Earthwise Aware https://www.earthwiseaware.org Nature Conservation as a Way Of Life Sat, 21 Nov 2020 22:02:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.5.3 https://www.earthwiseaware.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/cropped-thumb_Logo-circle_1024-32x32.jpg Earthwise Aware https://www.earthwiseaware.org 32 32 Forest Explorations — November in the Fells https://www.earthwiseaware.org/forest-explorations-november-in-the-fells-2/ https://www.earthwiseaware.org/forest-explorations-november-in-the-fells-2/#respond Sat, 21 Nov 2020 13:13:59 +0000 https://www.earthwiseaware.org/?p=99715

Forest Explorations

November in the Fells

After an unusually dry summer, it was a relief to see a wealth of fungi during this November’s Forest Exploration walk. Last month, conditions were too parched to support much fungi life, but this Saturday we spotted an abundance of them including Amber Jelly fungus, Brown-toothed Crust Fungus, as well as minuscule ones hidden in plain sight on the bark of trees. We also inspected an array of galls and enjoyed yellow American Witch-Hazel flowers, blooming brilliantly even after so many leaves have fallen.

“Seeing the Fells through a naturalistic lens instead of a purely recreational one fundamentally changed my perception of the space. I began to pay attention to places differently, noting not only individual species but also the relationships between these species and their environments and interspecies interactions. Observing and recording these kinds of details over time can show us the effects of climate change on biodiversity and inform how we protect that biodiversity.”

Mina’s interest in natural history took root during a New England field studies course at Lesley. This course involved learning about ecology and plant identification at local parks and urban wilds. One of these sites was the Middlesex Fells...

Once a month, Claire and Kathy lead a biodiversity walk in the Fells. It’s a free form activity of ours which only purpose is to explore what Nature wonders are in season: what is flowering, fruiting, passing by, living here?

We invite our guests to write about the walk. Here are highlights of what Mina and we enjoyed this time!


Looking up

This month’s Forest Exploration kicked off before our group even left the parking lot; as our introductions wrapped up, one attendee, Tinie, pointed out a delicate and intricate nest dangling overhead. This nest was built by a Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula), a migratory bird named for its bright orange and black coloration reminiscent of the coat of arms worn by 17th-century Lord Baltimore.

Baltimore oriole nest © Joe MacIndewar


Vernal Pool Ventures

Once in the woods, we began our walk with a discussion of a natural phenomenon near and dear to my own heart: vernal pools! I’m currently working on my undergraduate capstone at the Fells conducting fieldwork on informal trails (i.e. user-created trails not part of a formal trail system) and vernal pools. The Fells is home to about 130 vernal pools, of which less than half have been certified. Vernal pools provide important habitat for breeding amphibians. Amphibians do not permanently reside in these pools, however, and spend much of their adult life cycle in upland areas. 

Vernal Pool © Mina Burton

When thinking about how we can best protect these important breeding habitats, it is important to consider the surrounding buffer area around a pool. That’s why, in my own capstone, I’m interested to see how the proliferation of informal trails might impact amphibian dispersal. To protect amphibians, be sure to stay on formal trails, and please keep your dogs on leash to prevent them from wandering into these vulnerable ecosystems!


One Man’s Trash…

Another habitat we discussed during our walk is one that many of us can find in our own yards. Fallen trees and branches are usually removed from residential areas but can actually provide beneficial shelter and nutrients to a variety of organisms. Studies conducted in Norway found that as many as 6,000 species live in deadwood –a third of all species found in those forests. Half of the species found were insects (*). In addition to providing shelter for insects and amphibians, fallen branches and trees return captured nutrients and water to the soil.

Amber jelly fungus © Claire O’Neill

On our walk, we clearly noticed this benefit for fungi in particular, as many types of mushrooms and lichen clung to fallen branches from the smallest twig to entire trunks. Above, you can see an Amber Jelly fungus (Exidia recisa) latched onto a fallen branch.

(*) Buzz, Sting, Bite: Why We Need Insects Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson (2019); Simon & Schuster, New York, NY.


A Fresh Start for Fungi

Likely due to the recent warm temperatures and rainfall, we were lucky to spot a slew of different fungi and mushrooms such as the Amber Jelly fungus (above), False Deathcap (Amanita citrina), and tiny 2mm tall mushrooms that we think may be lichen agaric (Lichenomphalia umbellifera) shown below.

The False Deathcap is inedible but not deadly. It does, however, resemble the lethal death cap (Amanita phalloides) © Claire O’Neill

Could they be lichen agaric?  © Claire O’Neill

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

One of our attendees, Tom, showed me a young shelf fungus (below). Could this be a Beefsteak polypore (Fistulina hepatica)? This fungus had found a perfect little niche: an exposed tree root covered in moss jutting out from a rocky crevice. The tree likely began as a seed lodged into a small crevice in the rock which, with the help of pooling water and nutrients from debris or moss, was able to take root. This root then extended down from the crevice into the soil some two feet below. 

Spotted! © Mina Burton


A Whole Lot of Gall

We often see oak apple galls during our Forest Exploration walks, but this time I was excited to find a species of gall I’d never seen before! Like oak apple galls, Pea galls (Acraspis pezomachoides) are also formed by wasps. They feature tiny bumps that lend the galls an almost geometric appearance. The galls tend to fall on the veins of leaves, often down the midrib.

Pea gall © Bill MacIndewar

Zooming in… (note the other smaller galls on the leaf) © Bill MacIndewar


Winter Bloom

Witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is one of the few species that boast three generations (fruit, flower, and bud) at the same time. Vibrant Witch-Hazel blooms are an especially welcome sight in the fall when very few other plants are flowering. The flowers are pollinated during these times of year, but delay fertilization until spring. Flowers are not self-pollinating and instead rely on insects. Interestingly enough, the owlet moths (from the family Noctuidae), that pollinate Witch-Hazel do not rely on the plant for food; rather they are incidental pollinators. The Witch-Hazel needs the moths, but not vice versa. This is an example of a facultative, rather than obligate relationship for the moth.

Flowers and buds © Claire O’Neill

Fruits © Claire O’Neill


Thanks to all who joined us this month! It was wonderful to see some familiar faces and new ones as well. I greatly enjoyed all the conversations and moments of excitement I was able to share with all of you and look forward to seeing what next month will bring! If you’re curious about our other sightings from October, you can check them out here

Winter is quieter in the forest, yet there is a lot to admire. 📅 Join us next month to explore the natural joys to be found in December.

Forest Explorations


Nov, 21st 2020 | by Mina Burton 

Editing & layout by Claire O’Neill. The photos of species in this article are the visual observations that the EwA team recorded when scouting for and during the November Forest Explorations event (© Mina Burton, @ Joe MacIndewar, © Claire O’Neill, © Bill MacIndewar). Click any photo and see the corresponding record in EwA’s iNaturalist Fells project (and its author). Photos are licensed under Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC).

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Fresh Pond Almanac—November at the Meadow https://www.earthwiseaware.org/fresh-pond-almanac-november-at-the-meadow/ https://www.earthwiseaware.org/fresh-pond-almanac-november-at-the-meadow/#respond Sat, 07 Nov 2020 19:55:00 +0000 https://www.earthwiseaware.org/?p=99652

Fresh Pond Almanac

November at the Meadow

November brings heightened seasonal changes to Lusitania Meadow and Fresh Pond. The peak of fall foliage season has passed. Insect activity has slowed dramatically, save for the month’s warmest days. As such, November’s almanac necessitates a bit of a change in form. Throughout the warmer months, we have been detailing one or two plants that flourish at that time, along with their insect associates. Now that most of those insect associates have largely gone dormant, we need a different approach. For the winter months, we will still be pointing out some plants to look out for, but the almanac, on the whole, will have a broader focus, guiding the reader to larger ecological trends that winter brings, as well as avenues for naturalist inquiry that the winter landscape presents. Even among November’s drab, brownish colors, though, there is much to observe and learn from.  The ecosystem is still very much alive, as it is year-round, and the dying back of so much summer vegetation exposes traces of the hidden activity that occurred throughout the year. Every bare tree and browned stem tells a story of the life that fills the meadow.

Observing the changes in nature and the rest of our environment throughout the seasons is one of the most joyful things about living in New England. Whether I’m taking in a buzzing bee metropolis on a patch of goldenrod, breathing steam on a walk around an iced-over pond, or feeling the air come alive on our first warm spring day, I’m always happy when I’m observing nature’s changes like this. These natural rhythms give us a place to find solid ground, whatever we might be going through.

Mike is an editorial collaborator and a co-leader of the EwA internship program. He's also a keen naturalist and communicator. You can enjoy his Weekly Wild Fact on the EwA Youtube channel.

EwA citizen scientists and interns survey the Lusitania meadow 📍 for arthropods every single week during the warm seasons. During the colder months, we explore the general biodiversity of the reservation in more detail. This gives us the opportunity to get to know the meadow and its surroundings intimately. Each week highlights different relationships between the plants and their visitors—fascinating stories unfold. This almanac is a wonderful means to share with our communities what we observe and record at Lusitania over the course of the year.

📅 Once a month, we open EwA documentation sessions to the public. Check us out on Eventbrite and come experience with us the magic of this wonderful meadow—an oasis in the middle of a very busy city.


The resolute approach of winter’s harsh weather is palpable throughout November in Massachusetts. Overnight frosts are almost certain to happen at multiple times throughout the month, representing a stark boundary that few of the Meadow’s herbaceous plants can survive beyond. Just one month removed from the winter solstice, November is one of the darkest months, a fact made more palpable to our ecosystems’ human residents by the end of daylight saving time at the beginning of the month.

By the end of the month, the sun will set before 4:15 PM. Boston sees an average daily high temperature of 10.8ºC (51.5ºF) throughout November, and an average daily low of 3.3ºC (38.0ºF). The average monthly maximum temperature in November is 21.4ºC (70.5ºF), with the average monthly minimum mark at -4.3ºC (24.2ºF). The first snowfall of the year often occurs that month.


Reading the Newly Leafless Canopy

The bare, skeleton-like trees that surround the Meadow starting in November might look sterile or dead to the untrained eye, but they reveal a wealth of information for the curious naturalist. It is the prime season to spot bird and squirrel nests in November, just after the leaves have dropped. The diversity of bird nests is striking, and once you learn to spot squirrel nests you will begin to see them everywhere.

Squirrel nests are also called dreys. They are spherical and usually composed of many twigs woven together, with leaves still attached. The inside of the drey is lined with anything from grasses to mosses, to insulate from the outside. Dreys near Lusitania Meadow might incorporate nearby plant fibers like milkweed floss or cattail fluff. Dreys serve a kind of amorphous role in the life of a squirrel. In the colder months, multiple squirrels might occupy a drey together to keep each other warm, but they are not ideal places to rear a squirrel’s January brood (a tree cavity is strongly favored). When squirrels mate again in June, though, they are more likely to occupy a drey. Adult squirrels don’t build a single drey, typically – they usually have multiple at their disposal.

The world of bird nests (here is the location 📍 of a few nests this month) is incredibly rich and diverse, and we will doubtless dive more deeply into it in the coming months. The vicinity of Lusitania meadow is home to red-winged blackbirds, various sparrows, finches, robins, and more. It’s likely that a keen naturalist could observe nests of many of these birds in the area while the leaves are gone. As a primer on bird nests, I recommend this short article from the great Bernd Heinrich in Northern Woodlands.

🔎 Nature Quest » Identifying Nest Materials

Bird and squirrel nests are fascinating objects to identify in their own right, and it can be even more rewarding to figure out what materials make them up.

