Hello. My name is Emily, and this will be the introduction to my blog. I plan on creating an opinionated field guide to all things natural found in much of New England. I will provide descriptions to the best of my ability, if possible photos and sketches (I still have to figure out how to upload pictures, if possible) as well as whatever my feelings are to that particular subject.
There are many field guides out there, but most simply just give a description to their subject and little else. I feel that my own personal experiences and whatever biases associated with them will give an added insight into local wildlife, weather, geology and locales worth visiting here in New England.
On a beautiful summer day, when it is nice, hot and humid, and walking in the woods, often near swampy areas, it is wicked easy to come into contact with one, or more likely, several of these assholes. You know, those little jerkface shits eager to bite the fuck out of you. But not before circling around your head like a hundred million times. Because sucking out your blood clearly isn’t being enough of an asshole. Nope, fuck that shit. Stupid shitty deer flies.
Oh yeah, it gets even better. Not only are they annoying little parasites, they also spread diseases such as rabbit fever, anthrax – no, not that Anthrax, that would be good. And we can’t have that, not from these little shits. Instead it is the other kind of anthrax. The one that can be weaponized by some tinpot dictator who wants to start up shit. And they can also spread some shitty disease called Loa loa[ii], with is some sort of worm that lives inside your eye[iii]. Sounds fucking nasty and gross. But usually, you just get a fucking rash[iv], which is annoying enough without that other nastiness.
Deer flies are closely related to horse flies.[v] (shocker!) The main difference is that these little fucks are smaller, and gold in color with spotted wings.[vi] There are several species of deer fly. All are pretty much similar. And only a few seem to have their own unique common name, most are just called just Chrysopswhatever… The species common here is called Chysops callidus. Personally, I think it should also have a common name. We should call it the American Asshole Fly. Perfect name for those little fuckers.
Back to deer flies flying around your head a million times. They don’t do it just to be a jerk. Though I’m sure to they would consider that to be an added bonus. Instead, they do this to try to find a good safe place to land.[vii] Because they don’t want to land just anywhere and risk getting smacked. Like that does anything to them. Smacking them usually just annoys them. You smack them, they fall to the ground and get right back up and fly around your head a shit ton of times again.[viii] No, you gotta make sure they are dead. When swatting them, make sure they are still in your hands and then like rip off their heads or something. That usually does the trick, because fuck them.
[i] Alden, Peter et al. “National Audubon Society Field Guide to New England” Chanticleer Press. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, Third Edition, 2000 pg. 213
I have been out west several years back and visited some ghost towns, because it seemed like a cool thing to do. However, ghost towns are not just a thing of the Old West. They are here in New England too. In fact, the region is peppered with them. There are places like Gungywamp CT, Dogtown MA, and Monson NH, amongst many others, where the people who lived there left for whatever reason. One day, I decided to visit one of these ghost towns, because why the hell not. I chose the one closest to my home in central Mass: Dana, Massachusetts; or what’s left of it anyway, which sadly, isn’t much.
For those of you unaware, you probably want to know why the people left. For nearly all of them, it was not by choice. The reason behind this was that Boston was thirsty. And poor Dana was not alone. The residents of three neighboring towns were also forcibly evicted. These towns were known as Enfield, Greenwich, and Prescott. In their place is now the Quabbin Reservoir, providing water for Boston, along with many nearby cities and towns.[i]
Choosing to visit Dana among the four abandoned towns was an easy. Because access to Prescott is restricted, and both Enfield and Greenwich are almost completely underwater, I was unable to visit them. But Dana? Yeah, that one is always there for people to visit. There is a well kept trail that leads straight to the place. In fact, the trail was once the main road into town, however, cars are now banned on that road, except for those used for official Quabbin business. And I happened to see one of those vehicles. It was used by the guy who cleaned out the port-o-potties. Lucky me.
Back to the reason for flooding the four towns, which was Boston’s rapidly dwindling water supply. Originally, it was Jamaica Pond in Jamaica Plain, but by the mid 1800’s, it was no longer adequate. So, they created a reservoir in Framingham, but that too quickly proved to be inadequate as well,[ii] so the Massachusetts Board of Health suggested creating two new reservoirs, one in Worcester County, as well as another in the Swift River Valley, now the location of the Quabbin Reservoir.[iii] In 1908, the Wachusett Reservoir in Worcester County was completed, and it was hoped that this would be enough. It wasn’t. And while agencies did their best to prevent the construction of the second reservoir, metro Boston’s water usage was just too much, and the second reservoir was deemed necessary.[iv]
By 1922, there had been talk that a new reservoir would be built in the towns that occupied the Swift River Valley. Initially, many were hopeful that it would take way too much effort to destroy their hometowns, but within a few years, it became obvious that they guessed wrong. Construction soon began, and in 1938, the four towns that make up the Swift River Valley would be disincorporated, the people would be forced to leave and nearly all buildings would be destroyed or moved. All that’s left of the former buildings are their cellar holes.[v] However, there are signs with plaques showing the buildings that once stood there. Meanwhile, neighboring towns annex the remaining land not flooded by the reservoir.[vi]
Needless to say, the former residents were less than pleased about the loss of their homes, and could you blame them? While two wrongs don’t make a right, but the few remaining surviving former residents might feel a bit of karmic justice as many of the beneficiaries of the Quabbin Reservoir living in the Boston area face the risk of getting flooded out themselves by rising sea levels.
