Thursday, July 30, 2015

Halibut Point Conifers

Eastern red cedars (juniperus virginiana)
Your first thought about conifers at Halibut Point likely includes the cedars that preside over scrubby fields around the quarry. They're evergreen, conical, piney-looking, so 'conifer' seems to fit. And indeed they are conifers, but solely for the botanical reason that they 'bear cones.'

Cedar cones (juniper berries)
If you look closely at the matter, as botanists do, you find that our 'cedars' are actually junipers, juniperus virginiana. The non-scientific link with cedars probably derives from similarities in fragrance of the wood rather than from genetic ties. Amusingly our juniper has a ground-hugging cousin juniperus communis on Halibut Point that is more closely related to it than any upright plant.

Common spreading juniper, juniperus communis
All the species of the genus juniper fall within the cypress family Cupressaceae . Notice the similarity of the foliage to arborvitaes, another member of the family.

Arborvitaes, thuja occidentalis
Arborvitaes in our area are a non-native introduction. At least two groves of them are still prominent at Halibut Point from earlier ornamental plantings. Both they and the junipers have somewhat frond-like leaves and diminutive cones.

Arborvitae leaves and cones
The arborvitae leaves are brighter green and flatter than the more prickly juniper. Arborvitae cones are more conical than berry-like and mature to a brown color.
The largest family of conifers represented at Halibut Point is the pinaceae. Its largest genus is the pines. Some of them do quite well on challenging sites.

Pitch pine, pinus rigida
Close to the shore pitch pines tolerate wind, salt, and sparse soil. Their location and dwarfish dimensions offer preliminary clues to identification.

Pitch pine branch
The pitch pine is the only tree exhibiting three needles per bundle on its branches and twigs. Occasionally you may encounter Japanese or Austrian black pines with a similar dark stiff appearance to the pitch pine, but larger proportions, and two needles per bundle. Red pines (also two-needled) once planted near the parking lot are now in poor condition.

Scotch pine, pinus sylvestris
The other sizable non-native pine in the neighborhood distinguished by two needles per bundle is the Scotch pine, with a bluish cast and distinctly orange bark.

White pine, pinus strobus
White pines, our tallest-growing New England trees, thrive in more protected situations away from the shoreline.

White pine needles
Even at a distance you can recognize its soft bluish impression given by needles clustered five to the bundle.

White spruce, picea glauca
All the stately spruce trees at Halibut Point are non-native. The black spruces that originally grew on Cape Ann disappeared in colonial times. White spruces have been planted at scattered locations within the Park. In full vigor they present a classic conical outline with ascending branches.

White spruce detail
Typically spruce trees feature short needles emanating all the way around the twigs, and pendulous cones.

Norway spruce, picea abies
Norway spruces distinguish themselves with frill-like branchlets descending from larger branches with an effect of soft majesty.

Norway spruce detail
Individually the branchlets bristle with leaves all the way around the twigs, as in other spruces.

Blue spruce, picea pungens
Blue spruces handle wind and salt spray very effectively. Their resolute aspect conveys a rather stiff, chunky silhouette.

Blue spruce detail
Their twigs and cones, on the other hand,  have appealing delicacy and color.

White fir, abies concolor
The most stunning conifers in the Park must surely be the white firs, like a more lustrous blue spruce.

White fir detail
Needles surround the fir twigs in a more ascending manner than the spruce and are longer, broader, flatter. Firs can be recognized by their cones born upright on the branches.
*  *  *
To appreciate the place of conifers in the plant kingdom, follow their lineage in the chart below.
As distinct from the lichens, mosses and ferns previously featured in Notes from Halibut Point, conifers reproduce by seed.
The evolutionary appearance of seeds brought advantages in significant ways:  increased storage of nourishment for the seedling; new strategies for dispersal; and dormancy until optimal germination conditions arrive, possibly spreading its occurrence over time so that a catastrophe after germination does not result in the death of all offspring of a plant.
Whereas most of today's seed-producing plants (angiosperms) flower and produce hard or fleshy structures called fruits to enclose individual seeds, non-flowering gymnosperms do not. Instead the seeds of gymnosperms (primarily conifers) begin their development "naked" in the protection of cones.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

A Phoebe Leaves Home

My hidden home
My nest is tucked up under the overhang of a quarry ledge. You can see one of my parents flying in to feed me. I can't be sure whether it's Mom or Dad, they look so much alike.

A bug for me
Both my parents have been very busy bringing in insects to get me ready for flight. One day my wings are going to take me far away.

Phoebe hunting
Far off in the distance I see them dipping for bugs on the water surface. They sit on a tree branch until they spot their quarry in the quarry.

Prowling blue jay
That isn't their only job. Dad dive-bombed this blue jay that had some very unfriendly intentions toward me.

Vigilant Dad
They have to keep their feathers in good shape to accomplish all this. I'm finding out how important preening will be in the days ahead.

Taking care of feathers
Once I fledge from the nest my feathers will have to be in perfect order and well oiled to keep me dry and maneuverable. My parents take care of theirs expertly.

Looking down the cliff line
If I peek around the corner of the overhang I can see the face of the cliff that surrounds us. I wonder if I'm going to have to work my way up to the top when I take off. Down below, it's all water....

