Thursday, April 28, 2016

Spring, Halibut Point

 There's a sudden green tinge to the water. Microscopic plants have come to life.
 The towhee shifts his voice from pweet to a territorial trill. 

Blueberry blossoms advance from red to white.

The young at heart bless the day...
...and notice beauty among thorns.

 The first warblers appear.

Gentlemanly mallards share a pond until a new aroma fills the air. 

'Himself' excuses friends when She arrives.

Spring rites call forth gracious preliminaries.
She curtsies.

He bows.

They have answered the awesome Call.

A kingfisher watches over the realm.
* * *
Upcoming programs featuring the Notes from Halibut Point 

May 1, Sunday 3:00-5:00, Lanesville Community Center, "Lanesville History Update"
            Les Bartlett. "Quarry Workers and Strikes"
            Lise Breen, "Slavery in Lanesville"
            Martin Ray, "Granite Sloops and Schooners on the Ipswich Bay"
            Ronda Faloon, "Cape Ann Museum archives and programs" 

May 7, Saturday 2:00-4:00, Cape Ann Museum, "Preservation Awards"
Gloucester Historical Commission will recognize Notes from Halibut Point; short slide presentation 

July 12, Tuesday 7:00, "Halibut Point over Time", a program of the Sandy Bay Historical Society series at the Rockport Library 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Spring, Folly Cove

There's nothing like doubling your Folly Cove spring, especially with palm trees and sand.

Pelicans sail complacently over the South Carolina surf. This one surmounts  the local wit.

Conversely, their brethren of the air never seem satisfied. Seagulls cannot get enough of human wit.

Kay Ray enjoys a sanctuary from seagulls. She has expanded her lifelong impression of seagull intelligence upon discovering that they can respect the written word.

The cook at Rita's absolutely raises the bar for the world's best fried shrimp.

When we return North our own Folly Cove sends up a greeter. We smile but don't wade into the water.

At our home beach the kingfisher keeps watchful order. He emits an occasional scolding.

Out in the Cove a loon returns the kingfisher's stare.

Around us brant graze pastorally in the kingfisher realm.

Mergansers  court obliviously offshore.

An odd-drake-out persists with self-commendations.

The champion settles the match discreetly behind a wave.

The victor celebrates with Churchillian wings.

Her ladyship acknowledges his valor with a slight dip of her bill.

The partners announce their betrothal in grand gestures.

'Himself' crows a bit exuberantly.

The vanquished vanishes.

The couple promenades by an appreciative brant.

A second hen arrives deus ex machina to fulfill The Promise. The vanquished one redirects his affections after a lingering glance. The big ocean embraces all its beloveds.

Snow geese cross the Ipswich Bay above waves that resolve a migration of ocean energies onto Folly Point.

A surf scoter searches below for crustaceans.

Folly Cove re-gathers all of us to its vital Spring.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Emerging from Winter

Chilling beauty
This winter made its mark with a brief ferocity punctuating a general blandness. Having to reach only occasionally for a snow shovel counted as a relief to most of us after the exertions of 2015. Some plants and creatures find deep snow helpful to survival. Others find it a challenge. We'll see how they fared, case by case.
Robins at the edge of snow
When I was growing up even suicidal robins didn't stay up north during the winter. Now we have fluffy-puffy year-rounders getting by on berries instead of worms. They can't wait for the thaw to get back to their preferred annelidan delicacies.

Beaver lodge, Halibut Point quarry
Last summer a beaver took up residence at Halibut Point for the first time in anyone's memory. We began to notice 'penciling' of waterside saplings, a small sacrifice of vegetation to support the novelty. Then the beaver got busy clear-cutting the quarry margins to construct its winter quarters and food stash.

The beaver, from cute to incorrigible
The curious naturalist waits to see whether an insatiable beaver family will emerge from the den to annihilate the quarry's verdant margin. Perhaps it was just a solitary pioneer who will have to trundle back to the swamps to find a mate this spring, its single-season alterations second only to human enterprise in their ecological impact.

Amphibians and reptiles solve their needs with equal ingenuity but less disturbance. Many of them develop a special relationship with water during dormancy. Amphibians are all born in the water initially able to breathe aqueously (usually gills) but eventually developing lungs. Reptiles are all born on land, breathing air their whole lives. They may or may not turn to the water, but they never relinquish their lungs.

Blanding's turtle at water's edge
When I heard that reptilian turtles overwinter in the mud beneath ponds I decided to read up on what biologists think they know about an animal accomplishing that feat on a single breath. Almost all hibernating species store fat and lower their metabolic rates. Turtles make a further choice: submerge. They're never going to have their cells ruptured by ice crystallization. But breathing underwater seems no more possible than flying south.

