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

Friday, May 30, 2003
Audubon Sanctuary
Today the day is full, so I only had time for a quick walk through the Audubon Sanctuary. Starflowers and Canada Mayflower were in full bloom as Wood Anemone fades. Only a few Bellworts hang on. I did photograph a toadstool that reminded me of a scene from a children's book. All I needed to make it complete was a tiny plastic leprechaun. I'll have to remember to get one of those.

A toadstool scene

posted by Dennis 6:38 AM
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Thursday, May 29, 2003
Salem's Forest River Conservation Area
Yesterday I took a series of shots, and today I combined them into a panorama. It's an attempt to capture the beauty of the boardwalk and blossoming Hawthorn trees as you enter from behind Salem State's South Campus.

Panoramic view of Forest River Conservation Area in Salem

posted by Dennis 6:40 AM
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Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary
Today I accompanied the 5th grade class to the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary, where we enjoyed weather that cycled among sunshine, clouds, and showers--one a soaking downpour. The class broke into three groups and the one I was with saw no wildlife other than squirrels and chipmunks. Other groups saw large black snakes and heard baby beavers inside a lodge. My biggest treat was seeing Fred Goodwin, the man lucky enough to live in the sanctuary year-round. I first met Fred in Marblehead where he's from, while taking a photo of Gerry Island. Fred came out of his loft apartment in the boatyard to see what I was up to. Our conversation led to him inviting me inside to see his butterfly photos that lined the walls. A few years later Fred spent full-time photographing butterflys for the Audubon and I suppose that led to his being asked to supervise the property. If you ever visit, look for Fred and say hello, or explore his butterfly garden that surrounds the house.

Stormy skies as we head back to the bus

Fred Goodwin at the sanctuary

posted by Dennis 2:52 AM
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Wednesday, May 28, 2003
Salem Woods
I walked though Salem Woods again today to photograph some of the things I saw yesterday when it was raining too hard to get the camera out. My primary goal was to take some really good photos of the Lady Slipper. The light was beautiful and the walk in magnificent with all of the Hawthorn trees in bloom. Sheep Sorrel is growing in lots of places and those little orange points of color are dwarf dandelions.

The Forest River

Pink Lady Slipper on the forest floor

Sheep Sorrel

Dwarf Dandelion

posted by Dennis 1:43 AM
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Monday, May 26, 2003
Salem Woods
The walk started out nice but soon the rain started to fall. I spent four hours in the woods with good gear, but still got soaked in places. The Hawthorn trees bordering the marsh are in full bloom. Quite a sight! Also saw my second buttercup of the year. The day started getting really interesting when I heard some gobbling near Eagle Hill. I stalked the sound as quietly as an old man in layers of rain gear and carrying a backpack tripod can. I was rewarded with a glimpse of one of the turkeys silhouetted on a ridge. I crossed the tracks and retraced my steps of a few days ago looking for some lichens that I'd seen. I found them and although it was raining steadily I took some pictures. They are tiny but beautiful. After wandering another mile or so, I was shocked to see a small glade of Pink Lady Slippers. If I were really Frank Buck, this would be the equivalent of a heard of elephants. What a sight.

The boardwalk and Hawthorn Trees in blossom

Bulbous Buttercup


Pink Lady Slipper

posted by Dennis 1:13 PM
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The Path and Leggs Hill
I walked the length of The Path and up and over Leggs Hill on a nice Sunday Afternoon. Considering the miles walked I didn't net much new. The Wild Sarsaparilla along The Path through Wyman Woods is getting dense in places and now hard to miss. Heard paint ball guns in the uplands and talked to the two boys about it not being an appropriate place for that--but then where is? The most interesting finds were Cypress Spurge in the Forest River going to seed in a blaze of fall colors and the first Bladder Champion of the year on Leggs Hill.

Cypress Spurge Going to Seed

Bladder Campion

posted by Dennis 12:53 PM
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Friday, May 23, 2003
Wyman Woods
On an afternoon walk along The Path through Wyman Woods I spotted Wild Sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) hidden in the Skunk Cabbage. As the foliage increases it gets harder to spot some plants. This plant was used by Native Americans to brew a tea and the rhizomes have been used to make beverages such as root beer.

Wild Sarsaparilla

posted by Dennis 5:07 PM
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Thursday, May 22, 2003
Ware Pond
I took a walk along the entire Path today but it rained most of the way. When it let up I was at Ware Pond so took some shots I had been planning to take for some time but for the wind and rain. The first was Celandine, a flower that will now be with us all summer. The other two were plants that are easy to confuse when looking down at them. Both Ground Ivy and one of the Skullcaps are low ground covers with similar leaves. It's only when you look closely at the flowers do they look strikingly different.


