees for…

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Wildflower Wednesday: Seaside Goldenrod

Wildflower Wednesday: Seaside Goldenrod

Winter doesn’t mean the end of wildflower identification. Many plants retain easily identifiable seed pods and other features. Although the late summer display of its vibrant yellow flower clusters is over, seaside goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens) is no less interesting in December. Seaside goldenrod is a native perennial aptly named as it is commonly found in dunes and at the edges of salt marshes. It is fairly well adapted to drought conditions, allowing it to survive in the dry, sandy dunes….

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Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana)

Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana)

Despite its name, the eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) is actually a species of juniper rather than cedar. Eastern red cedars have two types of leaves depending on the age of the tree and/or the branch. Young shoots and seedlings have predominantly prickly leaves, while mature trees and branches have tightly overlapping scale-like leaves. In fertile soil, eastern red cedars can grow up to 60 feet tall, in a regular conical shape. In sandy soil common to coastal Cape Cod,…

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American Beech (Fagus grandifolia)

American Beech (Fagus grandifolia)

Last weekend, the American Beech trees (Fagus grandifolia) in Falmouth’s Beebe Woods seemed to be the the only species still clinging to their now yellow leaves. In fact, many American Beech branches, particularly those lower to the ground, will cling to their brown leaves throughout much of the winter. Botanists call this retention of dead plant matter marcescence. Although most commonly observed on young trees and on lower branches, there is considerable debate about why some species, such as American…

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Faraway Places: North Umpqua River Area

Faraway Places: North Umpqua River Area

While visiting my boyfriend’s parents in Oregon for Thanksgiving week, we found time to explore the Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway along the North Umpqua River. (Last year we took a day trip to the Redwoods in California and spent some time exploring the local hiking trails in Roseburg.) Despite the cool temperatures and persistent rain showers, the North Umpqua River and its surroundings were still beautiful. We hiked into 3 different waterfalls (Toketee, Fall Creek and Susan Creek Falls), and made a quick…

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Book Review: Coyote America

Book Review: Coyote America

This book was enlightening, but not at all in the ways I expected it to be. I expected a book about coyotes, what they eat, what habitats they prefer, how they raise their young, and other ecological information. I expected a book about coyotes in my America (that is, in Massachusetts, where as far as I can remember coyotes have always existed). Instead I learned just how recently coyotes have expanded into the east coast states (only in the last…

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Autumn Meadowhawks (Sympetrum vicinum)

Autumn Meadowhawks (Sympetrum vicinum)

Last night the temperature dropped below freezing for the first time this season – down to 18 degrees, in fact. Although there wasn’t as much frost as I would’ve imagined, there was ice. (Last year’s first frost happened ten days earlier – October 31.) While taking a walk this morning near Santuit Pond in Mashpee, with the temperatures still hovering around 32 degrees, I observed frozen ditches, puddles and ponds. The surface of this small pond had frozen. Interesting ice…

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Virginia Opossum Skull (Didelphis virginiana)

Virginia Opossum Skull (Didelphis virginiana)

With the exception of the veritable army of squirrels stashing acorns in my backyard, my (live) mammal sightings are relatively rare. I’ve caught glimpses of white-tailed deer and a fisher while walking in the Bourne Town Forest. Occasionally a red fox or a coyote dashes across the road at night in front of my car. I have encountered skunks near my house a few times. But for the most part, indications of these species’ presence take other forms, such as…

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Nature Journaling: Autumn Along Cape Rivers

Nature Journaling: Autumn Along Cape Rivers

Sunday I tagged along with my boyfriend Justin as he conducted river discharge monitoring for the Cape Cod Rivers Observatory. This meant that I had about 15 minutes to spend at each of 6 different rivers while he took his measurements: Herring Brook, Coonamessett River, Quashnet River, Mashpee River, Santuit River, and Red Brook. I decided to spend that time capturing some autumn nature highlights in my nature journal. There were a few small common winterberry (Ilex verticillata) bushes along…

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Wooly Bear Caterpillar (Pyrrharctia isabella)

Wooly Bear Caterpillar (Pyrrharctia isabella)

The distinctive wooly bear caterpillar (Pyrrharctia isabella) has reddish-brown hair in its mid-region and black hair at both its anterior and posterior ends, giving it a banded appearance. If disturbed or threatened, the caterpillar will defend itself either by “playing possum” (rolling up into a ball and remaining motionless) or by quickly crawling away. The one in the photograph below was actually running away so fast it was difficult to capture a clear picture. Unlike some moth and butterfly species,…

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