Seasonal Signs
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Dennis Curtin's journal of natural events in and around Marblehead, Massachusetts

Monday, October 16, 2006
People in Manchester-Essex Woods
This past Saturday was a day for walks organized by The Nature Conservancy and the Manchester-Essex Conservation Trust. The two walks gave me the opportunity to spend the day in the enjoyable company of the walk leaders Erika and Martha and many other delightful people. Erika is an artist and expert on the woods and has a must-see Web site at
Erika Sonder's Portable Herbarium.

Erika Sonder led the morning walk.

Martha led the afternoon walk in a different part of the woods.

The group checks out the entrance to the Bear's Den.

A grandfather looks down on the group from the top of the big bolder.

Martha tells us there is room inside for 10 so here goes.

Martha was right and was also the last out.

A great day was had by all.

posted by Dennis 1:19 PM
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Manchester-Essex Woods
These photos were taken during a walk a week ago. There are still some asters blooming in the woods and the witch hazel is starting to flower, but the big attraction is the foliage in the wetlands.

An hour after dawn at Heron Pond.

Heron pond water lilies.

A fallen leaf caught by goldenrod.

Sunlight strikes the floor of the woods bordering Cedar Swamp.

Baby Rock, one of the landmarks in the woods.

Cairn on top of Baby Rock.

Spagnum moss where in a few months there will be a vernal pool alive with the chorus of wood frogs.

A dying fern.

A redback salamander.

Fall foliage along the boardwalk.

posted by Dennis 12:48 PM
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Manchester-Essex Woods
I have been very lax about posting photos recently. This time of year work really cuts into my free time. The photos in this section were taken about two weeks ago and things have changed dramatically since then.

Pinesap, the coral colored fall variant.

Cedar swamp in fall colors.

Cedar swamp dead trees caused by beaver dams flooding the area.

Cedar swamp.


Heron Pond.

Reflections in Heron Pond.

A watersnake throws up a wake as it approaches from across the pond.

The snake glides to the edge of the pond to check me out. Who knew watersnakes were curious?

Turtlehead growing in a wetland.

More turtlehead.

A mushroom.


Fetid stinkhorn seen on a walk in Marblehead but too attractive to be left out.

Swallowtail chryslis in which the butterfly will overwinter before ermerging in the spring.

Hawk being mobbed by crows.

posted by Dennis 6:21 AM
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Sunday, September 03, 2006
Manchester-Essex Woods Spicebush Swallowtail
While walking through the woods last weekend I picked a leaf off a sassafras tree. At home I put it in a container and took a shower. When I came back down, the most amazing larvae had emerged from the fold in the leaf--a spicebush swallowtail larvae, as colorful as a tropical fish, yet native to the New England woods. For the past week I've been watching this amazing creature go about its life. The most surprising thing is how it only briefly emerges from it's fold in the leaf and always returns to it. It grazes the surface of the leaves and often eats them down to the stem, then returns to the same fold for a long nap. It tends to be out more in a early evening but I've seen it emerge at all times. It will be interesting to see what happens as it matures and forms a chrysalis. I'll keep you posted.

The resting place for the larvae.

Hi, I'm probably the last thing you'd expect to emerge from a folded over leaf!

Watch me strut my stuff.

posted by Dennis 4:40 AM
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Manchester-Essex Woods
This weekend we're under the influences of a tropical storm with some rain and high winds. I managed to avoid the rains and the winds were light on the forest floor so it was surprisingly good photography weather.

Flat-topped aster along the trail near the pond.

Arrowhead arum in bloom on the margins of Heron Pond.

More arrowhead arum, one of the prettiest of our fall flowers.

A toad deep in the woods.

Another view.

I suspect this is another coralroot, an orchid.

Some of the many mushrooms on the forest floor.

Indian pipe in various stages (the flower eventually points straight up).

A closeup of the blossom.

A fungi.

Small whorled pogonia with marker.

Another small whorled pogonia.

A jelly fungi.

Hairy cap moss spore cases rise from the moss.

posted by Dennis 2:24 AM
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Manchester-Essex Woods
I walked the woods last weekend but have been too busy until today to post the photos of what I've seen.