Skullcap (not sure which one yet)

Ground Ivy

posted by Dennis 2:06 PM
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Monday, May 19, 2003
Steer Swamp
An afternoon walk through Steer Swamp revealed some new activity. Starflowers were in bloom mixed in with the Canada Mayflower. Also in bloom was Japanese Barberry, a highly invasive plant with long thin thorns that will inflict serious injury. The scale was weighted to the negative with a visit to a long-time drinking spot, now furnished with lawn chairs and a keg.

The Starflower was the hit of the day. I've been doing this now for three years and after a while you get used to where various plants appear. It's a lot like looking for, and finding an old friend. The anticipation builds until you finally see them appear. Wildflowering is a lot like friendships. Looking for old friends in familiar places is like standing under the clock in Grand Central Station, waiting for the train to arrive with someone you're excited to see. But chance being what it is, old acquaintances appear in unfamiliar places, or strangers find a way to attract your attention. In this case I wasn't looking for Starflower, my previous encounters with it had been in the Audubon Sanctuary. It was good to see it in a new place. I also ran across Club Moss, the first time I'd seen it in Marblehead.


Japanese Barberry

Drinking Spot complete with fine art on the walls, a fireplace, lawn chairs and a keg.

posted by Dennis 4:48 PM
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Sunday, May 18, 2003
Brown's Island
My first stop this morning was Gerry Island. On the way in down Gashouse Lane, I passed a boat covered by a tarp in which rainwater had pooled. It was frozen into a sheet of ice. It's May 18 and the winter seems to fight letting go. There wasn't anything on Gerry Island other than Dandelions and Poison Ivy (enough to make it a cash crop), so I headed over to Brown's Island. There I found Lily of the Valley just starting to bloom and False Solomon's Seal quite far along.

Lily of the Valley

False Solomon's Seal

posted by Dennis 11:16 AM
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Salem Woods
Took a long walk today from Salem State through to Highland Park. The Columbine, Early Saxifrage, Bluets, Marsh Marigold, and Jack-in-the-pulpits are out in force now. Early Saxifrage finds a way to grow on ledges, and nowhere else. I'm curious as to how it idetifies its environment and knows it's on a ledge. In the meadow, the Common Cinquefoil has made its first appearance.

Common Cinquefoil

Early Saxifrage

posted by Dennis 11:11 AM
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Friday, May 16, 2003
Memories of Frank Buck
When I was a boy, I'd lay in bed at night listening on the radio to Frank Buck's "Bring 'em Back Alive" adventures. He'd make long trips to Africa to capture elephants, lions, gorillas, and the like for zoos. On a day like today, I feel a little like Frank Buck, except I bring them back on film. The discovery that brought these memories back was a sole Pale Corydalis on the high bluff in the Forest River. This small plant with even smaller flowers is about as colorful as flowers come. I hadn't seen one before. I did the best I could but there was a gusty breeze that never let up completely.

Pale Corydalis

I stopped by to check out the Tamarack (Larch) tree in the Forest River and the blossoms are quite mature now, looking more and more like the pine cones they will become.

Tamarack blossom/pine cone

Weeds are appearing on Leggs Hill along with some nice stands of Smooth Solomon's Seal. It's interesting to search for plants such as this on the Internet. Most of the Web sites devoted to plants have been put up by agricultural interests. To them everything is a weed. Here in Marblehead, where the wildlife diversity is so low, we're glad to have them.

Field Pennycress

Smooth Solomon's Seal with characteristic flower buds strung like beads below the stem.

posted by Dennis 2:02 AM
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Thursday, May 15, 2003
No Wind, Great Light
After dropping the kids off at school this morning, I stopped at the Audubon Sanctuary, mainly because there was no wind. It's rare to have a period when there isn't the slightest breeze to slowly sway the flower you're trying to photograph. This morning was one of those times. I didn't see anything new, but managed to get some photos I hadn't been able to get before. The longer the stem, the more a flower will sway in the breeze. Today I shot some on top of very long stems and they were as steady as rocks. I've posted only one of them, an unfurling fern's fiddlehead.

