Monday, August 28, 2017

The Nature of the North River

The North River, which empties into the sea between Scituate and Marshfield, MA, is a lovely paddle.  I began on an August afternoon at the Driftway, close to the mouth, and rode the incoming tide upriver into Stetson Marsh, where I camped on an "island."  The next morning, I headed upriver--on the tail of another rising tide--into Herring Brook, continuing until I could not make much progress nor find my way.  Total distance (one way) was twelve miles or so.  Coming back, I landed on private property to pull the boat out.  There is supposed to be public access up the neighboring tributary of Indian Head Brook, and also back down high on the North River proper.  (Adventures not relevant to this blog are described in my other blog, which includes overlapping media.)

Larger powerboats rule the watercraft around rt 3A.

Above the area of marinas near rt 3A.

Drifting with the current.  At the end you can see that the marsh sediments built up
gradually, layer upon layer.

Unpeopled Spartina marsh.

Birds sang out of sight in the cattails, but iNaturalist later helped me name them Marsh Wrens.  Narrow-leaved cattail, unlike its sibling the common cattail, does well in brackish water.

Campsite, and landing place.

Looking over the marsh in the evening.

Watching the river; current still moving upriver.

Nearing sunset at the campsite.

I think of Spartina (cordgrass) as salt marsh species, but this one, Spartina pectinata or prairie cordgrass, is happy in freshwater wetlands.  Stamens dangling in the breeze show it is in flower.

Cattail is an iconic plant of pond edges and freshwater marsh;
of the two common species, this one is narrow-leaved cattail, Typha angustifolia.

Cattail is increasingly outcompeted by the tall, plumed grass,  Phragmites australis (look for it on roadsides),  but this is a good, healthy marsh in which pure stands of Phragmites, while present, take second place in coverage.

Switchgrass (Panicum virginicum) at the campsite is familiar from roadsides and my own yard.

I think of bayberry as a shrub of open fields, but I see it's happy on higher ground in marsh, also.

Three-square or chair-maker's rush (Scirpus americanus)--actually a sedge rather than a rush--
has flowers that emerge from the side of the stem.

Packed and ready to set off once more--with the requisite giant mug of coffee.

Barn swallows in the marsh, then, disturbed, flying over the river.
(They are very difficult to capture in flight; you'll have to take my word for it!)

Another Scirpus--maybe S. validus, soft-stemmed "rush."

Some people richly enjoy the river.

A water weed I don't know.

First glimpse of the bright-green, emergent grass that will become my nemesis.

Cattail, perhaps soft rush, and a white-flowered plant I found was water hemlock.
(Of water hemlock: "all parts of the plant are deadly poisonous if eaten.")

Arrow-shaped leaves of Sagittaria, above, could be mistaken for the purple-flowered plant below, called pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata), with its un-barbed leaves.

Brook narrows, and becomes increasingly clogged with grass.

A handsome grass I do not know.

Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) is conspicuous in the marsh, if not common.

Damselflies (dragonfly cousins) mating.  Some can manage such gymnastics in flight.

It is unwise to take a sixteen-foot kayak into a brook only five feet wide.  At one point I was forced to climb out and swim the boat backwards because there wasn't room to turn it around.  Here I am hip-deep and not particularly happy, and here is my view of the boat.

Going back downriver; great blue heron and egret.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Red on the Roadside

This photo does not do justice.  I should have snapped one on the on-ramp.

Purple Love Grass (aka Petticoat Climber), Eragrostis spectabilis, has reached peak color.  This low, delicately-formed grass is common beside highways and especially highway ramps hereabouts, blanketing them in low, filmy clouds of red.

I'd always thought this grass was native, but it actually hails from Canada, though it has become naturalized over most of the US, including virtually all of the states east of the Rockies.  So I am content to grant this naturalized citizen "honorary native" status.

The name Petticoat Climber derives, I was taught, from the tendency of the top of the fruiting stalk to break loose and cling to clothing--likely an adaptation that would help it spread if it clung briefly to animal fur.

This grass should continue to decorate our roadsides into September.

 Flowers are in tiny clusters of half-a-dozen.

 A single plant doesn't look like much (though you will learn to spot them if you once see one).  Massed, they are quite a sight.

The sparse and delicate inflorescence is large, but close to the ground. 
(Photo is about fifteen inches tall.)

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

iNaturalist update: they can do birdsong!!

I'm reading a book* on (the phyla of) all the world's animals, that opines that birds are the best way to get into natural history: they are interesting, beautiful, and everywhere, and there are a small enough number of species that it is possible to learn all the species of birds in an area.

I entered natural history through plants.  Identifying plants is much easier than identifying birds in at least one way: they don't run away when you approach them.  You can also take bits of them home for a better look without doing permanent harm.  

I have tried without success to learn to identify birds by their songs.  Such skill brings enormous advantage: no more sneaking around staring upward and trying to get enough of a glimpse of a bird hidden among the foliage to identify it (in my case, usually necessitating a photo and much time spent with a guide book).  My old friend is a serious birder, and identifies birds by their songs as she walks, usually without need for even  a glance.  Unfortunately, she lives at the other end of the country.  So I've listened to Audubon teaching CDs of birdsongs.  I've listened to Cornell Lab of Ornithology recordings of birds I already know live in the neighborhood.  I've listened to birds and recorded birds and then tried to match them with Roger Tory Peterson's "sonograms."  But somehow I just can't make the learning stick.  Over and over I have painstakingly identified a bird I heard, only to find it is a familiar species with a song I should know immediately.  --all despite having a pretty good ear for music, and long experience in singing, myself.

So I was hopeful when I discovered that iNaturalist has a feature that allows uploading sound files.  Could I upload birdsong?  Would birders bother listening to them?  (It takes much, much longer to listen to a 30 second recording than to glance at a photo.)  A few days ago I found a few recordings from last year in my phone, uploaded them to SoundCloud as required, and created "observations."  Then I went away, expecting to wait days or weeks for a response.

Instead it took less than an hour!  Two different birders had listened to my recordings and confidently ventured IDs for half of them, somewhat less confidently for the rest.  And they also pointed out the likely identities of others birds audible in the background!  I will be adding song sparrows, yellow warblers and killdeer to the short list of birds I know in the neighborhood.

My years of being handicapped when it comes to birds are coming to an end!  I look forward to walking the dogs with phone in hand, and to recording the riotous chorus of birds next spring, and maybe even to going out early to catch the dawn chorus.

Song sparrow.

Yellow warbler.

*Ten Million Aliens by Simon Barnes  I came across it in a bookstore on Martha's Vineyard two years ago and saved my pennies 'til I could afford the ebook version.