Many birds have strong preferences for nesting materials, and learning to spot those materials can be very useful in recognizing a nest. Baltimore orioles, for example, build their nest largely from milkweed fibers. Birds can be quite resourceful with man-made materials as well. Research indicates that certain urban bird populations integrate cigarette butts into their nests in order to deter parasites. What materials can you spot in the bird nests you see?


Learning from the Dry, Brown Ground

The dying back of many of the Meadow’s herbaceous plants grants a clearer view of areas that were previously hidden. It’s now much easier to spot burrows and other signs of animal activity that might have been hidden amongst the goldenrod stalks in previous months.

Mammal scat and cottontail fur (possibly a coyote) [Record]

Large mammals are present at Fresh Pond but are rarely seen during the day. With the ground bare like this, you might more easily spot the scat of a White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) or coyote (Canis latrans) –as in the photo on the right. Scat might give you a little more insight into the habits of smaller animals like Eastern cottontails (Sylvilagus floridanus) as well.

The increased visibility of chipmunk burrows’ entrances coincides with the last flurry of chipmunk activity in the early weeks of the month before the chippies hunker down for the winter. This should make active chipmunk burrows relatively easy to identify with a little patience. While chipmunks sleep for long periods of time in the winter, they wake semi-regularly to snack on their stores of nuts and seeds built up during the fall. As such, they do not strictly hibernate and don’t need to build up the same amount of body fat as true hibernators, such as bears.

A seemingly inactive chipmunk-sized burrow does not necessarily mean a vacant one. A wide array of animals make use of burrows such as these, especially in the winter. Animals like the common garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis)–which also do not truly hibernate–often reuse chipmunk burrows for warmth and shelter throughout the winter. A seemingly vacant chipmunk burrow could also be the home of a dead or dying bumblebee colony, which has sent its crop of new queens out to mate and hibernate. Bumblebee colonies die every year, with the new queens establishing colonies themselves in the following spring and summer.

Chipmunk Quarters: Who would have thought they were so organized! | © Claire O’Neill


Cattails Emerge

In the Meadow, the trees dropping their leaves and the dying back of many herbaceous plants reveals colonies of cattails (Genus Typha) that inhabit the wet depression that runs along the center of the area. Throughout much of the year, cattails can be seen close to the path at a couple of points (notably near one of the pond’s emergency outflows), but only the stark landscape of late fall reveals their full extent. The durable seed spikes of cattails are a distinctive winter feature of many New England wetlands, with the seeds dispersing in the wind throughout the year. 

November’s dead cattail leaves will become nesting material for many wetland birds in the spring, including red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus), mute swans (Cygnus olor), and least bitterns (Ixobrychus exilis). The fluff of cattail spikes is an important insulating bedding material for many wintering animals. 

Cattail stalks and leaves provide building material for muskrat lodges (much smaller than beaver lodges) which are present at Fresh Pond and become more apparent in winter. Cattails also provide crucial forage for muskrats in winter, as muskrats do not hibernate and continue to forage throughout the season. 

Cattail spikes can be rewarding to keep an eye on throughout November and the winter months. Often sausage-like in appearance, spikes become more ragged-looking as they release their seeds. If you notice a ragged-looking spike is not seeming to lose its seeds, though, it might be the home of some caterpillars. These little caterpillars, usually Julia’s dicymolomia moth (Dicymolomia julianalis) or the shy cosmet moth (Limnaecia phragmitella), tie the spikes together with almost imperceptible strands of silk so that they remain on the stalk. The colony of caterpillars inside is kept warm by the fluffy seeds and can feed and remain active throughout the winter. Birds foraging on cattail spikes in the colder months are typically feeding on these caterpillars, not the minuscule seeds.

🌿 Cattail Culture

Cattails are a rich food source for humans as well as the other animals that make up their ecosystems. Year-round, different parts of the cattail can be eaten, including the plant’s rhizome, its young spring shoots, immature flowers, and even the pollen when used as a protein-rich flour. In The Book of Swamp and Bog, John Eastman claims that the food value of cattail has been said to approach that of corn or rice, but of course, cattail has not been domesticated to the same agricultural efficiency as for those plants.

Native Americans used cattail fluff in many of the roles we associate with goose down – stuffing for mattresses, pillows, moccasins, and the like. Crushed cattail rhizomes were used as a poultice. The Chippewa culture used dried mature cattail leaves to make toys for children such as dolls and buoyant ducks.

The Menominee tribe, who lived in what is now Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, tell a story of the great spirit Manabush, who came upon a valley one night while traveling and saw a great dance going on. He danced all night with the strangers, only to wake up the next morning and find he had been dancing with the bobbing heads of the cattails. The cattail is a versatile plant with a rich history, which many whiz by on the freeway without a second consideration or reverent thought.


November’s changes bring with them many new opportunities to learn about the ecosystems at Fresh Pond. You will likely see our usual November avian residents and a few migrants on their way to warmer lands. Among those are our resident Downy woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens), and the migrating White-throated sparrow (Spizella passerina) which can be found in our region year-round although those who breed here often leave in the fall to be replaced by wintering birds that have bred farther north.

The stark winter landscape that’s emerging presents a fascinating new set of phenomena to observe from the small world of insects all the way up to the grandiose scale of trees and beyond. We hope you can check it out!

Enjoy your visit. 📅 Join our monthly Fresh Pond Wildlife Documentation Walk. Share your findings with us (you can comment below)! We will be back next month with a new slice of life in the meadow.


EwA Useful Links

📸 EwA at Fresh Pond biodiversity occurrence observations in November

📖 The Book of Swamp & Bog: Trees, Shrubs, and Wildflowers of Eastern Freshwater Wetlands (1995) by John Eastman  (Author), Amelia Hansen (Illustrator)

📖 Pollinators of Native Plants: Attract, Observe and Identify Pollinators and Beneficial Insects with Native Plants (2014) by Heather N. Holm


November, 7th 2020 | by Mike McGlathery 

Editing & layout by Claire O’Neill. Banner picture © Jennifer Clifford. The sketches in this article are the property of © Claire O’Neill. All the in-text species photos in this article are visual records that the EwA team collects at our various study sites, including at Fresh Pond. Click on any picture and you will land on the record and its owner. Photos are licensed under Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC). See EwA’s biodiversity occurrence records specific to this place in the EwA at Fresh Pond iNaturalist project.

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Forest Explorations — October in the Fells https://www.earthwiseaware.org/forest-explorations-october-in-the-fells-2/ https://www.earthwiseaware.org/forest-explorations-october-in-the-fells-2/#respond Sat, 17 Oct 2020 02:31:56 +0000 https://www.earthwiseaware.org/?p=99585

Forest Explorations

October in the Fells

This October’s Forest Exploration was marked by reminders of the current drought. This summer and fall have been extremely dry; last month our group noted prematurely fallen, unripe acorns, and this month an especially thick layer of moistureless leaf litter crunched underfoot. Fungi were scarce and the mushrooms we did spot were clearly parched. Despite these unusually dry conditions, many forms of nature continue to flourish at the Fells. During this month’s Forest Exploration, our group spotted painted turtles basking in the sun, appreciated the lingering goldenrods, and learned more about red oaks.

“Seeing the Fells through a naturalistic lens instead of a purely recreational one fundamentally changed my perception of the space. I began to pay attention to places differently, noting not only individual species but also the relationships between these species and their environments and interspecies interactions. Observing and recording these kinds of details over time can show us the effects of climate change on biodiversity and inform how we protect that biodiversity.”

Mina’s interest in natural history took root during a New England field studies course at Lesley. This course involved learning about ecology and plant identification at local parks and urban wilds. One of these sites was the Middlesex Fells...

Once a month, Claire and Kathy lead a biodiversity walk in the Fells. It’s a free form activity of ours which only purpose is to explore what Nature wonders are in season: what is flowering, fruiting, passing by, living here?

We invite our guests to write about the walk. Here are highlights of what Mina and we enjoyed this time!


An Exceptionally Dry Season

This past Saturday saw temperatures soaring into the high 70s, but even the warm weather couldn’t conceal the fact that fall is well underway. Aided by the ongoing drought, this past weekend’s heavy winds brought a blanket of golden leaves to the ground. While the sudden leaf fall is a sobering indicator of the season’s harsh, dry conditions, it will actually be helpful come winter.

Northern red oak (Quercus rubra) © Claire O’Neill

↑ Among the many leaves now covering the forest floor are those of oaks. Oak leaves are composed of 60% tannins, making them resistant to decomposition. The leaves remain intact on the ground and provide shelter and warmth throughout the coldest months of the year. This leaf layer is especially important as climate change threatens to decrease the amount of available snowpack, an accumulation of compacted snow that creatures of all sorts rely on to stay insulated during the winter.


Fewer Fungi Finds

Fungi were notably lacking on this walk; even Lophodermium pinastri, a spot-like fungi commonly found on fallen pine needles at the Fells, was completely absent. The lack of fungi in an area where they are usually present is once again likely the result of the recent drought, as many fungi (with the exception of lichens) prefer moist environments.

Toadskin lichen © Mina Burton

Possible crowded parchment © Mina Burton

↑ The toadskin lichen (Lasallia papulosa) (left) and what might be crowded parchment (Stereum complicatum) (right) that we spotted were both shrunken from lack of water.

The beginning of the trail that we explored lies alongside the Quarter Mile Pond. There, we did see a birch polypore (Fomitopsis betulina) that appeared to be in better health, likely because it had been fortunate enough to fix itself to a fallen birch located directly at the bank of the pond.


Soaking Up the Sun

Eastern painted turtle (Chrysemys picta ssp. picta) © Joe MacIndewar

Although the water in the pond we passed was quite low, young painted turtles (Chrysemys picta) seemed to be enjoying soaking up the morning sun. Turtles hatch around this time of year before settling into a period of dormancy beneath the mud.


The Last Blooms of Summer

The ecologically significant goldenrod (Solidago) genus includes around 120 species. During our walk, we noticed several such species in close proximity to one another, nestled beside a patch of baby pines.

Silverrod © Mina Burton

Bluestem goldenrod © Joe MacIndewar

↑ While most goldenrods are yellow (hence the “golden” prefix), silverrod (Solidago bicolor) (left) has whitish-silver flowers. Bluestem goldenrod (Solidago caesia) (right) is a familiar wildflower at the Fells and can be identified by its blue stem and flowers that grow in clusters attached directly to that stem. Goldenrods are known to support approximately 80 types of galls. 

If you’re interested in learning more about these great late-blooming wildflowers, check out our September ecological almanac which focuses on this incredibly varied genus of herbaceous plants, the abundant wildlife it supports, and its associated lore.


Speedy Succession

The baby white pines (Pinus strobus) next to the goldenrods were intriguing in their own respect.

Most of the trees surrounding the patch of pines were much taller, older oaks. Why had all these young pines cropped up in a tree community predominantly composed of oaks?

The culprit became clear when one of our attendees pointed out a fallen tree hidden amongst the saplings. When a tree falls in a forest, it frees up space and light for new plants to grow. White pines are succession plants and germinate faster than many other tree species in the area. This gives them an advantage when it comes to colonizing newly open terrain. The downside of so many pine saplings springing up here is that, due to competition, they won’t survive as long in a group as a solitary pine would.


Galls & Their Many Makers

On previous nature walks, we had mentioned three types of galls; those created by insects, bacteria, and fungi. There are actually two more types: both nematodes and plants are also capable of creating galls. 

Banded bullet gall wasp (Dryocosmus imbricariae) © Claire O’Neill

Insects and mites are the most common architects of galls, with a majority being created by wasps. The wasps that create galls are generally not the classic black-and-yellow wasps many of us are familiar with. On oaks, for instance, many are the doing of wasps of the family Cynipidae. These wasps are usually much smaller and often fully black.


