invasive species · Nature Academy of the Berkshires · plants · Uncategorized

White Flowers Along the Road

All over Berkshire county there are beautiful white flowers growing along the road side. My friend who loves plants, called them Queen Anne’s Lace, but its too early for those plants to be flowering.

They look like Queen Anne’s Lace, but they are actually ‘ground elder’ also known as Bishop’s Weed or Gout Weed. They are in the carrot family like Queen Anne’s Lace, but they are not the same plant.

The scientific name for this plant is Aegopodium podagraria, and the scientific name for Queen Anne’s Lace is Daucus carota. They are in the same family ‘Apiaceae’, cousins, but not twins. Although the flowers look alike at first glance.

These plants have leaves that are edible and have medicinal value.

These plants spread via underground root systems made of rhizomes. They make a thick mat and keep out weeds and other plants. I would not recommend planting them in a garden, but they make a great ground cover. They are an introduced species to the Berkshires and not native. On the upside, they are the favorite food of the woodchucks on my property.

global climate change · winter

ice and skyRecently the Berkshire Environmental Action Team had an environmental expo at the Stationary Factory in Dalton. What I saw of it was wonderful. (I’ve been sick and didn’t want to share so I didn’t stick around as much as I would have liked.) But later in the evening I pulled up a chair in the back of the room and watched the movie “Ice and Sky” about a famous French scientist, Luc Jacquet, and his team and how they spend 6 decades proving humans are causing rapid global climate change. The movie was mostly edited clips of the scientific expositions and current cinematography. It was breath taking. Yet, two books kept popping into my head the entire time. I think because I knew the end and it had to do with being doomed.

The first book was Mountains of Madness H.P. Lovecraft. The second was A Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier.

Parts of the movie showed the scientists moving through narrow tunnels and there were vast pans of the white mountains and crevices. All bringing back flashbacks of the descriptions in Mountains of Madness. And the voices. I could hear the not-really-voices from Lovecraft’s novella, if that makes sense. Its been a while since I’ve read this, and I’m not sure I want to revisit it. It was scary stuff.

The second book, A Brief History of the Dead, I  read over 4 years ago, but it stuck with me. As with any good science fiction story, this book is about what may happen in the near future, where conspiracy theory meets science and things go bad. It makes the reader think maybe we should change what we are doing now or the things happening in this book might come true. Its actually two stories in one book–they are connected–but only to the reader. One story line takes us to a place we know: A world where the polar ice caps are melting and biological terrorism is a major issue in the world. A big corporation of course steps in to the rescue listening only in part to the scientists, making things worse. The main character in this part of the story is a woman in Antarctica looking for clean water. The description of her exploration and fight for survival is what brought the book to mind while watching the movie. There was doom, gloom hanging on the precipice of death set in majestic beauty.

The second part of the book is about The City where the dead are found, but mysteriously vanish. No more about this because it would be a spoiler.

So there it is-our planet is a beautiful place. Humans are incredible beings, but we are destroying life on the planet as we know it. It is time we stand up for the planet-if not for ourselves, for our children and our children’s children.

For more information on the human impact on global climate change and what you can do about it: You can start here: http://iceandsky.com/education

Uncategorized

The problem with groundhogs…

wood chuckThere are lots of problems with groundhogs. But my biggest gripe can be best described with this endearing but frustrating overheard recent conversation.

Two young girls, ages 10 and 8 were standing in the sun on a warm winter’s day. The older girl stepped back into the shade. The younger girl told her, “No, stay in the sun, there are not many sunny days like this in the winter!” The other responded, “But the sun is too hot.” To make her point the younger girl said, “But the hedgehog saw its shadow last week and that means 6 more weeks of winter, so get out in the sun.”

Hedgehog, yes she said hedgehog. We were in Cheshire MA, not England, but Berkshire County USA! She of course was mixing up groundhogs with hedgehogs. But the difference of the two animals is vast*. And the whole idea of the groundhog seeing its shadow, ugh, that drives me nuts. The idea is cute yes,  scientific, NO. Besides groundhogs are the only true hibernators in the Eastern USA so the idea of one dragging itself out of hibernation to see if the sun is shining, isn’t going to happen.