Cardinal flower blooms in Cedar Swamp.

Wood aster blooms on a cliff ledge on the back side of the pond.

This beautiful feather was alongside the trail and I thought nothing of it.

Then about 20 feet away I found this feather from the same bird and realized their had been a serious life-and-death struggle.

Fungi growing on a dying tree. Nature's recyclying plan.

Indian cucumber berries in various stages of ripoeness.

A skunk cabbage seedpod reasts in a wetland area.

Arrowhead arum flowers on the margins of Heron Pond

Another view of arrowhead arum.

Green wood orchid gone to seed.

Turtlehead about to bloom in the wetlands.

A wetland mint, perhaps northern bugleweed.

Another mint in another wetland.

A puffball fungus.

A puffball fungus with an opening for the pores to escape. If you step on it a cloud of gray/black spores are ejected into the air and dispersed by the wind.

posted by Dennis 1:55 AM
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Sunday, August 20, 2006
Manchester-Essex Woods
The weather has been beautiful the past week and Saturday was a great day for a walk in the woods.

This looks to me like coralroot, way past it's use by date.

Some mushroom pictures.

Indian pipe tinged in pink.

Blue curls.

A beaver dam in the woods.

Rattlesnake plantain.

A colorful fungi.

Marsh skullcap, a small wetlands flower.

A monarch egg on the bottom of a leaf. Over the past month I have taken thousands of monarch life-cycle photos and will be posting them soon.

posted by Dennis 6:12 AM
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Manchester-Essex Woods
The second catch-up post showing photos taken on August 6.

Evening Primrose by the Pine Street entrance.

A monarch larvae on milkweed along Pine Street near the entrance.

Black trumpet.

This is all that showed, the head peeking through the leaf litter. I was amazed that I noticed.

Rattlesnake plantain.

Rattlesnake plantain.

posted by Dennis 6:06 AM
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Manchester-Essex Woods
I've been in Manchester-Essex Woods every week but have been too busy to post the photos. Today is a rainy Sunday, a great time to get caught up.

Poison ivy climbs a tree off the boardwalk.

Shining sumac.

Green wood orchid off the Ancient Trail.

The only green wood orchid plant in sight.

Asiatic dayflower grows near the parking lot.

Horned bladderwort in Cedar Swamp. This is a carviverous plant.

A wood frog very close up.

Jack-in-the-pulpit berries that will soon turn red.


A bullfrog in the pond.

A swallowtail butterfly.

A purple mushroom.

Rattlesnake plantain, an orchid.

Rattlesnake plantain.

posted by Dennis 5:51 AM
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Sunday, July 23, 2006
Manchester-Essex Woods
Yesterday was a series of rain showers all day. Early in the morning I took a quick hike around the woods. It was like a steam bath because of the soaked earth and high humidity. But I dodged the rain, it started coming down in torrents just as I got back in the car. Despite the shortened hike, I did manage to capture some of what is going on in the woods at the moment. One thing I didn't capture was a large brown owl, one I believe was a barn owl, that flew over my head and across the pond. Although I couldn't see where it landed, the birds on that side of the pond went crazy with alarm calls. I also saw a very large snapping turtle trying to move from one pond into another. Its way was blocked by wire fencing submerged in the water to prevent beaver dams.

Button bush has some of the most amazing flowers you'll see. Golfball sized, and pure white, they are a delight to find in their wetlands home.

A flock of redwing blackbirds in Cedar Swamp.

Deptford pink grows alongside a trail where it can get some sun.

Spotted wintergreen in flower.

There is so much pickerelweed growing in Cedar Swamp that I am determined to get a great picture. I haven't done it yet but here are my two latest attempts.

Rattlesnake plantain, a wild orchid, is just about to flower.

A coral-like fungi.

Another fungi.

A recent American toad hatchling.

A water lily in Cedar Swamp.

posted by Dennis 7:05 AM
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Manchester-Essex Woods
I walked the woods last week but didn't have time to post the photos from that hike. Here they are with an emphasis on fungi. This is their season, especially with the heavy rains we've been having.

Sasparilla berries.

Indian pipe.

A katydid.

The first of many mushroom photos.

Black trumpet, a favored ingredient in French cuisine.

