Earlier this month on National Public Radio, a couple told the tale of acquiring a golden retriever lab mix puppy. They named him Dovekie, after a black and white seabird with similar coloration. When Dovekie sprouted long eyebrows, whiskers and nose, they began to wonder about his heritage. The lab part seemed to be missing. A DNA test revealed that Dovekie was part golden retriever, wirehaired pointing griffon (hence the funky hairs), bearded collie, and miniature schnauzer. Diminutive like a dovekie he was not. Of course they loved him anyway.
Our dog Kodi went through a bit of a transformation too. When we adopted him in early April he had a mostly black, longish coat. He was fairly light at 45 pounds, with not much muscle tone having been confined to a shelter for most of his first year. The SPCA staff thought he was perhaps an Australian shepherd-black lab mix. We named him Kodi, as in Kodiak bear, because he looked like a bear cub.
Soon after he came home with us he started shedding. We found small patches of black fur everywhere. His dog bed was covered in fur each morning. I took him to the vet who thought he had seasonal allergies. Kodi's activity level soared and has not ceased in three months. The shedding has mostly stopped. He still weighs less than 50 pounds, but now he is all muscle; no slack on that dog.
Kodi just started swimming - he likes water but is not a natural swimmer. He'll chase a ball or stick, but is not inclined to retrieve it for us. So, we've wondered about the lab part. That seems to be missing. I am now leaning toward part American Staffordshire terrier, given his broad face, taut, sleek body (the long fur is gone), and brindle color on his lower legs. He also has a squeaky voice. Kodi likes to nip, a herding instinct that suggests he may indeed be part Aussie.
Although he now looks less like a furry bear cub, Kodi is a cool dog and just as cute. He is great with kids and playful. We think he has finally passed the book chewing phase, although he remains a bit mischievous. At the Yellow Dog's Barn daycare where Kodi goes at least 3 days a week, we think he is a favorite of JoAnne, one of the owners. Kodi goes non-stop at the Yellow Dog. I call him Kodi the Action Figure Dog.
A few photo's from the Yellow Dog's Barn daily posting of the dogs at daycare:
Wednesday has become my farm day. I spend all morning at New Roots Farm: weeding, harvesting, washing vegetables; whatever needs to be done that day. Now that summer is officially underway, the torrent of vegetables from the farm has begun, helped by recent hot, humid days and the perfectly timed rains. Today we harvested the crop for which the farm was named: beets. Many, beautiful beets.
Each week I leave the farm at mid-day feeling great that I helped harvest food for other people and that my own baskets are overflowing with the same fresh, organic produce. This week included romaine and leaf lettuce, garlic scapes, scallions, Swiss chard, beets of course, bok choi, sugar snap peas, and in honor of the start to summer, a summer squash.
Tonight's dinner menu is easy: brown rice sauteed with the garlic scapes and scallions with a dash or two of soy sauce, served with stir fried vegetables that includes the sugar snap peas, bok choi, summer squash, Swiss chard stems, and a red bell pepper (that I admit buying from the store last week). I discovered this week that the brightly colored rainbow Swiss chard stems easily substitute for any color bell pepper. Since the latter are expensive and not locally available yet, it's a great substitute.
What to do with the beets. Despite their gorgeous appearance and hardiness many people dislike beets. I like them boiled and eaten plain or pickled, or sliced into salads. These beets I plan to roast (bake), then make a beet--goat cheese gratin recommended by Mark Bittman in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. However, that meal will wait for a cooler and less humid day. The beet greens will work their way into an Indian dal. Swiss chard leaves will make a nice side saute with the beet gratin. The huge head of romaine lettuce will make a dinner-sized Caesar salad. That still leaves lots of lettuce for lunchtime salads.
I think that takes care of this weeks harvest. Part of my Wednesday afternoon is spent cleaning and storing the day's harvest and then planning meals around all this fresh food.
I often wake at 4:00 in the morning. From then until 5:00 am, when I typically get out of bed, I listen to the early birds -- the robins and veery -- initiating the dawn chorus, or our neighbor's rooster (come to think of it I have not heard him lately....), or other morning sounds such as the deep chug-a-rum of the bullfrogs. Usually I drift off to sleep again until the alarm kicks off National Public Radio at five o'clock.
My internal clock is wired for this early to rise behavior. It probably started in junior high, when I first began birding in earnest. Certainly it was by the time I was in college when I worked many projects doing bird surveys in the wee hours. Breeding bird surveys end by 9 am; after that it is too hot for the parents to be off their nests. To this day my best work gets done before mid-morning.
So, we enjoy the night sounds of summer. The windows are wide open at night, cooling off the house after a day of near 90 degrees.