A fern unfurling

posted by Dennis 7:55 AM
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Tuesday, May 13, 2003
Long Walk Hunting and Collecting
I walked the length of The Path today, passing through the Forest River at the end. It was beautiful light when I started but dark, threatening rain clouds appeared while I was passing through the Forest River. I found only one new flower, pussytoes. Not finding much isn't a problem. These walks and photo shoots fill two of my basic needs, hunting and collecting. I suspect these needs are shared by many others who satisfy them with fishing, bird watching, or even antique hunting. None of these endeavors require you to be successful to have a good time. You just have to be successful often enough to keep you looking.


posted by Dennis 12:02 PM
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Salem Woods
An early walk around the Audubon Sanctuary led to some nice photos because the light was so good and the wind was very light. New flowers had not yet emerged so I just got better photos of things I'd captured earlier. In the late afternoon I walked through Salem Woods to see how things were progressing there. It was bursting with new flowers. The path in from the Highland Park entrance was lined with newly emerging Jack-in-the-pulpits and an equal amount of poison ivy. There were also lots of bothersome gnats that liked nothing better than to fly in your face. The prize of the day may have been the Columbine, but there were also other plants I have yet to see in Marblehead--Early Saxifrage, Club Moss, Baneberry, and Bluets. There was also Sedge Tussock and meadows of False Solomon's Seal. Quite a place, and so close.

Early Saxifrage

Club Moss




Sedge Tussock

False Solomon's Seal

posted by Dennis 1:29 AM
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Sunday, May 11, 2003
Things are Popping
Today I took a walk around The Path, and things are really beginning to happen. Saw my first Wild Geranium and Celandine flowers today and the geese had hatched at Ware's pond. The Jack-in-the-pulpit is also appearing.

Wild Geranium


Geese at Ware Pond


posted by Dennis 10:08 AM
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Marsh Marigold
I stopped by Goldthwait Reservation to see how Beach Pea was doing, but it's not yet in flower. On the marsh was a large stand of bright yellow flowers. I walked across the marsh to discover Marsh Marigolds, also known as Cowslip, a truly showy wildflower. You can check this out from the road--kind of a wildflower drive-in. When the light is better, I'm heading back to shoot a lot of photos of these treasures.

Marsh Marigolds

posted by Dennis 6:41 AM
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Saturday, May 10, 2003
I've recently seen muskrats swimming in Wares Pond. They have a lodge just off the shore by Sevinore Gardens. It's hard to see now, but I photographed it this winter when the ice on the pond made it easy to get closer.

The muskrat lodge in winter

posted by Dennis 5:32 PM
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Saturday Afternoon Walk
Beautiful weather, high 60s and bright sun. On the afternoon walk, I started at the Shore Lea Nature Center and walked through to Leggs Hill. One of my first photos was of a Dandelion to show just how beautiful these flowers are.

A Dandelion

On the way out of the Forest River I spotted a lone Lesser Celandine, these are usually escapees from nearby gardens.

Lesser Celandine

I've come to think of the Earth being underlain with a grid, somewhat like the Time building in New Yorks's Time Square. However, instead of news hedlines, the "bulbs" that blink on and off are wildflowers. The Hepatica that I saw one day, had faded by the next and were entirely gone a few days later. Meanwhile, the Lesser Celandine and Trout Lily's were blinking on. As they turn off, it will be the Trillium's and Lady Slipper's time. It's time consuming to follow the blinking lights to enjoy the light show. Today, this idea was demonstrated in full. The first wildflower I spotted this year was a Coltsfoot blossom on Leggs Hill. Today, just a few weeks later, the flower had gone to seed. The cycle continues.

Coltsfoot gone to seed

Coltsfoot in flower

In Leggs Hill Common Wintercress (Barbarea vulgaris) is appearing in profusion. It's basel leaves look somewhat like oak leaves.

Common Wintercress

posted by Dennis 5:04 PM
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The ground at the Audubon Sanctuary is covered in places with Teabury (Ericaceae Gaultheria Procumbens), a member of the Wintergreen family. Sandra W. showed it to me on a briding walk and had me taste it. The taste is familar from Teabury gum I had as a kid. It's not yet in bloom but is worth looking for. In the fall it has red berries. You can still buy the gum
on the Internet.

Teabury Leaves

Teabury Gum

posted by Dennis 11:01 AM
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Audubon and Seaside
This is a quick post because I have to get over to Wyman Woods to see Bud Orne and the Girl Scouts. I walked the Audubon Sanctuary this morning and there isn't much new. I photographed some Canada Mayflower and fern fiddleheads (not all of which are edible). The Canada Mayflower is probably the most common wildflower in Town. It carpets the floor of most wooded areas. It hasn't quite flowered yet but is very close to doing so.