A slimemold.

Swamp candle colors the otherwise all green marsh.

Another swampcandle.

Pickerelweed in Cedar Swamp.

More pickerelweed.

Indian cucumber berries in the woods.

Teabury in flower.

Stiff clubmoss.


Creeping bellflower.

posted by Dennis 6:17 AM
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Saturday, July 15, 2006
Santa Barbara
I spent a week hiking in the mountains outside of Santa Barbara and it was a great time of year. The highlights were the yuccas in bloom, black swallowtail larvae, and one endangered plant species. I still don't have a good California wildflower guide but have done my best to identify what I found. If you find any mistakes, please write me.

Three black swallowtail larvae on fennel.

An enlarged view of the larger larvae.

Two flies on a larvae. Some flies place their eggs on the larvae and they then move inside and eat the larvae from the inside. If that's what these flies are doing, the larvae is doomed.

Steve views Santa Barbara from the heights with yucca for a size comparison.

A yucca that has gone to seed, with Santa Barbara in the background.

Yucca flower blossoms up close.

Yuccas bloom loike this and then die. What a glorious way to exit!

If I have identified this correctly, it's a Weed's Mariposa Lily (Calochortus weedii vestus). This plant is considered endangered and only grows in a few places along the Cold Spring Trail.

Another view of the lily.

A canyon sunflower blossom.

A colorful dragonfly.

A fossile emerges from its sandstone matrix. It looks like an oyster shell.

Laurel sumac in flower.

Now I know why manzantita stems are so good looking. The outer layer peels away to reveal a fresh surface.

Parrots high in the trees.

A butterfly feeds on a blossom.

A lizard warms itself in the morning sun along the trail.

Another lizard basks on a tree trunk.

Cactus blossom.

Cactus, with one part looking like a foot.

Another cactus blosssom.

A California poppy.

Caterpillar Phacelia, so named because it resembles its namesake.

Indian pink.

Cardinal monkeyflower, a wetland plant.

Fennel, the host plant for black swallowtail butterflies.

One of the many picturesque waterfalls along the Cold Spring Trail.

Steve reads a plaque at Saddleback Rock.

Chalk live-forever flowers, odd indeed.

Chalk live-forever has a basal rosette that throws up a flower stalk.

California honeysuckle (I think).

posted by Dennis 11:53 AM
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Friday, June 30, 2006
Manchester-Essex Woods
It's been raining a great deal this spring so it's hard to get into the woods as often as I like. Over the past week I've made two short trips. Unlike most walks, on these trips I had illustrious company.

Rob Kipp photographs in the Heron Pond area

Helen, Executive Director of the Manchester-Essex Conservation Trust.

Cathy, a writer living near the area.

Cathy, Angela from the Nature Conservancy, and Helen gather around the rock monster.

Partridgeberry in bloom.

Partridgeberry in bloom.

Rattlesnake plantain throwing up a flower stem.

A ribbon snake thinks he's hidden from me.

Club moss in wonderful light.

Small whorled pogonia is currently designated as Threatened in its entire range.

Indian pipe is just starting to spout everywhere.

Featherfoil, (Hottonia inflata) is a plant that floats in the water along the boardwalk margins of Cedar Swamp.

A slime mold gathers on a birch tree.

posted by Dennis 7:30 AM
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Sunday, June 18, 2006
Manchester-Essex Woods
Today was fater's day, a great time to spend six hours tramping the woods. It was warmer than it has been, and that seems to have brought more things out; both plants and animals. I saw three garter snakes that I haven't posted because they have appeared here before. The day's highlight is the newt!

A newt, something I've only seen till now in the Adirondacks.

A toad sits in the sunlight at the side of the trail.

Bunchberry, the only one I've seen in the woods

Pinesap, a saprophytic plant that doesn't need light to grow.

Shinleaf, a member of the wintergreen family.

A wood frog watches me from a pool beside the trail.

A slime mold that wasn't there yesterday. These are amazing plant/animals and definately worth Googling.

An insect had an out of body experience. (I've obviously spent too much time in the sun today.)

Looking down on an iris.

Spotted wintergreen.

posted by Dennis 1:40 PM
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