A Closer Look at Red Oaks

The focus of the final portion of our walk was northern red oaks. Northern red oaks (Quercus rubra) are the fastest-growing of all oaks and can live up to 300 years. The appearance of red oaks can vary greatly between one tree to another. That is because the development of red oaks reflects the conditions it grew up in; red oaks in forests are usually taller and more slender to access light, whereas those in cities tend to be shorter and wider.

Young red oak © Mina Burton

Mature red oak © Mina Burton

↑ In addition to differences between red oaks growing up in different conditions, there are also differences in the appearance of red oaks of different ages, even if they are growing in the exact same condition. The bark of red oaks varies greatly from youth to adulthood. Young red oaks (left) have much smoother bark featuring lenticels (small pores for gas exchange) much like those found on a young birch. As the tree matures, its bark becomes increasingly furrowed (right). 

When inspecting the bark of red oaks, our group also discussed the trees’ acorns. Red oak acorns have harder shells than those of the white oak and germinate slower as well. Animals such as squirrels that feed on acorns are clever enough to realize that it is to their advantage to store red oak acorns, as they will remain intact longer. White oak acorns, on the other hand, germinate quickly and should therefore be eaten in a more timely manner. Another detail about red oak acorns is that, unlike white oak acorns, they are not produced annually. Red oaks are sporadic producers and usually put forth acorns once every two years.


Double-crested Cormorant © Claire O’Neill

As we headed back we also got a chance to admire a double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus), a vulnerable seabird species here in Massachusetts. It had appeared on a rock that was bare when we passed it at the beginning of our exploration. There’s so much to see and enjoy at the Fells throughout the seasons!

Thanks to all who joined us this month! I am consistently so amazed by the knowledge and enthusiasm of all of our attendees and greatly enjoy learning with and from them every month. If you’re curious about our other sightings from October, you can check them out here

📅 Join us next month to explore the natural joys to be found in November. We will be on the lookout for the activity of insects taking advantage of the last warm days of the year and signs of winter preparation.

Forest Explorations


October, 18th 2020 | by Mina Burton 

Editing & layout by Claire O’Neill. The photos of species in this article are the visual observations that the EwA team recorded when scouting for and during the October Forest Explorations event (© Mina Burton, © Joe MacInderwar, © Claire O’Neill). Click any photo and see the corresponding record in EwA’s iNaturalist Fells project (and its author). Photos are licensed under Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC).

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Fresh Pond Almanac—October at the Meadow https://www.earthwiseaware.org/fresh-pond-almanac-october-at-the-meadow/ https://www.earthwiseaware.org/fresh-pond-almanac-october-at-the-meadow/#respond Sun, 04 Oct 2020 08:00:00 +0000 https://www.earthwiseaware.org/?p=99518

Fresh Pond Almanac

October at the Meadow

The stunning wave of color that washes through the deciduous trees of New England every fall will arrive and peak in Lusitania Meadow in October. At the Meadow, most of the trees around the clearing will participate in this yearly event, with the exception of the pines on the south side close to the reservoir, which will remain green throughout these months, and throughout the winter. The transition in season also brings a transition for us at EwA every year, as the high field season starts to end and paperwork season begins. We’ll start work on our annual conservation report in October, a project that culminates in the report’s release to the public in January.

Observing the changes in nature and the rest of our environment throughout the seasons is one of the most joyful things about living in New England. Whether I’m taking in a buzzing bee metropolis on a patch of goldenrod, breathing steam on a walk around an iced-over pond, or feeling the air come alive on our first warm spring day, I’m always happy when I’m observing nature’s changes like this. These natural rhythms give us a place to find solid ground, whatever we might be going through.

Mike is an editorial collaborator and a co-leader of the EwA internship program. He's also a keen naturalist and communicator. You can enjoy his Weekly Wild Fact on the EwA Youtube channel.

EwA citizen scientists and interns survey the Lusitania meadow 📍 for arthropods every single week during the warm seasons. This gives us the opportunity to get to know the meadow intimately. Each week highlights different relationships between the plants and their visitors—fascinating stories unfold. This almanac is a wonderful means to share with our communities what we observe and record at Lusitania over the course of the year.

📅 Once a month, we open EwA documentation sessions to the public. Check us out on Eventbrite and come experience with us the magic of this wonderful meadow—an oasis in the middle of a very busy city.


Some ecological activities are starting to wind down as the leaves fall in October, and others are ramping up. Animals that hibernate are eating everything they can to put on winter weight; insects are racing to lay eggs, pupate, or prepare to overwinter; and many plants are going to seed. This is the time of year we are losing minutes of sun fastest—between September 1st and October 31st, Boston’s days lose over two and a half hours of daylight. The average daily high temperature in Boston in October is 16.3ºC (61.4ºF), with an average daily low of 8.1ºC (46.5ºF). The mean monthly maximum temperature is 26.2ºC (79.1ºF), and the mean monthly minimum is 1.6ºC (34.9ºF). In 2019, Boston saw a monthly maximum of 26.7ºC (80.0ºF) and a minimum of 6.1ºC (43.0ºF). Although not a regular occurrence, parts of the Boston area sometimes see their first overnight frost in October. While days below about 13ºC (55ºF) will slow most insect activity to a crawl, there is still plenty to see on October’s warmer days.


New England Aster

New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) is an important late-blooming member of the Lusitania Meadow flora. New England aster belongs to the genus symphyotrichum, having been reclassified out of its former genus Aster.

New England aster prefers open, moist habitats like our meadow. You can find lots of New England aster, and asters of other varieties, along the meadow margin on either side of the loop📍.

New England asters can be distinguished from other asters by their hairy leaves, their plentiful, long, thin ray florets, and beautiful purple color. Their flowers close at night and in bad weather. New England asters are also more resistant to mildew than other species.

Together with late goldenrods (the focus of our September almanac), asters are some of the most ecologically significant fall flowers of the Meadow’s ecosystem. The two plants often grow together, and purple asters next to yellow goldenrods make for a striking display of complementary colors. It is said that this cohabitation helps both plants to attract more pollinator visitors. This cohabitation has been known for a long while by the traditional cultures of America. A Cherokee myth ends with two sisters being turned into flowers to avoid being hunted down by a warring tribe, with one sister becoming an aster and one becoming goldenrod.

🌿 Traditional Uses

Native American cultures have a long tradition of usage of the New England aster for religious, medicinal, and other purposes and it is a highly valued plant for that reason. Many Native American tribes burned the flowers and leaves of asters for multiple purposes, ranging from being included in Inipi Ceremonies (a sacred purification rite), to use in treating mental illness, headaches, nosebleeds, and congestion. Aster was also used for smudging and added to some traditional smoking mixtures. Dried or steamed aster blossoms were used for similar purposes as well. Aster tea was used as a treatment for things like earache, gas pains, stomach aches, and fevers. Aster roots were used regularly as well – the entire plant has a privileged place in the culture of many tribes. (Source)


New England Aster Visitors

While individual aster florets do not produce a particularly large volume of nectar, the sheer density of flowers in an aster patch attracts many pollinators. Here, insects can find plenty of pollen and nectar to forage from numerous flower heads without having to devote extra energy to finding a new flower or flower patch. The large size of New England Aster flower heads relative to other asters makes this a favored plant for some larger pollinators, who have an easier time negotiating the terrain.

Numerous bees visit New England aster, including leafcutter bees (genus Megachile), bumblebees (genus Bombus), small carpenter bees (genus Ceratina), and sweat bees (genus Agapostemon). The larger bees, such as bumblebees, tend to feed while perched instead of on the wing, and the large flowers of this aster offer an efficient food source for this technique. Small ichneumonids (a parasitoid wasp), bee flies (genus Bombylius), and hoverflies (genus Syrphus) also feed on aster nectar, with hoverflies feeding regularly on the pollen as well. Bee flies are parasitoids of bee larvae and follow bees back to their nests to lay their eggs. 

Moth and butterfly visitors to the flowers of the many species of American aster (genus Symphyotrichum) present at Lusitania include painted ladies (Vanessa cardui), monarchs (Danaus plexippus) migrating southward, pearl crescents (Phyciodes tharos), sulphurs (genus Colias), and many skippers (family Hesperiidae). Arcigera flower moth (Schinia arcigera) caterpillars feed on the flowers and seeds of plants like asters, pupating in late fall, and emerging in late summer of the following year to mate.

All the pollinator activity of New England Aster flowers tends to attract ambush predators of those pollinators. This group of flower prowlers is very similar to the set of predators we saw preying on Goldenrod pollinators in EwA September’s almanac of the meadow. Ambush bugs (genus Phymatinae) paralyze and digest their prey using secretions from their piercing mouthpart called a rostrum. Crab spiders (genus Thomisidae) lie in wait in the nooks and crannies of flowers, often preying on pollinators a few times their size.

🔎 Nature Activity » Finding Flying Milkweed Seeds

Fall is a great time of year to see the dehiscence, or splitting open, of dried-out seed pods. One of our most visible and remarkable such seed pods around here is that of the milkweed (Asclepias spp.).

The seeds in a milkweed seed pod each bear a fluffy, silky bunch of hair (or “floss”). In the height of summer, a typical milkweed plant has many flowers, but only 2% of flowers will turn into a seed pod. When the pod dehisces, exposing the dried-out seeds within, the seeds are free to be borne away on the wind using those light tufts of floss.

Some late-nesting birds use milkweed floss as nesting material. Goldfinches typically nest in late summer or even early fall and are known to frequently raid milkweed seed pods for floss. Chickadees and titmice are also known to forage milkweed floss, using leftover floss for nesting material in the spring. Keep an eye out this fall and see if you can spot some milkweed floss still in the pod, flying in the wind, or in the beak of a bird!


The Leaf Litter Layer

Turning away from the meadow towards the edge of the clearing, we can see many leaves falling to the forest floor in October. When our deciduous trees drop their leaves onto lawns, roads, sidewalks, those leaves are often treated as waste and quickly moved or disposed of. But the accumulation of dead leaf biomass on forest floors every year is an important part of maintaining a very ecologically important habitat: the detritus layer, made up largely of leaf litter. Not only does leaf litter provide habitat for a unique set of organisms, it is a crucial site of nutrient and energy exchange for forest ecosystems.

The most obvious residents of leaf litter are the organisms that feed on the litter itself: detritivores. The set of organisms that consume leaf litter is extremely broad, including fungi, nematodes, bacteria, rotifers, springtails, and tardigrades. More familiar detritivores include earthworms, woodlice, millipedes, snails, and insect larvae like cicada nymphs. These detritivores are important in cycling energy and nutrients from this dead plant matter back into the ecosystem. Their consumption of detritus returns important nutrients like fixed nitrogen to the soil. If this leaf litter layer is removed, those nutrients are removed from the ecosystem with it.

While we haven’t recorded the presence of any salamanders at Fresh Pond yet, the leaf litter layer does provide important habitat for animals like salamanders (Urodela). While not detritivores themselves, salamanders are specially adapted to the moist layer between leaves and soil, where they live for most of the year. Eastern Red-Backed Salamanders (Plethodon cinereus), which are present in the area, consume a diet that consists largely of detritivores like earthworms, slugs, and insects. Leaf litter can be crucial forage for overwintering birds in between periods of snow cover and provides forage for birds like robins, turkeys, and many others year-round.

The spectacle of autumn leaves is at its most brilliant when the leaves are still in the tree, but those leaves will leave a legacy in their ecosystem that far outlasts those reds and oranges. The leaf litter becomes so ubiquitous during this time of year that it almost becomes hard to notice, but the activity humming beneath our feet is ever-present.