There are two things I want to ruminate on when I have time. The first is how looking for wildflowers (or birds) satisfies two basic human needs--those to hunt and collect. The other is on how we overlook some of the most beautiful things because they are so common. Seagulls and dandelions are considered pests, but if there were only a few in hard to find places, expeditions would be launched to find and see them.

Canada Mayflower

Fern fiddleheads

Seaside Park is a rich habitat. Lots of Wood Anemone and Trout Lilys out this morning. The purpose of my visit though was to check out the blue berries and sure enough, they were starting to blossom. I also took a photo of Poison Ivy leaves. It's starting to appear all over Town. I stumbled across the first Solomon's Seal blosson in the Park. It's the False Solomon's Seal that blossoms at the end.

Blueberries in Seaside Park

Poison Ivy

False Solomon's Seal has the flowers at the end

Smooth Solomons Seal Has a string of flowers underneath the arching stem.

posted by Dennis 8:02 AM
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An Evening Walk
After spending most of the day on a field trip with the 5th grade class, I took a long evening walk. There was too much bright sun and gusty wind to take many photos but I did capture a few things. The most stunning was the discovery of common morel mushrooms in the Forest River. They sat there in the grass looking like golden brain coral someone had discarded. I'd never before seen them in the wild so I spent a long time photographing them.

Common Morel

I also photographed Wood Anemone, tent caterpillars, and the rapidly maturing blossoms on the Tamarack tree. The only new subject, although they have been around a few weeks now are the violets.

Early Blue Violets

posted by Dennis 3:40 AM
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Thursday, May 08, 2003
A Busy May Week
I have had to choose over the past week whether to make log entries or explore outdoors. I chose the later. The winter was too hard and the present to delightful to sit indoors and type. I'll try to update you a little on what's been happening.

Last weekend began with a reopening of Wyman Woods, showing off the work of the Trails Group over the past year. It was a beautiful day and there was good attendance, considering that it was a rain date.

Group at Wyman Woods Reopening

One new addition was a sign for the Curtin Trail, the main trail leading the length of the woods. It's named after Peggy who worked so hard on the maps for the Discovering Marblehead book.

The Curtin Trail Sign

While leading tours through the woods I ran across Hepatica, a plant I've been looking forward to all spring. It's one of the earliest bloomers and certainly showy. It's also very ephemeral. I went back a few days later to photograph it and it had faded.

Hepatica in Wyman Woods

I spent the afternoon on the Audubon Sanctuary with the birders looking for Warblers. The next morning I joined Karen H's 6AM walk along with Rob K. Karen is such a delight to walk with, she's so observant, knowledgeable, and supportive.

Karen H. Listening for Birdsong

Birders on a Beautiful Morning. That's Sandra W in the foreground checking out a flower

During the first few days of this week I've walked The Path every day and explored Leggs Hill a few times. The big changes are that Cypress Spurge is in full flower in the Forest River and strawberries are now in bloom. I also saw two groundhogs scurrying about. One on a lawn across the Forest River by the Osprey platform and one in Lead Mills. Yesterday I noticed tent caterpillars have emerged.

Strawberry flower and leaves

Cypress Spurge in the Forest River

Tent Caterpillars

posted by Dennis 3:25 AM
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Saturday, May 03, 2003
Flashback: The Path on March 26, 2003
Today is a wonderful warm spring day with temperatures in the high 50s--almost, but not quite--shirt sleeve weather. The Path is dry except the cut-through at Wye Pond where it is still frozen and muddy, not atypical of this time of year. Still not much growth but pond ice is diminishing fast and patches of snow in the woods are few and far between. As I climbed the hill leading out of the Forest River I heard voices and a chain saw in the woods--A joint Conservancy/Eagle Scout project clearing trails and removing invasive plants. As I left the Forest River area I ran into Tory J. and he told me that Woodcocks were mating. They do it at dusk, flying straight up with a whistling sound. I'll start looking. Skunk Cabbage along The Path in Wyman Woods are changing but neither flowers or leaves are yet apparent.
Pussy willows (Salix discolor) are well advanced. I have yet to see a bee or even a mourning cloak butterfly. Expectations build. A few weeks from now my walks will increase in time if not in distance. There will be many things to stop and explore.