This morning though, we both bolted awake at 4:00. Our nostrils burning. Wafting in through the window fan was the acrid smell of fresh skunk spray. Srini thought it smelled like burnt popcorn. I jumped up to shut off the fan. Skunk spray is detectable by humans, perhaps as far as a mile away. No doubt though that this odor came from a skunk just below our bedroom window. Skunks can't see well -- perhaps not more than 10 feet beyond their nose. I imagine that this was a young skunk, nervous in its wanderings, scared by something unseen, using its best defense to protect itself against an unknown enemy.
We heard no sounds. Maybe the fan muffled any noises, or perhaps our sense of smell, now on high alert, deadened our other senses. The fan off, the smell of burnt popcorn lingered. We slept fitfully until NPR rousted us from bed. I don't remember hearing the dawn chorus or the bullfrogs.
Let us hope that this skunk has now waddled off to some other yard!
For five hours on Saturday I walked along an old logging road, clambered over rocks in stream channels, peered at animal tracks in wet mud, listened for bird songs, climbed up and down wooded slopes, and stepped gingerly across a bog. By noon, our team of seven had recorded 341 different plants and animals. We were participating in a biothon - three teams of people recording as many species as possible from 7 am until noon. This year the event was held on a 1,015-acre property known as Evans Mountain in Strafford, New Hampshire.
The biothon is fun and helps document the ecological significance of a property. It is also a fundraiser. Bear-Paw Regional Greenways -- a local land trust for which I serve on the Board -- purchased this property along with several partners. Now we are raising money to pay off loans used to buy the land. Friends, family, and colleagues pledge or donate money to the biothon teams or directly to the land trust. The results of the biothon will also help with grant applications to public and private foundations.
By the time we recorded our first bird and plant sightings at 7 am, the sun was already beating down on us. We noted the birds singing around us: indigo bunting, broad-winged hawk, chestnut-sided warbler, hermit thrush, ovenbird, rose-breasted grosbeak, eastern towhee, scarlet tanager. common yellowthroat, black-throated-green warbler. The first hour was the best for birds; they grew quiet early under the hot sun.
Meanwhile, the plant people were busy recording trees, shrubs, ferns, lichens, flowers, sedges, grasses, and mosses. They tallied 204 different plants by the time we all slumped under the shade of trees at the end of our route. The animal crew amassed an impressive list too: 41 birds, 12 mammals, 8 reptiles and amphibians, and 53 invertebrates. We also had help from two water quality experts -- they scooped up 23 aquatic invertebrates from several wetlands.
Several highlights generated oohs and aahs during the day. The delicate rose pogonias in full flower in the bog. A muddy spot in the road full of animal tracks that included moose, white-tailed deer, raccoon, bobcat, wild turkey, deer mouse, and coyote. Watching a predaceous diving beetle capture a red-spotted newt. A late morning scramble down a cool stream that splashed over small waterfalls.
We re-grouped with the other two teams on the shore of Bow Lake for a potluck picnic. We all agreed that the heat hampered the bird tallies. Our team was recognized for finding the most species. We did have a couple ringers on our team. Tom, a UNH professor of plant ecology, helped drive up the plant tally. Scott, a crackerjack local naturalist, knew the property well and took us to all the special places.
A successful outing counting species and raising money. Next time I only wish for a cooler day.
I'd been away from New Roots Farm for two weeks as work and travel intervened. Yesterday I returned to the farm that is now well into the growing season. Rows and rows of vegetables, warmed by Reemay (a light polyester covering), are lush and some are ready for harvest.
The first share of the CSA was doled out this week to 75 members. Each member received gorgeous heads of lettuce, bunches of scallions, garlic scapes, white turnips, and rainbow-colored Swiss chard. After spending the morning gathering some of this food for the CSA shares and planting winter squash and pumpkins, I left on my mountain bike with a backpack full of these same vegetables.
As soon as I got home I created a huge green salad with sliced turnip for lunch. Much of the Swiss chard was chopped and sauteed with garlic and crushed red pepper as a dinner accompaniment. The scallions and garlic scapes await a stir-fry. Our own sugar snap peas are just forming pods, maybe soon enough for the stir-fry.
Last week I spent a few days with mom and dad at Winterberry Farm. They lease some of their land to Brookfield Farm (which I've written about many times), a CSA with more than 400 members. Some years ago my parents conserved their land through the Massachusetts farmland protection program known as APR. The road signs (see below) were put up just recently.
The growing season in western Massachusetts is always a week or two ahead of us here in southeastern New Hampshire. As I walked the back forty at Winterberry Farm I was amazed at the lushness of the potato plants growing on some of our fields. So far it seems to be a relatively pest-free season.
This past week has zipped by so quickly that I've had little time to post on my blog, except to play with the layout a bit. Google teased us blogspot bloggers with some new templates, and I messed around with that until I found something I liked. A little refresher as we head into summer.