Of course, there is plenty more to see at Fresh Pond at this time of the year. Check the trees and up in the sky. You will likely see our usual October avian residents and a few migrants on their way to auspicious winter lands. Among those are our resident Brown creeper (Certhia americana), and the migrating Chipping sparrows (Spizella passerina) and Red-eyed vireos (Vireo olivaceus) on their way to the South.

Enjoy your visit. 📅 Join our monthly Fresh Pond Wildlife Documentation Walk. Share your findings with us (you can comment below)! We will be back next month with a new slice of life in the meadow.


EwA Useful Links

🌱 EwA at Fresh Pond plant observations in October

📸 EwA at Fresh Pond insect occurrence observations in October

📊 EwA at Fresh Pond arthropod counts visualization (to date)

📖 Pollinators of Native Plants: Attract, Observe and Identify Pollinators and Beneficial Insects with Native Plants (2014) by Heather N. Holm

📖 The Book of Swamp & Bog: Trees, Shrubs, and Wildflowers of Eastern Freshwater Wetlands (1995) by John Eastman  (Author), Amelia Hansen (Illustrator)


October, 6th 2020 | by Mike McGlathery 

Editing & layout by Claire O’Neill. To the exception of the milkweed seed (source Pixabay), all the photos in this article are visual records that the EwA team collects at our various study sites, including at Fresh Pond. Click on any picture and you will land on the record and its owner (records shown in this article are from Claire O’Neill). Photos are licensed under Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC). See EwA’s biodiversity occurrence records specific to this place in the EwA at Fresh Pond iNaturalist project.

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Forest Explorations — September in the Fells https://www.earthwiseaware.org/forest-explorations-september-in-the-fells/ https://www.earthwiseaware.org/forest-explorations-september-in-the-fells/#comments Fri, 18 Sep 2020 19:40:10 +0000 https://www.earthwiseaware.org/?p=99467

Forest Explorations

September in the Fells

Early fall at the Fells bears signs of the changes to come. Leaves are beginning to take on warmer hues and the summer’s fruits are largely finished. While some of nature’s activities are winding down, others, such as bird migration, pick up during this time of year. During our walk, we enjoy heightened bird activity from year-round Wood pewees (Contopus virens) and White-breasted nuthatches (Sitta carolinensis) to Black-throated blue warblers (Setophaga caerulescens) passing through on their migratory path. Much of the Fell’s flora has passed its summer prime but evergreen wintergreens still adorn the forest floor.

“Seeing the Fells through a naturalistic lens instead of a purely recreational one fundamentally changed my perception of the space. I began to pay attention to places differently, noting not only individual species but also the relationships between these species and their environments and interspecies interactions. Observing and recording these kinds of details over time can show us the effects of climate change on biodiversity and inform how we protect that biodiversity.”

Mina’s interest in natural history took root during a New England field studies course at Lesley. This course involved learning about ecology and plant identification at local parks and urban wilds. One of these sites was the Middlesex Fells...

Once a month, Claire and Kathy lead a biodiversity walk in the Fells. It’s a free form activity of ours which the only purpose is to explore what Nature wonders are in season: what is flowering, fruiting, passing by, living here?

We invite our guests to write about the walk. Here are highlights of what Mina and we enjoyed this time!


This month, we began our Forest Exploration with a brief discussion of the various habitats of the Fells. The Fells supports at least 33 habitats spanning from oak-hickory and aspen-birch forests to emergent freshwater marshes and vernal pools. Much of the Fells was once divided up into pastures, farms, and forests used for timber. You can still see remnants of past pastures indicated by the occasional stone wall scattered throughout the reservation.


The Challenge of Identifying Oaks

Much of the forest canopy at the Fells is composed of oak trees. These ecologically significant trees support more than 500 species of moths and butterflies, provide shelter and food for squirrels and birds, and host a wide variety of galls.

Even as I become more familiar with the Fells and its flora, I still struggle to differentiate between oak species. During our Forest Exploration, I learned that this is in part because oaks often hybridize, making it hard to pin them down to the species level. Furthermore, the bark of trees evolves over their lifespans; what may begin as a relatively smooth bark may grow increasingly furrowed over time. Despite these complicating factors, Claire and several of our attendees offered some practical tips for identifying oaks.

↑ White oak (Quercus alba) leaves are round-lobed, compared to the more jagged margins of red and black oak trees. Their bark appears as long ridges with intersections, which one attendee, Tinie, helpfully described as “longitudinal islands.”

↑ Red oaks sport leaves with sharper margins than those on white oaks. The bark of red oaks displays long vertical lines, similar in appearance to ski slopes.

↑ We observed the bark of this black oak as having smaller “islands” than that of the white oak. However, as stated earlier, there exists variation and hybridization even between oaks in the same family.


The Three Wintergreens

↑ Spotted wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) (left) is a common resident at high elevations in the Fells and is an indicator of a healthy ecosystem. During our July Forest Exploration, this evergreen plant bore beautiful flowers featuring five white petals clustered around a jewel-like green pistil. Now only the dark, waxy leaves remain.

During our walk, we were fortunate to spot two other species of wintergreens that are less common at the Fells; Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata) (center) and American wintergreen–also known as–Round-leaved Pyrola (Pyrola rotundifolia) (right). Unlike Spotted wintergreen and Pipsissewa, the American wintergreen is not an evergreen.


An Accidental Detour

Rogue trails, or non-official trails created by foot or bike traffic, pose a huge problem at the Fells. These compacted trails are obstacles to the movement of certain species, such as salamanders, and offer new corridors for predation and invasives. The tricky thing about rogue trails is that they aren’t always easy to distinguish from official trails, even for those familiar with them. At one point, our group turned off onto a path that devolved into a narrow, uneven descent. Though we soon realized we had mistakenly taken a rogue trail and backtracked, our misstep goes to show just how difficult it can be to avoid rogue trails. EwA has upcoming plans to partake in a mapping project intended to distinguish between official and non-official trails.


A Closer Look at Pines

In addition to oaks, white pines are another fairly common tree species at the Fells. Baby pine tree branches offer a surprising amount of information about trees and the conditions they grow in. The trunk space between every branch indicates one year – shorter gaps between branches likely indicate that the growing conditions that year were unfavorable. 

While insect activity on pines can prove more elusive to the human eye than on oaks, for instance, Kathy pointed out an indicator of moth activity on several of the pines we passed. The photo on the right shows a clump of pine needles created by a Pine tube moth (Argyrotaenia pinatubana). These species of moths spin silk to tie together between five and twenty pine needles, creating a tube in which larvae can live and feed. In their pupal stage, the moths can also overwinter in these tubes. 

In addition to providing shelter while attached to trees, pine needles also offer refuge once they fall to the forest floor by providing a soft carpet. This layer is especially useful in the winter, as it provides an additional layer of insulation alongside accumulated snow. Pine needles are tannic and therefore create an acidic soil environment once they fall. While acidic soil isn’t opportune for many species, it does create a unique habitat that is especially conducive to the growth of plants in the heath family such as blueberries, huckleberries, wintergreens, mountain laurels, and ghost pipes.


An Upside-Down Approach

One of my personal favorite birds at the Fells are White-breasted nuthatches, in part because they are one of the few birds I can regularly identify. I spent a portion of my internship fieldwork this past summer learning to recognize birds by their calls. This task was challenging and I am still far from mastering it. I appreciate that I can recognize White-breasted nuthatches not by their calls or even appearance, but by their distinctive movements. 

White-breasted nuthatches feed head down, making them quite fun to watch. Like woodpeckers, they feed by maneuvering along the trunks and branches of trees. Woodpeckers, however, have a different claw structure with two front and two back claws. White-breasted nuthatches instead have three front and one back claw similar to those of a regular perching bird. The ability to move upside down is also unique to the White-breasted nuthatch. It is speculated that this different vantage point may give the nuthatch an advantage over the woodpecker in that it is able to clearly examine a tree’s trunk from above and below, perhaps allowing it to spot insects a woodpecker might miss.


Galls: Full Room and Board

Galls often garner significant attention during our walks. These growths are common throughout the Fells and come in a surprisingly broad array of shapes, colors, and textures.   

Wool Sower Gall Wasp (Callirhytis seminator)

Galls are growths of plant matter that result from a chemical interaction between a tree and a fungus, insect, or bacterium. In the case of insects, the gall serves as both a home and food source for the larvae until the insect is developed enough to exit the gall. All three of the following galls are created by wasps, yet are radically different in their morphologies.

Round Bullet Gall Wasp (Disholcaspis quercusglobulus)


I greatly look forward to continuing to attend and write about EwA’s Forest Explorations throughout the year. While spring and summer may appear to be more lively in terms of natural phenomena, the Fells offers exciting activity throughout the cooler months as well. As always, thank you to everyone who attended this month’s walk! You can explore other findings from September’s Forest Exploration here.

📅 Join us next month to explore the natural joys to be found in October. We will be on the lookout for the activity of insects taking advantage of the last warm days of the year and signs of winter preparation.

Forest Explorations


September, 18th 2020 | by Mina Burton 

The photos of species in this article are the visual observations that the EwA team recorded during the September Forest Explorations event (@ Mina Burton, © Bill MacIndewar, @ Joe MacInderwar, @ Claire O’Neill). Click any photo and see the corresponding record in EwA’s iNaturalist Fells project (and its author). Photos are licensed under Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC).

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Fresh Pond Almanac—September at the Meadow https://www.earthwiseaware.org/fresh-pond-almanac-september-at-the-meadow/ https://www.earthwiseaware.org/fresh-pond-almanac-september-at-the-meadow/#respond Thu, 03 Sep 2020 16:00:00 +0000 https://www.earthwiseaware.org/?p=99300

Fresh Pond Almanac

September at the Meadow

September marks the end of the summer in New England, and at EwA, the beginning of that month also brings a little bit of sadness. Fieldwork in the Lusitania meadow feels different after our interns left us at the end of August to return to their busy university life. But we are happy for what we have accomplished together the past 3 months, with the promise to keep them informed of the life stories of the many critters that reside at Fresh Pond. And as ‘September at Lusitania’ is concerned, we said that we would uncover the stories of goldenrods and of their visitors. Here are a few of those stories.

Claire is the founder of Earthwise Aware, which focuses on bringing biodiversity knowledge, ecological ethics, and environmental leadership to the heart of communities, and in the daily life of people. She strongly believes that individually and altogether we can be ethically & ecologically engaged–whoever we are, whatever we do, and wherever we are.

Ethical Nature conservation is not circumstantial, it is a mindset that you acquire which then turns into a way of life. Once on that path, a great many rewards for us becomes obvious. And the satisfaction out of practicing good ethics is almost addictive. There is no looking back...

Her favorite words: “Earthwise Aware — Because I Care!”

EwA citizen scientists and interns survey the Lusitania meadow 📍 for arthropods every single week during the warm seasons. This gives us the opportunity to get to know the meadow intimately. Each week highlights different relationships between the plants and their visitors—fascinating stories unfold. This almanac is a wonderful means to share with our communities what we observe and record at Lusitania over the course of the year.

📅 Once a month, we open EwA documentation sessions to the public. Check Eventbrite and come experience with us the magic of this wonderful meadow—an oasis in the middle of a very busy city.


At this time of the year, the weather transitions from hot and sticky to cool and refreshing. The back and forth between those two ‘states’ is often sudden during the month. One day, you feel as if living under the tropics, the day after you grab a light sweater before heading to the field. At Lusitania, the leaves of a few birches and a couple of tupelos are starting to ‘turn’ yellow. The meadow is changing too. The many herbaceous plants that flowered in the summer are now wilted or dried. Plant other than those we got familiar with the past few weeks are about to take over. Days and nights are reaching equal length. The average temperature rests around 18°C (or 64°F), that is 10 degrees (°C) cooler than in August. Humidity is moderate-to-high and usually remains around 78%. It rains less than in August, although this year was unusually dry. That drought stressed the meadow. The visual signs are the large dry patches on the edge. Out of reach of the public, the inside of the meadow tells the same story: there’s no water, not even in the tiny wetland📍 on its western side.