A turtle derives a small, steady amount of oxygen directly from the water through minute blood vessels lining its throat cavity. Similar tissues aerate  two walled sacs near the anus. So it gets through the winter with a bit of help from both ends. Its heart that might beat forty times a minute on a warm day in July drops to one beat every ten minutes in cold water.

It still must contend with metabolic lactic acid buildup while sealed for months under the ice. Doing next to nothing slows the acid buildup, but body functions still produce enough toxin to kill the creature before winter runs its course. The turtle dissolves minute amounts of calcium salts from its shell into its bloodstream to buffer and neutralize the lactic acid.

It's no wonder that turtles like to bask in the summer sun.

Bullfrog, always wet
Aquatic amphibians such as frogs and salamanders are able to retrieve all their oxygen from the water through their skin. Their lungs are relatively primitive. Rather than burying themselves in the mud for the winter like turtles do they expose their highly vascularized skin to gas exchanges with the water, whose oxygen concentration increases at low temperatures. On land or below ground amphibians can rely on cutaneous respiration by keeping their skins constantly moist with mucous secretions.

Our local wood frog, a terrestrial hibernator, foregoes submersion. A high concentration of glucose antifreeze in its vital organs prevents pulverization by ice. A partially frozen wood frog stops breathing. Its heart stops beating. It looks like a block of ice and appears quite dead. But when its hibernaculum warms up the frog's frozen portions thaw and resume activity. During vernal days and nights it celebrates its return from refrigeration below zero (C) with quacking calls at nuptial ponds.

Spring peeper inflating
Peepers, another freeze survivor, sustain their spring chorus with multitudes of tiny amplification systems. Though seldom seen they surround the wetlands walker with quintessential nocturnal charms.

A male red-wing blackbird staking claim from a cattail
Taking up the spirit migratory red-wings re-animate our dreary marshes. The serious business associated with their songs, calls and alarms is easy to recognize without looking up, but spotting their flashing scarlet epaulets is half the fun.
Tufted titmouse foraging among oak tree flowers
All winter titmice have enlivened local bird feeders with aerobatic, bright-eyed, crested, larceny  of sunflower seeds. Now their territorial challenges pierce, scold, seduce.  Peter, peter, peter calls from the treetops sometimes mobilize comically in the driveway against intruding doppelgangers reflected in car mirrors.

An over-wintered Mourning Cloak butterfly displaying amorously on the woodland floor
Gentler beauties materialize unexpectedly this month. One generation of Mourning Cloak butterflies that overwinters as adults in tree crevices makes the earliest of the papilionoid appearances. They consummate this accomplishment in romantic flights across woods and fields. At rest with umber wings folded up they are nearly invisible against tree bark. Open-winged they splash color into the spring.
At a season with few blooms Mourning Cloaks walk head downward down the trunks of oak trees to feed on sap. They search out rotting fruit, animal feces, and occasionally flower nectar. During summer these cool-season champions might aestivate in a dormant state similar to hibernation. They suspend physiological functions in diapause to minimize the hot-dry environmental challenges. They nap.
Winter as an arm of the creative forces serves all kinds of strong-armed functions in the biosphere. It builds soil, manages populations, directs evolution. It choreographs especially water as its most compelling agent. To Nature it is inevitable. To us post-Natural humans it claims only respectful consideration if we're careful, mortality if we're not prepared.
Further reading thanks to Karen First, Director of the Nature Preschool at Massachusetts Audubon's Endicott Wildlife Sanctuary in Wenham:
Bernd Heinrich, Winter World
Mary Holland, Naturally Curious
David S. Lee,  "The Complexities of Turtle Hibernation" (Internet)
Emerging also from a two-week sojourn "Appalachian Spring"
Roseate spoonbill, National Wildlife Refuge, Savannah                                    
Spanish moss, Charleston                                 
Civil Rights Museum, Greensboro NC, site of the first Sit-in, 1960
Here vibrated Black Mountain College on Lake Eden, Asheville
Proprietor's own stuff, Burnsville NC
 Fallingwater Cascades          
Dogwood and redbud, Blue Ridge Parkway
Wild about phlox
 Skyline Drive  
Dr. Marian Wright Edelman receiving honorary degree at Monticello

 Fife and Drum Corps at Thomas Jefferson's 273rd birthday celebration
Tallest peek in the mountains
Mr. Bluebird
 Luray Caverns
  Franklin Delano Roosevelt continues to lead, Washington DC