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 the Coonamessett River. See this older blog post to learn more about common winterberry. The berries will persist on the branches through the winter. Their bright red color was what caught my eye, but it was the varying degrees of leaf decay that intrigued me about this plant.

At the Quashnet River, Justin found a caddisfly larva under a rock for me to observe. Although caddisfly larvae are generally found inside a tubular case they build for protection, this one was moving freely on the underside of the rock. Although there are many species in the caddisfly order Trichoptera, all caddisflies share some general characteristics: biting mouthparts, gills along the underside of the abdomen, and a body that terminates in a pair of hook-like prolegs to help the larva attach to the inside of its tubular case.

Sweet pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia) was extremely common along the banks of the Mashpee River. Sweet pepperbush is a tall, many-branched, leafy shrub that produces spike-like clusters of fragrant white in the summer. In the fall and winter, small, globular seed capsules remain on the flower spike. The leaves of almost all the sweet pepperbushes in that area had turned a light golden yellow.

Although many of the forests in our area are dominated by pines and oaks, the Santuit River sampling location had a handful of red maples (Acer rubrum), which had littered the ground with small brightly colored red leaves.

At our last stop for the day, I noticed a stand of American bur-reed (Sparganium americanum) growing in a shallow pond along the banks of Red Brook. American bur-reed is an emergent plant commonly found in shallow water wetlands with erect strap-like leaves between 2 and 3 feet tall. They frequently form dense stands along the edges of shallow lakes and ponds. The leaves are somewhat keeled, or folded, where they attach the the main stem. By late October, bur-reed’s flower clusters have  given way to beaked nutlets in round seedheads. At this stage the seeds are valuable food for waterfowl and marsh birds; muskrats will eat the entire plant.

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