Goldenrods

The insect life at the end of August is busy but a little less than a few weeks ago. Then in September, it bursts again as the various species of Goldenrod, Joe-Pye weed, and American asters are flowering, giving another energy boost to all living there.

Focusing on the goldenrods (Solidago), these are the yellow plumelike flowers that stand tall over the meadow and that you can see when getting to the meadow from the entrance across Wheeler street📍

Goldenrod is a genus comprised of about 100 to 120 species of flowering plants in the Aster family, Asteraceae. They are mostly native to North America, including Mexico. It can very hard to distinguish among some of its species. At the meadow, it is likely that we have patches of Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis), Bluestem goldenrod (Solidago caesia), and even Tall goldenrod (Solidago gigantea).

🌿 Goldenrod—Myths and Medicinal Usage

Goldenrod genus denomination Solidago comes from Latin and means to make ‘whole’ or ‘healthy’.

Goldenrod was once used in medicine. Yet, it now has an ill-founded reputation. Contrary to what is said, goldenrod does not cause hay fever in humans. This allergic reaction to pollen is the doing of ragweed (Ambrosia sp.), another herbaceous plant that can often be found growing in the same area as goldenrod. Ragweed blooms at about the same time as goldenrod and is pollinated by wind. Its pollen air-floats and sticks to the other plants around, goldenrod included. Actually, the pollen of goldenrod is too heavy to fall far from the plant itself, and the plant is pollinated by insects (not by wind).

What is the goldenrod good for? It is said that Goldenrod can be used to reduce pain and swelling (inflammation), and as a diuretic to increase urine flow and to stop muscle spasms.

Goldenrods bloom late summer and fall. They have bright sweet-smelling composite yellow flowers. The flowers provide nectar to many insects, nectar that gets transformed by bees into a strong tasting dark amber honey. The goldenrod flowers produce relatively little nectar compared to many other flowers. But what they lack in nectar abundance they make up for with pollen. The abundant pollen that they produce enables late broods for bees.


Goldenrod Visitors

It has been said that no other flower can attract as many insects as a goldenrod. And indeed, if you step at Lusitania in September, the goldenrod is true to its legend! Come closer and you will notice that something is happening in all portions of the plant.

Honeybees, Bumblebees as well as long-horned beetles and soldier beetles, such as the Locust longhorn borer beetle (Megacyllene robiniae) below, collect the nectar and pollen of the flower. These beetles are easily recognizable by their long flattened oval bodies and long thick antennas that often measure at least one half the length of the beetle’s bodies.

Other frequent visitors are butterflies, wasps, and smaller insects such as syrphid flies. Syrphid flies–also called flower flies (as the one pictured above)– sometimes resemble bees with yellow and black striped bodies, but their single pair of wings, their forward fronted eyes, and the way they fly and hover give them away. Their mimicry of wasps and bees helps them ward off predators. Those flies may be the most important pollinators of goldenrod.

Look at the banner of this almanac. The wasp that you see is a yellowjacket. When I spotted it, it was resting immobile, maybe even dead. Even when I grabbed the flower to get a closer look, it did not move a bit. It is only when I processed the photo later that day that I realized that there was something else going on there. Look in the background on the left of the wasp. Within the golden tufts of the plant, an insect is perfectly camouflaged in yellow, pale green, and brown markings. It waited there for an unsuspecting victim – often a bee or a butterfly. This time it was this handsome medium-sized yellowjacket. At this very moment, the bug is injecting an enzyme into the body of the wasp to liquefies the internal organs of its prey so that it can feed on it by sucking it dry. Life on goldenrod can be tough! The predator is a Jagged ambush bug (Genus Phymata), a member of the family of Assassin bugs. Here is another shot at one below (left). Odd-looking and fascinating, right?

Another ambush predator is the Goldenrod crab spider (Misumena vatia), which moves sideways in a crab-like fashion among the flowers of the goldenrod, its 2 claws spread out in front ready to strike. It is a fascinating spider that can adjust its color to better match the color of the flower it hides in. Like the Ambush bug, it stays camouflaged and catches by surprise the visitors of the wildflower. In the photo on the right above, can you spot the spider? Actually, is that all there is? Or, is there another now-familiar face hiding within that goldenrod too?

🖍 Nature Activity » Bug Stalking

Next time that you visit a meadow, bring a camping stool, a notebook or sketchpad, and your favorite pencil(s). Single out a plant (a goldenrod for instance!). Sit in front of it and observe the life on and around it for 10 minutes or so. Count and describe all the insects and spiders that land on, feed, and hide in that plant (under a leaf, among the flowers of an inflorescence).

With an estimated 91,000 described species of insects in the U.S., it is likely that you won’t know the species’ name. It is not important really. Is that a bee, a wasp, a hopper of a sort? Is it a spider? Then, does it spin a web or rather sits and wait for preys to pass by? Just describe what you see with your own words, that is all that matters.

Try to sketch a few of them. Diagramming is also an excellent way to record information. Add numbers to your sketch: count of individuals, estimates of length and width. Find similarities and differences between 2 look-alike insects that are exploring that plant. Give it a try!

There are so many other stories to share about the many inhabitants and visitors of this insect-heaven wildflower, but I’ll leave that for another month…


Storing for Winter

Alongside the insects and spiders of the meadow, birds and mammals are preparing for the winter as well. We often overlook squirrels, but it is fascinating to get to know their nut collecting and caching habits. They are really facetious clever guys! Among them all, the biggest species in our area is the Eastern grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis).

In September, they collect and cache nuts that they defend aggressively against invaders. Up to 25% of their nuts get stolen by other squirrels. It is a tough competition out there, and the ones who can amass enough nuts for enduring the long New England winter will increase their chance to make it through. So, they evolved to engage in deceiving caching. Pause for a moment and observe them around the meadow, look down on the path and on the woodland floor. You will soon see that those endearing rodents dig holes that they fill and then cover with leaves. Then they move to another location and dig again but without placing any nut in any of those caches until one hole becomes the chosen cache. In areas of high squirrel population density, our friends move their cache about every 3 days.

This year will be extra hard for our friends. Last year’s oak mega mast–a season of unusual high production of fruits that happen pseudo-cyclicly–led to a boom of baby squirrels. This year, the oaks have not been that bountiful, and with a harsh drought stressing them further, oaks have decided to abort their acorn production (notice the many unripe acorns that dropped this summer). This means that the squirrels that made it that far into the season are going to have a very hard time surviving the winter. I am not into interfering with nature, but with a drought that is essentially the result of our human activity, I feel that maybe this winter I should help a little and replenish more frequently those bird feeders that they raid so eagerly…


Of course, there is plenty more to see at Fresh Pond at this time of the year. Check the trees and up in the sky. You will likely see our usual September avian residents and a few migrants on their way to auspicious winter lands. Among those are the American goldfinch (Spinus tristis), Common yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas), Prairie Warbler (Setophaga discolor)–all preparing for rougher times.

Enjoy your visit. 📅 Join our monthly Fresh Pond Wildlife Documentation Walk. Share your findings with us (you can comment below)! We will be back next month with a new slice of life in the meadow.


EwA Useful Links

📸 EwA at Fresh Pond insect occurrence observations in September

📊 EwA at Fresh Pond arthropod counts visualization (to date)

🌱 EwA at Fresh Pond plant observations in September

📖 Pollinators of Native Plants: Attract, Observe and Identify Pollinators and Beneficial Insects with Native Plants (2014) by Heather N. Holm

📖 The Book of Swamp & Bog: Trees, Shrubs, and Wildflowers of Eastern Freshwater Wetlands (1995) by John Eastman  (Author), Amelia Hansen (Illustrator)


September, 4th 2020 | by Claire O’Neill 

The photos in this article are visual records that the EwA team collects at our various study sites, including at Fresh Pond. Click on any picture, and you will land on the record and its owner (records shown in this article are from Claire O’Neill and Laura Costello. Photos are licensed under Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC). See EwA’s biodiversity occurrence records specific to this place in the EwA at Fresh Pond iNaturalist project.

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EwA Internship » Biodiversity Citizen Science https://www.earthwiseaware.org/ewa-internship-citizen-science-assistant/ Tue, 01 Sep 2020 23:02:00 +0000 https://www.earthwiseaware.org/?p=12980

EwA Internship » Biodiversity Citizen Science

EwA is looking for community-minded and eco-driven interns to help our organization advance climate & wildlife conservation citizen sciences in our communities.

EwA’s mission is to empower individuals, communities and organizations to interact responsibly and ethically with the natural world. Whether as an enthusiast, tourist, or scientific inquirer, EwA helps to prepare each of us to adopt responsible nature ethics and to minimize ecological disruptions to the habitats surrounding and sustaining us. We engage communities through citizen science and teach an approach that involves each individual in concrete conservation efforts taking place around the world. We strive to build a network of environmental leaders who will be prepared to take impactful strategies and skills into their industries.

Join a great organization & a caring community. Apply today!

The internship is ideal for emerging conservation leaders, graduate students, and A+ undergraduate seniors preferably studying ecology, and/or conservation biology.

It’s a great opportunity to contribute to developing and implementing citizen science programs and assist us in our citizen science events. Our goal is to have the candidate become an accomplished citizen scientist who is also comfortable in leading events, speaking in public seminars with us. Our interns gain deep ecology science knowledge, and invaluable leadership and communication skills. They experience all levels of nonprofit management and gain exposure to local and international organizations and experts in our domain of expertise.

Our EwA internships are very special. They are mentorships. We train our interns to work and live with real-world problems. That is, we train explicitly for leadership skills, open science methodology, critical thinking, and systems thinking. We dedicate invaluable time and resources to those internships. Motivation, commitment, and accountability in an intern are what we screen for.


Role Description & Requirements (*)

  1. Must be a grad student
  2. Must receive academic credit. This internship is unpaid.
  3. Receive liability insurance through your school. No individual plans will be accepted.
  4. Qualified candidates need to have an interest in biodiversity study, conservation biology, forest and wetland ecology, and have earned credit in one of those disciplines (or closely related).
  5. Candidates need to be willing to do fieldwork in any weather condition and hike through dense brush, mud, and water.

To apply, submit the following:

  1. Resume
  2. Cover letter
  3. Academic advisor contact info

2020 Fall internship: CLOSED | 2021 Summer internship candidacy: Ongoing

Please contact: Claire O’Neill

Email: claire.oneill@earthwiseaware.org


Interning with Claire at EwA has been a transformative experience for me. Prior to my internship, I considered myself someone who appreciated nature but I had not spent an extended period of time building an ecological understanding of the places near to me. Through regular fieldwork and community events at the Middlesex Fells Reservation, Claire encouraged me to connect with place in a way I had never done before. Her enthusiasm and unwavering curiosity about the natural world is infectious and her depth of knowledge of local ecology is truly inspiring. As a result of my internship with EwA, my sense of duty to pursue a career around environmental issues no longer just exists in a rational, moral space - it has taken on an emotional quality as well.

One of the qualities I most appreciate about Claire is her dedication to improvement. Whether it be finding ways to strengthen EwA’s data collection protocols, asking for feedback on her own work, or providing constructive feedback to others, Claire always sees room to grow and improve. Claire approaches feedback in a highly refreshing manner; she is adamant that everyone – including herself – can improve. During my performance appraisals, Claire pointed out both my strongest attributes and areas for improvement using specific examples. Claire not only taught me what I have to offer and where I can improve but also the value of specific feedback and how to take critique with humility and gratitude. I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to intern with EwA and am thrilled to continue working with Claire moving forward!