To visit Dana, head to Route 32A in Petersham, and pull into Gate 40. There is room to park a few cars -driving on the trail is strictly prohibited, but mountain biking is allowed[vii], however biking is only allowed on the paved trail, not any side trails. You can the hike (or bike) about a mile and a half in straight to the remains of Dana Common.[viii] There are other trails that go beyond, and you can explore the woods that surround the Quabbin as well.
You know these things. You hate them. They get into everything. Ants. Yeah, they suck. Today, I will discuss one of the less sucky kind of ant. They still get into everything, but are less of a pest than other species of ant. An ant known as Apheonogester rudis. For whatever reason, they don’t have a common name, just a scientific name. In fact, none of the approximately 200 species of Aphenogaster ants has a common name. Don’t ask me why. I have seen one writer refer to them as “funnel ants[i]” and another as “winnow ants.[ii]” Both names suck. Personally, I think everyone should call them the Somewhat Less Annoying Ant.
While they sometimes invade homes, they are also perfectly happy living in the woods, the backyard, a garbage dump. Wherever.[iii][iv] They aren’t particularly fussy. In fact, they are quite beneficial to a lot of native plant life. You see, Somewhat Less Annoying Ants collect seeds and feed the shell to their young, while spreading the actual seed part all over the woods.[v] That still won’t stop them from invading your pantry and swarming all over your potato chips. Because you know, ants suck. Fuck them.
Slightly Less Annoying Ants colonies have two nests, a winter nest and a summer nest. The winter nest can be as much as 50 cm (that’s about a foot and a half for all those who insist on the imperial system) underground, where they hibernate.[vi] The summer nest is much shallower. When moving between the nests in early spring they often spend much time near the surface, using as much of the sun’s heat as possible, where there can be as much as a 20 C degree difference between the surface and underground nest.[vii] The size of the colonies varies greatly, anywhere from a queen and 25 workers in a new colony, to well over a thousand ants.[viii]
Worker ants generally grow to be about 0.15 inches, and are reddish brownish in color, with darker heads and abdomens.[ix] Queens and males have wings, though some queens lose their wings.[x] They are pretty much everywhere and easy find, and with a little luck they will stay away from your Cocoa Puffs.
These are normally among the first butterflies seen each spring.[ii] In fact, at the time of this writing, I have already seen a few this year. They are normally active from April to October, but have been seen flying in every month of the year, albeit, sightings are rare in the winter months.[iii] And since they are occasionally seen in mid-winter, they are not the best harbingers of spring. Stupid Bug, getting everyone’s hopes up like that. Especially this year! And yeah, it’s a total shame as I would like spring to begin in December. But then again, who wouldn’t? Am I right or am I right?
Description: A good sized butterfly, they are normally between 2 7/8 inches and 3 3/8 inches.[iv] They have dark maroon to brown wings with a yellow border.[v] And this is how they get their name, which to old-timey people resembled dark clothing covering lighter colored clothing one would wear funerals long ago.[vi] But when they fold their wings, they show the undersides of the wings which are a cryptic pattern, which helps them blend in with their surroundings and protecting them from predators.[vii]
Adult butterflies overwinter here, they have a type of [viii]antifreeze to keep them alive during the winter deep freeze.[ix] Though during all but the warmest winter days, they stay in a sheltered area such as under bark, rock crevices or other similar places.[x] There are a few other species of butterfly that overwinter as adults too.[xi]
They have been known to wander far from their normal range[xii], and their range is quite far. They are found over large parts of North America and Eurasia, as well as parts of northern South America as well.[xiii] And while they are often found in warm climates, they tend to prefer cooler climates, and are much more abundant in those locales.[xiv] They generally prefer hardwood forests, but can be found in almost any environment in our region.[xv]
The caterpillars are often considered pests as they can strip trees bare of their leaves, and the adults are rather poor pollinators.[xvi] However, the caterpillars can mitigate this damage themselves by eating other mourning cloak eggs they encounter.[xvii] Until now, I never realized that caterpillar cannibalism was a thing. While they occasionally do pollinate, they prefer tree sap.[xviii] In fact, in early spring they prefer tree sap to other food sources.[xix] And those other food sources, besides the aforementioned occasional flowers include piles of crap and human sweat.[xx] Yum!