Wildflowers on the cliff
There are some pretty sights right around me. I think I could be quite happy here for a while longer.

Waiting parent
My parents tell me there's only one way forward. I'm going to have to leap out of the nest, flap like crazy, and then I'll be flying with them. I think tomorrow's the day.

Afternoon sunlight across the quarry
The morning sunlight comes across the quarry right into our nook. At the end of the day I feel it reflected back from the cliffs across the water.

Encouragement from a parent
Morning time. This is it. I'm ready. But my wings aren't nearly as big as theirs.

I made it!
I flew right around the corner to a handy crevice in the cliff. Wow! My parents are very excited. They want us to get to the woods quickly. That means up and over. I can't even see the trees from here.

Looking back at my birthplace
A big hungry gull flew by. Not a second to lose. I'm on the way!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Born To Fly

Me, on July 12
I looked out over the meadow at Halibut Point for the first time this week, when I was finally able to jump up to the entrance of my nesting box.

Inquisitive tree swallows, April 26
My parents discussed the merits of this homestead way back in April. It had a nice open flyway to the quarry where they could catch bugs zipping over the water. They looked inside and out. They decided it was a promising place to raise a family.

Mating moment, May 20
They considered everything very carefully. After three weeks betrothal they committed to our family in a beautiful mating.

Celebration and vows, May 20
Dad let the world know how happy he was. I think Mom was a bit sobered at the thought of carrying and caring for eggs.

Nest building, May 20
She had already started bringing in nice soft materials for the nest. She kept us warm while we developed in the eggs.

Morsel for a young chick, July 6
Dad joined in with caretaking as soon as we hatched. Both our parents brought food to us so we could grow as fast as possible to get ready to fly.

Before long I was able to get up to the portal to look out at the world. Sometimes Dad gave me a tidbit on the wing.

Mom was good at it too. I was hungry all the time.

Of course we eager eaters had to poop a lot. Mom and Dad carried it away from the nest after it hardened.

I let them know what wonderful parents they are, and that I'm working hard to join them as a full-fledged swallow.

I want to be just like Dad. He's the best flier ever. He's strong, fast, and handsome. He's always alert to guard our home.

My wings are starting to grow big like his. One day soon I'm going to sail out into the air on my own. I have to be ready, because I'll never come back. I don't even get to practice. Everything has to be right the first time.

Dad says I'll do fine.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Ferns, and Not-ferns

Northern lady fern, athyrium angustum
Ferns, feathery ferns, charming ferns. What sumacs do for the Halibut Point skyline ferns do for its ground.
Marsh fern, parathelypteris palustris
Ferns await discovery in shady nooks. In damp places they muster out in full sun.
Bracken fern, pteridium aquilinum
The bracken fern, a very common presence on the moors, succeeds in dry sunny conditions.
Bracken fern shoot
Its rhizomes travel a fair distance beneath the ground to send up new shoots.

Developing bracken fern
A bracken fern shoot produces fiddleheads that open out as fronds. It seems a slow-motion triumph of exertion and destiny.

Mature bracken fern
In common with mosses ferns reproduce asexually by spores. Unlike mosses they have vascular systems that pipe water and nutrients throughout. They tend to occupy marginal habitats where various environmental factors limit the success of the flowering species that dominate today's world. Ferns had their day especially in the Carboniferous Era when they were large and numerous enough to be the raw material for the earth's coal and petroleum reserves.

Ferny foliage of milk-parsley, peucedanum palustre
A plant can be 'ferny' without being a fern, as are many members of the carrot family like this milk-parsley, which makes flowers and seeds.
Sweet fern
Sweet ferns, comptonia peregrina, are often found side by side with bracken ferns on the moors of Halibut Point.  The peregrinations (travels from one place to another) of their underground stems through dry scrubby areas earned the peregrina nomenclature.
Sweet fern catkins, the male 'flowers' in spring
Sweet ferns are shrubs with woody stems that flower with catkins like alders, birch trees, willows and oaks.
Sweet fern, with 'ferny' foliage but in the flowering kingdom
Other than the feathery shape of their leaves sweet ferns have little in common with true ferns.
Royal fern, osmunda regalis
In waterside locations you may happen on the tall distinctively tailored royal fern.
Royal fern, foliage detail
Its delicate texture comes from the tissue-thin smooth-edged subdivided leaflets (twice pinnate) that give most ferns a toothy appearance.
Ostrich fern fiddleheads
Equally statuesque ostrich ferns rise like enormous shuttlecocks from shoots resembling cello heads more than fiddleheads.
Ostrich fern, matteuccia struthiopteris
The brown fertile fronds of the ostrich fern develop in autumn, persist erect over the winter and release the spores in early spring.

Cinnamon fern, matteuccia struthiopteris

Cinnamon ferns colonize vigorously in summer greens and fall brocades.
Cinnamon fern in the fall

All comers are welcome to notice the decorative ornamentation of ferns at Halibut Point as wild flowers come and go.
The botanically inquisitive may also locate these species in the Park:
Dennstaedtia punctilobula - hayscented fern
Onoclea sensibilis - sensitive fern
Parathelypteris novaborecensis - New York fern
Parathelypteris simulata - Massachusetts fern