And groundhogs have other things that make them not very likable. They are musk animals so they stink, they live the ground- so they stink, they have little brain cases, so they are not very smart. And they EAT my garden vegetables to the stumps. Oh and they are excellent burrowing animals. There are no less than 7 groundhog holes on my property. They go down one hole and pop up 20 feet away from another hole and whistle to let the others know you are around. And there are always others. They have an elaborate gallery of tunnels under the property.  The joke around here is one day someone is going to stamp their foot at one and the whole yard is going to cave in.

*Differences between Hedgehogs and Groundhogs: There are seventeen species of hedgehogs found through parts of Europe, Asia, and Africa and some are an invasive species in Australia, but they do NOT live in the the USA. They are mammals, but they are in a different order all together from groundhogs. Groundhogs, scientific name, Marmota monax, are in the order “rodents” are also known as woodchucks or whistle pigs, oh, yes they whistle. They live in the North East and Central USA and throughout Canada.

Uncategorized

Red Fox

foxThe red fox, scientific name, Vulpes vulpes is one of the winter mammals you may see this time of year. I see our neighborhood fox on Mondays, because that is trash collection day and she knows it. Our vixen can be distinguished from the other foxes around because she is tall. She has the longest legs on a fox I’ve ever seen. She has very little fear of humans. She spend many a day sitting about 20 feet away from me in the spring while I was in the garden and trots around the property like its hers. And basically it is her territory.

She, and her cohorts three grey foxes, scientific name, Urocyon cinereoargenteus, have been a boon to the neighborhood. They have cleaned the neighborhood of the abundant Norway Rat population we had a few years back and are keeping the Eastern cotton tail rabbit populations down too. Foxes are omnivores so they will eat anything, dead woodchucks, eggs, trash and fresh kills. Also they like to bury their food in shallow holes in the ground to save for later.

The differences between these two canid species are subtle, from far away the red fox has a red coat and looks like its wearing white socks. The grey fox is as its name implies, grey but sometimes it has rust colorings on its ears and the neck. Red foxes are slightly bigger and taller. The grey foxes have a stockier body and interestingly enough they can climb trees.

Up close the red fox has pupils like a cats, long and vertical, the grey fox has eyes like a dog, round pupils.

Its exciting to see one of these animals in the wild. Its also fun to track them by using their footprints, either in the snow or in the mud. Our red fox has a routine she follows, up the driveway early in the morning and down the path by the garbage cans around 9am. She also trots around the storage shed edges looking for mice and across my porch as a short cut to the front property where the eastern cottontails hang out.

This time of year is mating season for both the red fox and the grey fox. Baby foxes called kits are in our future!

Nature Academy of the Berkshires · terrarium

Terrarium Goings Ons

There is not much happening outside this week, a couple of skiddish squirrels, a rabbit I never get to see and a sneaky fox. The crows have been around, but they keep their distance too. Inside its been interesting. Inside the terrarium that is. The caterpillar has been out and about, a cranefly emerged, a spider has been spotted, and the slugs, they have been having a blast! I’ve watched them glide up the glass and slide down as though they are playing. The babies, in the night, I found them free falling from the top of the tank on long strings of slime. Yup. They do that. Today one was sliding over a marble like a circus animal. Wish I had a video of that too. Here is a time lapse video.

backyard animals · Nature Academy of the Berkshires · winter

Cache

squirrel-holeWe have had a good amount of snow fall over the past two weeks. Its pretty. Its white, and its great for animal tracking. But that first heavy snow, when it was windy and cold and nobody wanted to be outside. The squirrels braved it. And in my yard they braved it for peanuts. I found several of these holes in the snow at the base of trees. The squirrels didn’t want to spend any more time in the cold than they had to, so it was jump, dig, grab and back up the tree. The peanut shells were then tossed on top of the snow. I think the squirrels are going to be my favorite winter animals to watch this year.