Unlike many other butterflies, adult mourning cloaks can live as long as 10 months.[xxi] Many butterflies, once becoming adults, live only a week or two, just long enough to breed. Mourning cloaks also die shortly after mating, but for some reason they wait several months.[xxii] Maybe they can’t get enough of all that tasty sweat and shit and other yummy stuff. Who knows?
I remember in 1997 when they changed the name of the place to Aquinnah. A lot of the people that live there got sick of all the puerile jokes thrown in the direction of their beloved hometown; and pressed to have it changed to “Aquinnah” which I guess is kinda pretty, but also a lot more boring than its previous moniker. However, it is good to know that people still call it Gay Head today, but now they pretty much refer to the cliffs overlooking the water at the western edge of town.
The colorful cliffs here have long been a tourist attraction.[i] And tourists began coming here in 1835.[ii] And who wouldn’t want to come and look at those cliffs. So dramatic, rising abruptly from the beaches and ocean below. Hues of red and ocher, and tan and white, covered with a bed of green grass against a blue sky and a blue sea. It is quite the beautiful place. Sure, there are other reasons why people come to Martha’s Vineyard, such as the beaches and the upscale hoity toity crap. I really don’t care much about the hoity toity crap, but the beaches are quite nice. Speaking of which, the beach right underneath Gay Head is a “clothing optional” beach, which kinda surprised me when I visited it a few years back. Two memorable sites in one location!
So, if you go there, the first you will notice the amazing view. And it is quite like nothing else in the area, and you may wonder how the hell this unusual landform came about. The local Wampanoag people have their own story about a giant named Moshup. Moshup was a giant who came here on a huge ass piece of ice[iii] – maybe a reference to the glacier perhaps, I don’t know, just my own guess. I could be totally way off as there could be all sorts of Wampanoag cultural references that I am totally oblivious of. Anyway, he came and then dragged his toe around the cliffs so waters would rush in and turn Martha’s Vineyard into an island.[iv] While he was here, he caught a bunch of whales, and then ripped up all the trees to cook them and eat them.[v] The bones from the whales and shellfish he ate became the fossils found on the cliffs,[vi] while the blood from the whales and the ash from the fires stained the rock and that is how the cliffs got their bright colors.[vii] Then he kept sending more whales here, so the people can eat them too. He then left, either because the people ignored his warnings about settlers from far away coming here,[viii] or because he was like fuck this, I’m outta here and going someplace else.[ix]
Geologists have another idea. The cliffs themselves formed by sediments being deposited over a period from about 155 million years ago at the oldest, to about 20,000 years ago at the most recent.[x] The colorful clays that make up much of the cliffs were deposited during the Age of the Dinosaurs, some 90 to 95 million years ago.[xi] Other more recent layers rich in fossils were deposited from 23 to 5 million years ago. During this time sea levels rose and fell several times, and the fossils found here reflect this. The remains of seals, whales, mastodons, rhinos, snails and many other critters have all been found in these layers.[xii] On top of all that is debris deposited by the Pleistocene glaciers between 100,000 and 20,000 years ago.[xiii]
This was as far as the glaciers went.[xiv] And right on top of the cliffs is a marker of the furthest advance of the glaciers. This marker is a about three feet of loose material that the glacier dragged here, and this terrain is called a moraine.[xv] As I mentioned in a previous blog post, (to read it please click here!) the glaciers act as a conveyor belt bringing up debris and depositing it there, leaving the dirt and rock you see there today.[xvi] Just to the east of Gay Head, the moraine is much better developed, and instead of three feet of dirt and rock you have hills and mounds of loose material deposited by the glacier.[xvii] There is another moraine just to the north on Cape Cod that is also very well developed.[xviii]
Fuck! This had been the absolute worst topic I have worked on since starting this blog. Don’t get me wrong, Gay Head is a great place. Seriously, go and visit it, because it is awesome. But damn, the information out there on this particular subject was just plain awful to get ahold of. Either it was contradictory, or there was interesting stuff that was incomplete, poorly worded, or a wealth of factoids that I simply just simply give a flying fuck about– seriously I don’t want this post to be just a list of every fricking kind of shellfish fossil ever found in the town of Aquinnah. There was some useful stuff, and once I got that I was too far in, I just had to finish. Fuck you, various authors writing about Gay Head. Seriously, just get it right. Grrrrr. Also, there was a lot of great stuff I had to cut out, also very disappointing. But writing it was awkward, and in some cases, and in some cases was about stuff I didn’t want to focus on. Grrrrr, again. And there was the problem with pictures. I don’t even want to get into that cluster of fuckiness, but I was able to figure that out too. Bleh, bleh, bleh.