posted by Dennis 2:57 AM
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The Path (2003-03-26)
I've walked the loop the past few days and winter is gradually dissolving into the ground and evaporating into the air. All of the snow is gone from along The Path but there are still patches in the woods. The ice is not yet gone from the ponds, but there is enough open water that ducks have returned in some numbers. Ground Ivy is coming to life and raising it's green leaves as are a few other plants. Ben A. has been trimming the trail for the power department as he does every year. In the process he cut done a number of pussy willow trees, making the upper branches accessible for clipping. Still no signs of any wildflowers, but the
skunk cabbage are getting ready to unfurl leaves along The Path in Wyman Woods. I love the skunk cabbage for its unique beauty, unique biology, and it's appearance so early in the spring when other plants remain dormant. It would be more admired by everyone, had it been given a better common name. It starts with a maroon flower structure visible above ground from late fall and through the winter. In many ways this is the first sign of spring and it begins in November along with the flowering of Witch Hazel in the uplands--a real treat for optimists.

Symplocarpus foetidus is the version found in Marblehead, Lysichiton americanum is the version I saw in Alaska, and Lysichiton camschatense is in Eastern Russia.

The Skunk Cabbage

A Skunk Cabbage flower

posted by Dennis 2:50 AM
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The Path
Today is a Sunday (2003-03-24) so I decided to get serious about seeing what life is appearing as the snow melts back and the ground thaws. I did a long looping walk along The Path and up into the woods around Hawthorn Pond and in Wyman Woods. In the past few days The Path has dried out along almost its entire length, a good sign that the frozen ground has thawed enough to allow drainage. Yesterday parts of it looked like sippy holes. By Hawthorn Pond, and in parts of Wyman woods, sheets of ice still covered stretches, but you could walk around them. It's the first time in months that ice wasn't a problem. In the Forest River I turned right instead of left at the point where I usually climb out to the Old Salem Road. The right branch took me to Leggs Hill which I climbed for the first time this year. A new house is going up in the meadow that was so full of wildflowers last year. I wish I'd taken more pictures when I had the chance.

I was specifically looking for hepatica, but open to any change and the signs of renewal are numerous on this second day of spring. The first sign was the tree blossoming with pussy willows by The Path near Hawthorn Pond. I could also see a more dramatic displays of pussy willows off the boardwalk in the wetlands. As I climbed the trail into the woods, it crosses a small wetlands area with stepping stones arranged across it. This is where I always see skunk cabbage opening first because the hillside faces the warm March sun and thaws faster than other places. That had happened this year, and not only was water running but the first skunk cabbage had begun to unfurl their bright green leaves. The only others signs I noticed were the
yellow birch and some unknown shrubs flowering along The Path in Wyman Woods. The open spaces part of the day ended watching three vultures glide and circle off Leggs Hill, riding the thermals. On the walk home along the street I saw a butterfly flitting in the bushes on Rockaway. It looked like a painted lady and definitely wasn't a mourning cloak--usually our first butterfly out in the spring. Perhaps it was released by someone who'd raised it as a project or out of curiosity. Things are happening up the leaf litter, but haven't yet emerged.

Pussywillow in March

posted by Dennis 2:11 AM
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Friday, May 02, 2003
Leggs Hill, Forest River, and Audubon Sanctuary
Today is Friday and I decided to take most of the day off. It's in the 70s and started with hazy sunlight, perfect for photography. Last night Joe M. wrote that a Mute Swan was nesting on Coy Pond. I called Rob K. and we met there to see what we could photograph. We entered by Leggs Hill Road and it's only a hundred yards in. There she sat, big as life on a huge nest built right at the edge of the pond. The mate was out swimming.

The Mute Swan

After photographing the swan, we continued over the crest of Leggs Hill, down to the road, and across into the Forest River. Rob had heard that Ospreys were building a nest on the platform across the river. When we got there, there were four Osprey on the platform but they all took off. A short time later, one flew high overhead carrying a stick. He/she didn't land at the platform but continued on until out of sight over Salem Harbor.

Osprey with stick for nest

The next stop was the Audubon Sanctuary on the Neck. It was full of birders looking for the migrating Warblers.

A Black and White Warbler

Warblers are popular, and it's easy to see why, but I was there for wildflowers and wasn't disappointed. As soon as you walk in, there is a patch of Trout Lilys. Farther in are Wood Anemone and still farther are Sessile-leaved Bellwort. Amazing to have things come alive so suddenly.

Trout Lilys

Wood Anemone

Sessile-leaved Bellwort

posted by Dennis 12:19 PM
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