We've had a few comings and goings in our yard since I last wrote. The phoebe returned to the same nest under the deck and is raising a second brood. The four young robins all successfully fledged from their nest in the crabapple last Monday. This is the nest that was almost lost to a chipmunk. The mother robin and we, including our dog Kodi, must have sufficiently scared it off such that it never returned to the nest. The veery nest in the tansy is another story. Last I checked more than a week ago the veery was still sitting on four eggs -- two of her own and two cowbird eggs. Today when I parted the tansy, the nest was listing and disheveled and the eggs were gone. I think a chipmunk got that one.
More distressing to us is that the peaches keep dropping. We've had several hard rains and after each one the grass beneath the peach trees is littered with little peaches. I thought this might be a good year after the trees seemed to weather the late frost. But every time I wander around the two peach trees I see fewer and fewer fruits still hanging on. Bummer.
The garden loves the rain. The sugar snap peas are just starting to flower. Some things though, like the peppers and squash, need a bit more warm sun. Their growth has stalled. Only the lawn (and the weeds) seems to grow regardless of the weather.
Back on May 23 I wrote about an uninvited guest in our yard -- the viburnum leaf beetle. That day I suddenly noticed small beetle larvae munching their way through one of our highbush cranberry bushes. Every leaf was chewed on about one-third of the plant. Within a week about two-thirds of the plant was bare. Then the chewing stopped and the larvae were no where to be found.
The larvae may have all crawled down into the soil to pupate. If so, the adults will emerge in mid-summer and start chewing the leaves again. I did notice something else though that makes me think of a different outcome. One day as I stood looking at the highbush cranberry, two tufted titmice called from the shrub. I had not noticed them hanging out there before. I wonder if these birds ate all the larvae. Wouldn't that be nice. Coincidentally, or not, I saw a titmouse in the highbush cranberry in the backyard. And that bush was only minimally defoliated.
Now, two weeks later the highbush cranberry is recovering. New leaves are emerging. If I see no new viburnum leaf beetles this summer, I will be convinced that the tufted titmouse saved the bush.
fresh leaves of the highbush cranberry
emerging after defoliation by the viburnum leaf beetle
No sooner had I written that the chipmunk population was down in our neighborhood, we suddenly saw them everywhere in our yard. We hear their chucks in all corners, see them scurrying through the perennial beds and across the wood fence, their holes appear in unexpected places. And they are creating a bit of chaos in our yard.
Last weekend was high drama here. As I started to water the garden in the late afternoon, I heard a disturbance in the crabapple. I looked up to see the mother robin fighting off a chipmunk that was perched just above her nest full of four young. Chipmunks like bird eggs and nestlings. Normally I let nature take its course, but I've become attached to the robin and her offspring, watching them hatch and grow day by day. Plus, the chipmunk was clipping off our vegetable seedlings - peppers, eggplants, kale, Swiss chard. I was rooting for the robin.
The mother robin's antics managed to chase off the chipmunk, but it scurried back up the tree again. Here is where I intervened. The chipmunk climbed higher up in the crab. Srini brought a long pole saw and knocked the chipmunk out of the tree. The chipmunk landed safely. Kodi chased and pinned it, but the chipmunk squirmed away, and ran here and there before disappearing into the woods. We have not seen that chipmunk since. The robins and the garden are safe for now. I am anxious for the young robins to grow fast before the chipmunk tries again.
young robins waiting for a meal from their parents
Each morning we lay in bed before the alarm sounds, listening to the veery singing from the woods. I think about searching for its nest, curious where it might be. The veery builds a nest on or near the ground, and I had assumed it was in the woods, maybe beneath some ferns. But yesterday as Kodi and I walked a mowed path around our backyard we flushed the veery from a patch of tansy. The tansy that I was soon to dig up because it tends to spread and become invasive. I pulled back the tall tansy and there was the veery nest.
The nest had two beautiful blue eggs just like a robin; they are both thrushes. Strangely though there were two other eggs: white eggs with brown speckling. Brown-headed cowbirds are nest parasites, laying their eggs in other bird's nests. I am fairly certain that the veery is sitting on two cowbird eggs in addition to her own. When they hatch, cowbird nestlings are more aggressive and grow faster, sometimes kicking out the host bird's offspring.
Now I have a dilemma. Of course I'll leave the tansy for now. But should I remove the cowbird eggs?
The veery nest in a patch of tansy with two veery eggs and two cowbird eggs
Each time I walk near the nest I hear a chipmunk scurry away. I don't think it knows about the nest yet. After the young hatch and start making noises, the chipmunk might discover the nest, which is only a foot off the ground. This drama may well play out on its own.