[i] Perk, Jeff “Cape Cod Martha’s Vineyard & Nantucket” Pg. 139 2004. Moon Handbooks Avalon Travel Publishing. Emeryville CA
I know, I am really far behind on my latest post. What I thought should be a fairly easy and straightforward topic has turned rather problematic. There is much less information on that topic than I expected, and much of that is contradictory. It still isn’t quite finished, so instead I have a little filler post. It is my haiku about how I hate winter. Now normally I could rant for hours on that topic, but I will spare you and simply share this short poem. Enjoy.
Winter, just leave and never come back. Just get out! I fucking hate your guts.
As for the inspiration,, I ranted on Facebook about yet another winter storm, and a friend pointed out that five more syllables would make a haiku. So there you go. I am a poet and don’t even know it. Oh yeah, here is an obligatory photo, and not winter related because fuck that.
You’ve seen these mofos just about everywhere, in your backyard, in cities, in the woods, in parks – you know, everywhere. One of the most familiar critters in our area. Let’s face it, the Eastern Gray Squirrel is an incredibly successful species. They can live almost anywhere, eat a wide variety of foods, and are very good at making baby squirrels. Just how successful are they? A few fucking geniuses thought it was a brilliant idea to bring them to Europe for some reason, and as a result in large parts of that continent, our gray squirrels quickly displaced their native red squirrels[ii] (not to be confused with our red squirrels) and caused other forms of environmental havoc. It got so bad, that one person called them biological weapons![iii] Ok, that might be a little much, but then again, I am not a European Red Squirrel.
Back here in New England, those “biological weapons” aren’t so bad. The worst they do here is raid bird feeders and jump in front of your car at the last possible second, which arguably does more to harm them than your car or anything else. Yeah, squirrels aren’t all that smart. Except when it comes to their nuts.
No, not those nuts! Get your minds out of the gutter, people. The other kind of nuts, you know, like acorns and such. Contrary to popular belief, they are pretty good at remembering where they buried their food, and when in doubt of where they hid their nuts, they are good at sniffing them out.[iv] They can also tell when insects started eating nuts before them. The nuts weigh less, and the squirrel simply tosses them aside and looks for better nuts.[v] And when it comes to burying their nuts, they are far more likely to bury the ones that don’t taste very good, while eating the yummier ones immediately.[vi] As for the few nuts they forget; well, we know what happens to them.
And, as anyone with a bird feeder knows, nuts are not the only thing they eat either. All manner of goodies is on the menu, such as fruit, flowers, garbage, fruit, and even eggs, baby birds,[vii] and even roadkill[viii]! Even better, they are also cannibals.[ix] I wonder if squirrels enjoy a nice chianti and fava beans when munching on their fellow tree rat.
Turns out that springtime is often a lean time for squirrels, and bird nests are one of the few viable food sources for them.[x] And not only do they eat the eggs and babies, but the adult birds, if they can catch them.[xi] So, I guess all you people upset about squirrels at your feeder might want to think twice before complaining about those rodents raiding the suet.
And oh yeah, they are great at getting that those feeders too. There is actually an industry on all sorts of products designed to keep squirrels out of your feeder. I am not endorsing any, as their track record is inconsistent. And those squirrels are persistent. They keep trying and trying to get at that seed or suet or whatever. Often going at it from different angles in order to get their prize. In fact, some people have built obstacle courses just to watch the squirrel figure out how to get that seed.
And despite their name, gray squirrels can come in many colors, though gray is by far the most common.[xii] And for the ones that are gray, they often have some brown in them as well, and more brown in the summer than the winter.[xiii] Gray squirrels are a good sized rodent, usually about one and a half feet long.[xiv] And like many other squirrel species, they have a large bushy tail, which they use for balance, communication and even as a parasol![xv]
Squirrels have two kinds of nests. A tree cavity – usually made by a woodpecker, but not always. These are their favorite type of nest, because of the protection they provide from the elements.[xvi] But those are not always available. So, they settle for the other kind of nest. And this nest isn’t quite as good as the other one and require more work. They must build a nest way up in a forked branch in a tree. They are usually made of leaves and sticks.[xvii] These nests are called “dreys.[xviii]” And if a squirrel nest gets a PhD, then it is called a “Dr. Drey.” Hmm. Wonder if those squirrels enjoy a little bit of the chronic after partaking in a feast of fellow squirrel.
So, there you have it. Eastern gray squirrels. Wicked cute, determined, sometimes disturbing and about as familiar as they come. So next time you are at a city park watching squirrels chasing each other up and down a tree, just remember their amazing will to survive and the surprising lengths they would go to achieve that.