— Mina Burton (Summer 2020, Lesley University)

⬞⬞⬞

“It has been an incredible experience and absolute joy interning with Earthwise Aware this summer. Amongst many other things, I was able to expand my ecological knowledge. I also gained the hands-on experience of working in the field, in several different locations, and on a weekly basis. With the help of the supportive and talented EwA team, I also was able to create a site-specific ecological almanac documenting the relationships between plants and insects at Fresh Pond (one of our study sites). I always felt like a valuable member of the organization –my input and work were always appreciated, and I was able to accomplish so much with the support of the team. Thanks for a wonderful summer internship experience, EwA!

It has been a pleasure to work with Mike this summer. He has been an excellent project manager for my summer internship work. He is well-spoken and articulate, both in his writing and in person. He is also very knowledgeable--both in the field of ecology and otherwise--and always has something insightful to add to the conversation. Whenever I needed it, he was always available to provide guidance, particularly in my research and writing for the ecological almanac project. Thank you for an excellent summer, Mike!

— Lucy Janovitz (Summer 2020, Skidmore College)

⬞⬞⬞

“Working at Earthwise Aware has brought me so much more than just the technical skills that I learn after many hours in the field with the team. It brought me a feel for a job in the “real world” while still being able to have one of my first experiences and not being harshly punished for taking risks and making mistakes. Instead, I was pushed to take those risks and push myself to a point beyond my comfort zone, so I can learn about my strengths and weaknesses. This is beneficial for future internships and jobs so I can know what I can capitalize on and where to ask for more help.

This is a great opportunity for anyone with a genuine curiosity and passion for conservation and getting to spend time outside and learn. I would say more than half of this internship was spent doing fieldwork which is not like most other internships, even environmental based work you oftentimes find yourself in an office.

The community of citizen scientists is great and the team at EwA, I knew whenever I was not feeling confident about a project I had multiple other peers who would love to help me out without demeaning me. This is a very welcoming community where the focus is always on how to help each other improve and make the best product possible. It always felt like a learning group where every experience there was something we could take away from the experience.”

– Sarah Haugney (Capstone Project & Summer Internship 2019, University of Washington)

⬞⬞⬞

“Interning with Earthwise Aware (EwA) has been one of the highlights of my undergraduate career. EwA currently focuses on a wide range of platforms surrounding environmental conservation and ecological literacy. EwAs mission is geared towards making informed, ethical, and compassionate decisions and attitudes with respect towards nature.

Through my time with EwA, I have worked with Claire creating and developing a new etiquette/protocol surrounding the dos and don’ts when it comes to bat-watching, an awareness tip about what to do when a bat enters your house, an awareness article highlighting the importance of urban farming in today’s world, and many other various tasks and research assistance. EwA has further developed my research skills and allowed me to explore different frameworks of writing throughout the process. Perhaps my favorite part about my internship involved all of the informative talks and fieldwork for EwA’s Citizen Science programs that we accomplished. These events built bridges between different communities of folks who wanted to learn and get more involved. Each audience or group brought new and interesting ideas and it was wonderful learning from and meeting other like-minded individuals. Moreover, EwA furthered my interpersonal skills through the events, networking opportunities, and our weekly one on one meetings.

I am beyond grateful to Claire and EwA for giving me a chance and welcoming me into their family. EwA is made up of such compassionate and wonderful human beings who truly want to make a positive change for our planet. I am very sad to be leaving, but as Claire always says, once you’re a part of EwA, you’re a part forever! I look forward to working with them in the future and applying all of the teachings and tools I gained in my future endeavors.”

— Xaelel Allen-Caballero (Spring Internship 2019, Lesley University)


(*) The same position is available as a long-term volunteer position. Contact us if you’re interested in joining us!

 

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Forest Explorations — August in the Fells https://www.earthwiseaware.org/forest-explorations-august-in-the-fells/ https://www.earthwiseaware.org/forest-explorations-august-in-the-fells/#respond Fri, 28 Aug 2020 07:00:00 +0000 https://www.earthwiseaware.org/?p=99345

Forest Explorations

August in the Fells

Summer is beginning to wind down in the Fells. This season has been especially dry; premature, still-green acorns litter the ground around us and the vernal pools we pass are parched. Still, there is no shortage of interesting natural phenomena to explore. Our group moves at a leisurely pace, delighting in flora and fauna of all sorts, from the smallest leaf miner to the expansive communication network between trees and fungi mycelia.

“Seeing the Fells through a naturalistic lens instead of a purely recreational one fundamentally changed my perception of the space. I began to pay attention to places differently, noting not only individual species but also the relationships between these species and their environments and interspecies interactions. Observing and recording these kinds of details over time can show us the effects of climate change on biodiversity and inform how we protect that biodiversity.”

Mina’s interest in natural history took root during a New England field studies course at Lesley. This course involved learning about ecology and plant identification at local parks and urban wilds. One of these sites was the Middlesex Fells...

Once a month, Claire and Kathy lead a biodiversity walk in the Fells. It’s a free form activity of ours which the only purpose is to explore what Nature wonders are in season: what is flowering, fruiting, passing by, living here?

We invite our guests to write about the walk. Here are highlights of what Mina and we enjoyed this time!


This Saturday’s Forest Exploration was very well-attended, bringing with it new faces and a great sense of wonder and enthusiasm. Every month EwA leads these biodiversity walks to encourage people of all ages and walks of life to explore the Fells as it changes throughout the seasons. This weekend was the first Forest Exploration that we have reopened to the public. We were fortunate to have Larry Millman and Peter Alden joining us, as both are experts in their respective fields of mycology and birding.


A Tough Year for Squirrels

Many of us at EwA have noted how dry this season has been. As our group entered the Fells, we quickly noticed numerous fallen acorns that had dropped prematurely. Trees have cut short their acorn production due to stress and to conserve energy, leaving squirrels struggling to find enough food.

This hardship is exacerbated by the fact that last year was a mega-mast year. A mega-mast is an evolutionary adaptation where many trees drop their fruit simultaneously to ensure that at least some fruit survive to adulthood. The additional acorns provided by an oak mega-mast leads to a boom in the squirrel population. The heightened squirrel population from last year in conjunction with this year’s premature acorn drop does not bode well for this year’s squirrels.


A Rare Find

As we made our way up the trail from the parking lot, Larry Millman pointed out a black fungus nestled in the bark indentations of a fallen log. What he initially identified as Black Witches Butter turned out to be Black Bulgar (Bulgaria inquinans). Only two other observations of Black Bulgar have been made in the Fells, and only a handful have been observed on iNaturalist in the state of Massachusetts. 


Life Within a Leaf

Leaf miners are small and often overlooked creatures that live within the upper and lower surfaces of a leaf. Before my internship with EwA, I had never paused to examine the small insect tracks found on the leaves of many plant species.

Leaf miners may include fly, moth, and other insect larvae. Many leaf miner species have specific plant preferences. The leaf miner tracks that we spotted were etched into a wild sarsaparilla leaf. In the photo on the left below you can see clearly how the tracks get larger as the leaf miner grows. This pattern serves as an indication of the size and age of the leaf miner. The miner on the right was sighted a few days later on a Rose species and is likely to be the doing of a Pygmy Eye-capped Moth.


Dry PoolsToo Dry Even?

During our walk, we passed one definitive vernal pool and several possible ones. At EwA, we work to certify vernal pools at the Fells. To do so, we must first prove that they contain certain species such as wood frog tadpoles or fairy shrimp. Vernal pools are important habitats for amphibians, 40% of which are endangered worldwide. We are concerned that the current drought may have rendered the vernal pools extremely dry and potentially uninhabitable for the amphibians that would normally rest, den, and breed there.


Bird Life on the Edge

Situated at the edge of the vernal pool was a stand of trees sporting horizontal scarring. Peter pointed out that these markings are the handiwork of Yellow-bellied sapsuckers (Sphyrapicus varius). These birds peck at trees to release a syrup which then attracts insects that the birds can eat.  

Larry brought up another interesting detail regarding relationships between birds and trees. Cavity birds such as chickadees take stock of bracket fungi, or polypores, that grow on surrounding trees. The existence of Bracket fungi indicates to the bird that the tree is weaker and easier to dig into, thus making it a more appealing candidate for cavity nesters. 


Fungi Foray

During dry seasons, fungal parasites go into overdrive mode. Mushrooms are somewhat immunocompromised in dry conditions, making them easier targets for the parasites. On our walk, we discovered a Hypomyces parasite on a bolete mushroom. The mushroom was nearly rock hard to the touch due to the lack of rainfall this summer. Larry remarked on the ongoing “disagreement” between mushrooms and lichen; while mushrooms favor wetter conditions, lichens prefer dry environments. 

As we made our way deeper into the forest, we soon came across two species of mushrooms that are often confused, thus earning them the names “Turkey-Tail” (Trametes versicolor) and “False Turkey-Tail” (Stereum ostrea). I had seen both before but had never learned to distinguish between the two. The key to differentiating between Turkey-Tail and False Turkey-Tail is that the latter has a smooth underside void of any pores or gills. One tip for photographing the undersides of mushrooms is to bring a compact mirror with you on your walks. By placing it beneath the cap, you are able to see underneath without uprooting the mushroom. Another interesting fact about the Turkey-Tail fungus is that you won’t find any other fungi on the tree upon which it grows. This is because the fungus releases chemicals that deter other species. 

My personal favorite fungi find of the walk was a honey mushroom. Honey mushrooms are a type of parasitic fungi that kills trees using their rhizomorphs or congregate bunches of fungi hyphae. They achieve this by interfering with the tree roots that would normally send nutrients to the rest of the tree. The honey mushrooms that we spotted took the form of rhizomorphs embedded in a fallen (and largely decomposing) log. Honey mushroom rhizomorphs can grow up to 1 meter a year, making them a formidable parasite. 


A Gem in the Making

A Forest Exploration find that garnered significant enthusiasm was a Polyphemus moth caterpillar (Antheraea polyphemus), a member of the family Saturniidae or giant silk moths. This caterpillar was spotted on a small oak tree off to one side of the path. The adult moths boast an average wingspan of six inches. 

During this time of year, you might find still-green leaves on the ground alongside colored leaves that have already fallen. If you inspect one of these green leaves, you will notice that the petiole, or stem, has been neatly chewed through. This incision is made by a caterpillar and is speculated to be an adaptation to avoid drawing the attention of predators such as birds. A significant patch of chewed upon leaves might alert birds to the existence of a caterpillar. If instead that caterpillar removes the leaves after feeding, the likelihood of attracting predators might be diminished. This practice of removing still living leaves is referred to as “greenfall.”


An Abrupt Ending

A couple of hours into our walk and we began to hear rumbling overhead. What started as a distant noise soon drew closer and we readied ourselves to return in order to avoid getting caught in the rain.

As we were leaving, several people in our group caught sight of a Garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis). Garter snakes are fairly common in the Fells but I, for one, am always enchanted by their sleek beauty and seemingly confident, deliberate movements. 


This was my second Forest Exploration and I was amazed to see how quickly nature can shift and develop over the course of a single month. I look forward to continuing to familiarize myself with the Fells throughout the fall and winter. Thanks to all who joined us for this walk! You can check out our findings from the day here.

📅 Join us next month to explore the natural joys to be found in September. We will be on the lookout for signs of fall and for bird and mammal winter preparation activity.

Forest Explorations


August, 28th 2020 | by Mina Burton 

Banner photo: iNaturalist record © Joe MacIndewar. Most photos in this article are visual observations that the EwA team recorded during the August’s Forest Explorations event. Photos are licensed under Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC).

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🏙️ Observing Nature in the City https://www.earthwiseaware.org/observing-nature-in-the-city/ https://www.earthwiseaware.org/observing-nature-in-the-city/#respond Thu, 20 Aug 2020 08:00:13 +0000 https://www.earthwiseaware.org/?p=97483

Observing Nature in the City

If asked to name a favorite place in nature, many people including myself might choose to describe forests, meadows, or scenic ocean views. Some might include state parks or even smaller, more urban settings like the Middlesex Fells reservation where I live in Massachusetts. However, even the most open-minded nature lovers would be hard-pressed to imagine that a weed-laden median strip or street tree could earn the title of someone’s favorite place in nature.

“Seeing the Fells through a naturalistic lens instead of a purely recreational one fundamentally changed my perception of the space. I began to pay attention to places differently, noting not only individual species but also the relationships between these species and their environments and interspecies interactions. Observing and recording these kinds of details over time can show us the effects of climate change on biodiversity and inform how we protect that biodiversity.”

Mina’s interest in natural history took root during a New England field studies course at Lesley. This course involved learning about ecology and plant identification at local parks and urban wilds. One of these sites was the Middlesex Fells...

Mina leads us to open up to a type of Nature that is closer than we think – present all around us in our busy cities. She has added a few activities to ease the journey of discovering urban wildlife.

Highlights
Expanding our Ideas of Nature Beyond Wilderness | Green Spaces in the Greater Boston Area | Cultivating Curiosity about Urban Wildlife | Becoming An Expert on Your Own City (Activity Set) | Next Steps

Activities
1⃣ Rediscovering Street Trees
2⃣ A Tree Can Be an Ecosystem Too
3⃣ The Early Bird


Expanding our Ideas of Nature Beyond Wilderness

Oftentimes, we reserve the term “nature” for outdoor places that we perceive as beautiful due to their undisturbed nature. In doing so, we conflate the idea of nature with that of wilderness. While the term wilderness describes unsettled, largely undisturbed tracts of land and its untamed inhabitants, nature is a more broadly encompassing term. There exists a pervasive idea that “untouched” nature is more exciting and valuable than other forms of nature. We cherish opportunities to escape our busy, metropolitan lives and experience the tranquility of “real” nature. Many of us are unaware that there is a wealth of nature to be explored in even the most urban of areas. 

Recognizing that nature can take on many forms isn’t only a refreshing observation; it can also provide an entry point for more people to experience and learn about nature. In 2016, over 50% of the world’s population lived in cities and this percentage is only increasing. Many of these individuals may not have easy or consistent access to the kind of nature one might describe as “wild” or “undisturbed.” The examples of wildlife that thrive in cities are often different from that of, say, national parks, but the resilience and adaptations of urban flora and fauna are arguably just as inspiring.


Green Spaces in the Greater Boston Area

Olmsted’s 1894 plan for the Emerald Necklace

Those of us who reside in the Greater Boston Area are lucky in that Boston boasts an expansive and fairly accessible park system. We owe this system, known as the Emerald Necklace, largely to the vision of a single man: Frederick Law Olmsted. Often referred to as the “father of American landscape architecture,” Olmsted is responsible for several significant American parks including New York City’s Central Park and Prospect Park. Over a century ago, Olmsted also designed the Emerald Necklace which includes the Back Bay Fens, The Riverway, Olmsted Park, Jamaica Pond, Arnold Arboretum, Franklin Park, and the Boston Common and Public Garden. Some of these parks, such as the Public Garden, are neatly and ornately landscaped. Other spaces are ecologically significant urban wilds, with many of these parks engaging with new conservation practices to encourage biodiversity. For instance, Arnold Arboretum is adopting “no-mow” practices for certain sections of the park and using native plantings to attract insects and birds. Even the most meticulously manicured spaces can provide habitat for birds and other wildlife.

Part of EwA’s mission is to illustrate the surprising variety of flora and fauna we can find in urban settings and encourage conservation practices that protect and increase this biodiversity. Our most urban site, the Growing Center in Somerville, is home to many species of insects including a wide variety of bee, wasp, ant, fly, beetle, and leafhopper species. Still, not all cities have the infrastructure or space to create and maintain park systems like the Emerald Necklace, or even parks like the ones we survey at EwA. Even if a city does have such spaces, it may not offer sufficient public transit to make those parks accessible. For this reason, I see great importance in providing resources on urban wildlife that can be observed in even the most crowded cityscapes. This kind of information is not intended to act as a substitute for equal access to green space and should be provided in conjunction with efforts to provide access to natural spaces in all cities.


Cultivating Curiosity about Urban Wildlife

What can one do to explore nature if they live in a city that lacks accessible green spaces?

Before I propose some concrete exercises for exploring urban wildlife, I’d first like to suggest that appreciating urban nature requires a conscious shift in attention and perception.

Many of us experience urban wildlife in the form of pests; we detest the rats, cockroaches, and raccoons that infiltrate our homes and overturn our trash cans. We uproot weeds and apply chemicals to deter all sorts of insects. There is no denying that many of these creatures are frustrating and I would be remiss to suggest that we must embrace them with open arms. But are they disgusting, unnatural?

Rats are widely despised city dwellers, yet are also highly intelligent, bond socially, and have even been found to display empathy. Other types of urban wildlife are not only clever but actually beneficial. One might be surprised to learn that wasps, a commonly disliked species, are actually important controllers of pest populations.

Many species have been forced to adapt to new, urban conditions. Peregrine falcons, for instance, have begun to nest in cities, as high rises provide the perfect vantage point for hunting one of the peregrine’s preferred food sources; pigeons. In New York City, over 30 species of bees can be found along the High Line, an elevated linear park in Manhattan. Paris rooftops also support a thriving beekeeping industry with over 1000 urban beehives.

While some more specialized species are less likely to adapt to such conditions, many urban dwellers are finding similarly new and unexpected ways to survive in harsh city conditions. One need not love all of these species, but adopting an inquisitive mindset can reveal new and interesting patterns and behaviors.


Becoming an Expert on Your Own City

Below are three exercises intended to help you familiarize yourself with the natural world around you. These activities are based upon approaches I’ve used to learn more about urban wildlife and are also loosely inspired by the types of surveys we conduct at EwA. You can try these activities on your street or at a park near you!

What You Need
○ Cell phone
○ The iNaturalist app
○ Notebook, your favorite pen or pencil
○ Handheld magnifying lens or one that you can attach to your phone’s camera

Exercise 1⃣ | Rediscovering Street Trees

One of the first ways I familiarized myself with my environment was learning to identify trees. While street trees are more common in certain places (such as wealthier neighborhoods), most cities have at least some trees lining their streets or green spaces. The easiest time to learn how to identify trees is during the spring, summer, and early fall when leaves are still present. Tree leaves may differ in terms of shape, leaf margin, venation, and even placement on the branch (opposite each other versus alternating). One trick that helps me identify trees is MADCapHorse. MADCapHorse is an acronym used to remember trees with opposite branching: Maples, Ashes, Dogwoods, Caprifoliaceae (such as honeysuckles and viburnums), and Horse Chestnuts.

This Northern Red Oak (Quercus Rubra) was photographed at EwA’s calibration site, a residential street in Somerville | © Jennifer Clifford (EwA Citizen Scientist)

While tricks like MADCapHorse are useful when getting started, the best way to learn to identify trees is to get outside and practice! I sometimes enjoy collecting leaves, pressing them into a notebook, and labeling them (or even drawing them for extra practice). This not only provides a visual guide to local trees but also serves as a fun reminder of how many different types of trees you’ve encountered. And of course, you can always use iNaturalist to get help with IDing unfamiliar leaves.

Once you’ve mastered recognizing a handful of trees in your neighborhood in the warmer months, you can return to observe them in winter. This way, you can come to know these trees by more than their leaves, but also by their bark or buds. For those that live in New England, GoBotany is a wonderful resource for IDing plants using various plant parts including buds. As you pay closer attention to your tree, you will likely notice evidence of visitors such as bite marks on leaves, insect galls, or caterpillars.

2⃣ | A Tree Can Be an Ecosystem Too

While identifying trees by name is a useful and highly satisfying skill, this next activity encourages one to look at trees as part of a broader ecological system. The concept of an ecosystem is somewhat loose and is dependent on scale. For instance, on a large scale, an example of an ecosystem could encompass a temperate deciduous forest such as those found throughout New England. However, a patch of soil could also be considered a productive ecosystem, as it may provide nourishment and refuge for a host of plants, insects, fungi, and microbes. 

Trees can also be seen as an ecosystem in themselves. To explore this system, you can carefully examine and flip over leaves to see what insects cling to them. If you look closely, you will quickly find that many of these insects are too small to observe properly with the naked eye. Here is where your magnifying lens (or attachable camera lens) will come in handy. Using a magnifying lens will enable you to make out details including tiny hairs, markings, and even entire colors that you may have missed otherwise. Many of these details are key in identifying the insect you are looking at. While not all insects can easily be identified down to the species level, your lens will certainly help you get closer to a precise identification. 

Woolly Oak Gall (Callirhytis lanata)

Gall Wasps (Not yet identified to species)

↑ Both galls above were spotted on the same young Northern Red Oak at EwA’s Arthropod study site in Somerville (MA). Both records were photographed using a magnifying lense attached to our smartphone. The gall on the left is a Woolly Oak Gall (Callirhytis lanata), the result of an interaction between a gall wasp and the tree. The one the right is another kind of gall wasp, yet looks quite different. There are over 800 species of gall wasps in North America alone!

When I first began partaking in arthropod surveys at the Middlesex Fells, I was struck by both the unexpected beauty and the sheer volume of insects on the trees we observe. Even insects I would have once brushed aside without a second thought — such as flies – fascinated me once I could make out their stunning iridescence. In our surveys, we measure the abundance and composition of insects on a single branch composed of roughly 50 leaves. On a particularly fruitful day, I might come across a dozen insects on one branch. Even in a more urban habitat, you will likely be able to find at least a handful of insects on a single tree. To become familiar with trees as part of a broader system, I would recommend keeping track of a single tree over time.

While almost all trees will host insects, some are more productive than others. Oak trees, for instance, can offer sustenance for some 534 species of moths and butterflies. Native trees will almost always offer more food for insects, so you may want to do a little research into which trees are native to where you live. We’ve observed this phenomenon at EwA’s Growing Center site; nonnative trees there such as the Kousa dogwood show fewer signs of herbivory than native oaks and maples. Over time, you will likely come to recognize your tree’s regular residents and their life cycles.

Exercise 3⃣ | The Early Bird

Morning commutes look different for all of us. I’ve always enjoyed using my commute to listen to music and, as an introvert, have also appreciated that they serve as a natural conversation deterrent. Perhaps you prefer catching up on podcasts during your drive to work or make the commute on foot or by bike. The obvious downside of headphones or driving in traffic is that both settings make it difficult to pick up on environmental noise, including bird calls. 

Birds are most active around dawn or dusk, which, for many of us, falls roughly around the same time as a workday commute. Waking up early for work or school can feel like a daily struggle, but early morning hours offer an opportune time of day to listen to birds. If you commute by foot, consider removing your headphones for a portion of your walk to tune into the birds around you. If you drive, you could aim to take a few extra minutes before or after your drive to check out bird calls in your vicinity. If you work or attend school in a different environment than where you live, you could even try comparing the types of birds you hear in each place! You might want to pick a regular “sit spot” to observe bird calls. Choosing an ongoing place may allow you to pick up on patterns over time. This is all to say that, no matter how you get to and from your daily obligations, you can likely find a moment of pause to observe the nature around you. 

While learning to identify birds by call may seem like a challenge, there are tools that can help you. If you record calls with a phone or handheld recorder, you can use the website BirdNET. BirdNET uses machine learning to analyze and identify bird calls and currently features 984 of the most common bird species of North America and Europe. While the tool isn’t perfect, it’s a great place to start with recognizing bird calls. iNaturalist also allows audio submissions. eBird, a frequently utilized site among birders, allows you to find bird hotspots near you, upload your own observations, and explore photos and audios taken by other birders. As birding is a highly popular activity, eBird collects high volumes of data and uses it to study bird population dynamics. You can also discover which species are likely to be found at any given location during specific times of the year. Audubon, another bird-focused organization, also collects birders data to provide information on which bird species are most at risk of extinction under different climate scenarios.

Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens)

White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis)

↑ This Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens) (left) and White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) were photographed at EwA’s phenology calibration site in Somerville.

As you learn about trees, insects, and birds, you may begin to piece together the relationships between these different components of your local ecosystem. Plants support insects, which in turn provide food for birds. Perhaps, over time, you will begin to broaden your ecosystem knowledge to include other local flora and fauna as well, or even abiotic factors such as temperature, pollution, or human influence. If you observe your environment on a regular basis (whether that be checking out bird calls on your daily commute, a weekly visit to your chosen street tree, or a monthly outing to your nearest green space) you will begin to notice changes between each visit. Here lies the excitement of building an ongoing connection with place; if you put in the time and pay close attention, you become attuned to even the smallest developments.

This kind of knowledge is invaluable not only on a personal level, but can potentially provide anecdotal (or, if you wish, data-driven) evidence such as changes in species range, occurrence, or life cycle timing that may be the result of climate change or other anthropogenic influence. Recording your observations doesn’t have to mean collecting numerical data; it could take on the form of keeping a dated nature journal, taking photos or sketching. Keeping consistent records will allow you to recognize and track trends over time.


Next Steps

Everyone deserves equal access to green spaces. Access to green spaces and canopy cover is not only beneficial from an aesthetic or recreational viewpoint; these natural features are also important from a human health perspective. For instance, sufficient tree cover functions as a natural coolant to reduce the effects of extreme heat in cities. The exercises in this article highlight some of the ways in which observing urban wildlife can yield both personally rewarding and potentially ecologically significant findings. However, cultivating enthusiasm about nature in cities cannot occur in isolation; it should go hand in hand with environmental activism projects that aim to expand this access for all people. 

Discovering an appreciation for urban wildlife gives people the information needed to advocate for spaces that better support both biodiversity and human health. This could take many forms; understanding the significance of native plants and trees, for example, might spur pollinator garden projects in local schools or parks. Watching birds build their nests could inspire innovative and specialized designs for birdhouses. Cities are often characterized primarily as problems when it comes to environmental issues. While there is undeniably truth to this stance, we must recognize that many of us live in cities and that they are not going away any time soon. In order to address environmental issues, we must shift our view of cities to one of curiosity and possibility. Nature can and does thrive in urban settings when provided with the right resources. Learning about and encouraging appreciation of urban wildlife is a key first step to building healthier cities for both human and non-human inhabitants. 


📅 If you live in the Boston area, join an EwA Urban Wildlife walk.


August, 21th 2020 | by Mina Burton
EwA Nature Activities

The photos of species in this article are biodiversity records from EwA citizen scientists Joe MacIndewar, Jennifer Clifford, and Claire O’Neill. Photos are licensed under Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC). The Emerald necklace map is public domain.

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Fresh Pond Almanac—August at the Meadow https://www.earthwiseaware.org/fresh-pond-almanac-august/ https://www.earthwiseaware.org/fresh-pond-almanac-august/#respond Tue, 04 Aug 2020 07:00:00 +0000 https://www.earthwiseaware.org/?p=88281

Fresh Pond Almanac

August at the Meadow

At this time of the year, the reservation feels a bit quieter and more peaceful than the past two months. With the often sweltering heat, the park attracts fewer joggers and walkers. Yet, there is much to enjoy and many ecological activities to observe. The many different bee species of the meadow are still busy at work with pollination, squirrels and chipmunks are scurrying about, and dragonflies and damselflies are flying all around the reservation. For my first August visit, I was welcomed by a stunning katydid! I think it is a Scudder’s bush katydid (…)

“Now more than ever, with our planet facing issues such as biodiversity loss, I think it’s time to give back to nature and the ecosystems that exist within it. The first steps toward change are education and awareness-- knowing exactly what the problems are before you try to solve them.”

Lucy is focusing her EwA internship on local scale ecology, as well as participating in large-scale research and conversations about the environment. She is excited about the opportunity to work on a site-specific ecological almanac documenting insects and plants throughout the season, as well as collaborate with citizen scientists in the field.

EwA citizen scientists and interns survey the Lusitania meadow 📍 for arthropods every single week during the warm seasons. This gives us the opportunity to get to know the meadow intimately. Each week highlights different relationships between the plants and their visitors—fascinating stories unfold. This almanac is a wonderful means to share with our communities what we observe and record at Lusitania.

📅 Once a month, we open EwA documentation sessions to the public. Check Eventbrite and come experience with us the magic of this wonderful meadow—an oasis in the middle of a very busy city.


August, often considered the final month of the summer season, is a moment of pause before the transition into autumn. People, young and old alike, try to take advantage of the waning days of summer, before a return to school, work and other forms of normalcy in the fall. August in New England is hot, but usually slightly less so than some of the scorching days in July. During August, the average temperature level in Boston rests around 28°C (or 82°F). However, it can reach higher numbers, with the hottest day this past August reaching a high of about 34°C (or 93°F). Typically, August is one of the wetter months of the year in New England, with precipitation reaching higher levels than previous summer months. However, this was not the case this past year in the Boston area: there was a total of 2.45 inches of rainfall in August 2019, in comparison to the 4.72 inches observed in July.


False Sunflower

One of the many plant species you can spot at the Lusitania meadow in August is the False Sunflower. False Sunflower, or Heliopsis helianthoides, is a flowering plant commonly found in New England. The flowers are a vibrant shade of yellow, with ray and disc florets that produce seeds. False Sunflower provides both nectar and pollen, which brings many visitors to the plant. Due to its popularity amongst pollinators and other various insects, the pollen source of the plant can be diminished on a daily basis. False Sunflower attracts several insects, such as syrphid flies and soldier beetles, that help control the amount of aphids on the plant. The plant is able to grow in partial sunlight. At Fresh Pond, you can spot it growing in abundance along the path on the western side of the meadow 📍


False Sunflower Visitors

One group of insect species that are frequently observed at Fresh Pond and maintains a strong relationship with False Sunflower is bumblebees. Bumblebees both pollinate and feed on the nectar of this plant. Their primary role is the consumption of nectar, but some large bumblebee species, like the Common eastern bumblebee (Bombus impatiens) and Brown-belted bumblebee (Bombus griseocollis), gather pollen from the flowers. Small carpenter bees are also important members of the ecosystems at Fresh Pond. These bees pollinate the flowers of False Sunflower. Bees are not the only visitors of False Sunflower. Some butterfly species, including the Cabbage white (Pieris rapae), travel to the plant to feed on nectar.


Jewelweed

Several visitors of the False Sunflower, including bumblebees, also frequent another plant of the meadow–Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis). It is a wildflower and is known to many as wild balsam. The plant grows in moist areas with shade–often around shorelines. Jewelweed can be spotted near the shady main entrance of the meadow 📍. The plant has a semi-transparent and succulent stem, and the flowers are orange or yellow. Jewelweed is unique from most other wildflower species in the sense that the plant solely reproduces from seed in the springtime. Each flower produces nectar on a daily basis. The flowers are bisexual, but male flower parts grow and decline before female parts reach maturity– this timeline helps guarantee cross-pollination.

🌿 Jewelweed’s Healing Capabilities

One of the Jewelweed plant’s most unique qualities is its remedial abilities. For centuries, Native American communities have been aware of and utilized Jewelweed’s medicinal benefits. The stem and leaves of Jewelweed can help alleviate skin rashes or insect bites. This includes Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans), Poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix), and nettle rashes! You can grind or pulverize the stem and foliage, and apply this to a rash, which will decrease inflammation and diminish pain and itching.


Jewelweed Visitors

Many different insects, from all walks of life, visit Jewelweed plants for the purposes of pollination and feeding. Several types of bees make up the primary pollinators of Jewelweed, including bumblebees and honey bees, as well as the Eastern yellowjacket (Vespula maculifrons), all of which can be spotted buzzing around Fresh Pond. In particular, you may spot a Common eastern bumblebee, or a Brown-belted bumblebee pollinating the abundant Jewelweed plants at the reservation. You are also likely to see Western honey bees (Apis mellifera). This is the only species of honey bees found in our area, and like all other honey bee species, is native to Eurasia. Bumblebees and honey bees make several uses of Jewelweed–beyond pollination, the plant serves as a food source. Bumblebees, honey bees, yellowjackets, as well as ants like the eastern Black carpenter ant (Camponotus pennsylvanicus), all visit the plant to feed on nectar.

🔎 Nature Quest » Ruby-throated hummingbird

Try to spot this species during your own Fresh Pond visit!  [ 📸 EwA record from © Daniel Onea]

Jewelweed is a provider for all sorts of insect activity at Fresh Pond. However, insects are not the only creatures who benefit from the plant. The Ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) is a species native to the United States that both pollinates and feeds on the nectar of the Jewelweed plant.

If you are lucky, you may see a Ruby-throated hummingbird zipping around the Fresh Pond Reservation!

Nectar is not Jewelweed’s only source of sustenance for insects. Many different species feed on the vegetation, with grasshoppers, katydids, and soldier beetles eating the buds and flowers of the plant. At Fresh Pond, you may spot a Red-legged grasshopper (Melanoplus femurrubrum) or meadow katydids engaging in such activity. Some insect species–like the caterpillars of the Virginia tiger moth (Spilosoma virginica)–also consume Jewelweed leaves. From a bug’s perspective, there is certainly a lot to enjoy from a Jewelweed!


There is plenty more to see at Fresh Pond during these final moments of summer. My observations during August expanded beyond the realm of plants and insects, marveling at birds such as the American goldfinch (Spinus tristis) and Song sparrow (Melospiza melodia) flying about, and mammals like the Eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) and the Eastern chipmunk (Tamias striatus) as active as ever.

Visit Fresh Pond in August to see these wondrous sights for yourself, and stay tuned for our next monthly installment of the Fresh Pond Almanac. As usual, we will be on the lookout for arthropods, and especially pollinators—all busy preparing for wintering, or about to leave a new generation in the making before they themselves finish their cycle.

Enjoy your visit. 📅 Join our monthly Fresh Pond Wildlife Documentation Walk. Share your findings with us (you can comment below)!


EwA Useful Links

📸 EwA at Fresh Pond insect occurrence observations in August

📊 EwA at Fresh Pond arthropod counts visualization (to date)

🌱 EwA at Fresh Pond plant observations in August

📖 Pollinators of Native Plants: Attract, Observe and Identify Pollinators and Beneficial Insects with Native Plants (2014) by Heather N. Holm

📖 The Book of Swamp & Bog: Trees, Shrubs, and Wildflowers of Eastern Freshwater Wetlands (1995) by John Eastman  (Author), Amelia Hansen (Illustrator)


August, 4th 2020 | by Lucy Janovitz 

Editing & layout by Claire O’Neill. The photos in this article are visual records that the EwA team has collected at Fresh Pond. Click on the picture, and you’ll land on the record and its owner (records shown in this article are from Claire O’Neill and Daniel Onea). Photos are licensed under Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC). See EwA’s biodiversity occurrence records specific to this place in the EwA at Fresh Pond iNaturalist project.

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