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March 2013

February 2013

David Brown Walk through Estabrook Woods - Part 2

Saturday morning of the walk with naturalist/tracker David Brown, was cold and clear, just as a morning in February ought to be.  Parking at the appointed (for our walk) entrance to Estabrook Woods is nonexistant, so we parked along the side of the road, and made our way from there.  This area is quintessential New England, with stone walls, orchards and barns that belong on postcards.  

Estabrook sign 020213

Barn 020213

This was my first time to Estabrook, but anywhere that can manage to be beautiful in February deserves another visit.  As we left the pastural landscape, and the trees stretched out overhead we heard a strange vibrating noise above us.  One by one we began to look around for the source.  There it was, a tiny woodpecker at the utmost reaches of a tree.  It's pecking made the whole branch sway, distorting the usually familiar sound.  As we made our way over the hilly terrain, our guide, David Brown would stop, take a closer look at something he'd spotted on the ground and wait for us all to circle him.  Often we looked blankly at the same spot of ground that had caught his attention, not seeing a thing worthy of notice until he started to explain. 

I'd like to share with you the photos I took of those finds and what we learned about them.  I did my best to keep accurate notes, but if there are any errors, they are mine and not Brown's.


Fisher scat_squirrel Estabrook 020213
Fisher scat


Until hearing Brown's talk (see part 1), I'd assumed that people were crazy when they claimed fishers were responsible for the disapearance of cats and small dogs in the Boston suburbs.  I always picture these tree climbing predators as inhabiting upper Maine or maybe the White Mountains.  It turns out that I was only partly right.  The disappearance of small pets is more likely related to the increase in urban coyotes, but fishers live here among us too.  They prefer to stay away from us and our dogs, so they tend to come out around sunrise and sunset. 

On our walk we spotted two examples of fisher scat, both on logs.  Brown explained that this is a common fisher behavior.  There are several plausible explanations for the prominent location, including marking territory.  The scat is full of gray squirrel remains.  When fishers moved into this area they discovered a totally niave food source, squirrels.  These ubiquitous creatures were used to escaping predators by climbing up trees, but the fishers could climb too.  Sometimes's fishers will stash an uneaten portion of a squirrel in a squirrel nest, until it's ready to come back to finish it.  How's that for irony?

If you're in the area and would like to see a fisher, Drumlin Farm in Lincoln MA recently took in an injured one that could no longer fend for itself.  It's housed on Bird Hill. 

Intersting side note, the word "acorn" comes from an Old Norse word that means "Squirrel".  Where acorns are ample, squirrels will be too.

Deer scat 020213
This pile of feces was found along a deer trail.  Many of New England's roads were originally based on deer paths.  It would have been wasteful not to, considering the deer had already found the easiest way through the forest. 

A few things you may (or may not) have ever wanted to know about deer feces. 

  • It is common for deer to relieve themselves while walking, in which case the pellets are more scattered than they are here.
  • Rabbit and deer scat look quite similar.  You can tell this is deer, because each pellet has a bit of a point (like an acorn) and a cooresponding indent on the other side.  The reason for the indent becomes clear if you picture these pointy pellets lined up inside the deer's colon.  Of course, you may prefer not to picture that at all.

This walk was taken in early February, before the big blizzard, so scat was much easier to find than animal tracks.  It was funny to be out with a group of adults and talking so avidly about defication.  The only other time I think I've ever talked and thought so much about poo is while potty training a toddler!

Woodpecker hole estabrook 020213
This is a hole made by a piliated woodpecker.  The caverns inside were made by carpenter ants, the woodpecker's prey.  Here's a closer view.

Pilliated woodpecker hole_carpenter ant tunnels 020213
The cavern structure is quite intricate.  Over time this hole may be dug out a bit more to become home to any number of woodland creatures. 


Continuing on the topic of bugs, I've seen these little balls all my life and have never known (until now) where they came from.  There's a type of wasp that inserts its egg under the bark of the oak.  The oak is irritated by this and creates a pustule (the ball).  When the egg has grown into a worm, it eats its way out (thus the hole at one end).  Here's what the ball looks like on the inside.

Inside pustule 020213

Black locust estabrook 020213
While we're on the subject of trees, this black locust (right center) located not far from a stonewall caught Brown's attention.  He explained that this sort of locust is not native to the area.  It would have been brought here by a farmer who wanted to take advantage of its nitrogen fixing ability.  The farmer wouldn't have gone through all that bother for a hay field, so this land, now covered in trees, must once have been valuable farm land. 

Our final stop was along the shores of Mink Pond.  There's a lot to be said about this area, so I'll save that for a third post. 


David Brown Talk - Discovering Wildlife in your Backyard

On a bitterly cold, freeze the breath in your lungs sort of evening in January, at least 100 people squeezed into a conference room to hear tracker David Brown give a talk titled "The Forest is More than Trees: Using Animal Tracking Techniques to Discover Hidden Life in Suburban Woodlands".  The talk was sponsored by the Concord Land Conservation Trust.

Foot prints 2001
The ubiquitous gray squirrel

Looking around at his red nosed, wool and polar-fleece ensconced audience, Brown joked "You folks must have a serious case of cabin fever!"  He then went on to share stories from his career tracking the wildlife of New England, complete with photos, many taken not far from where we sat.  It was late in the evening, after a full day of work, but the time passed all too quickly.  Before we left, Brown invited us to sign up to go on a walk with him, sponsored again by the CLCT.  I couldn't believe my luck.  I'd joined the organization in order to get a copy of their trail maps, and now I was learning to read tracks, tree markings and scat.  And the amazing thing was that unlike when I was 7, reading Ranger Rick and dreaming about doing these things, now I was surrounded by people interested in the same things.  In fact, so many people signed up, that decided to have multiple walks, each with over 20 people attending. 

I hope you'll come back tomorrow to see what we discovered on the walk.

  Tracks 011511


Life on the Pedometer

I walked a little over an eighth of a mile while at church today, and a quarter mile while shopping at the grocery store.  This second fact probably says less about the size of the store, than it does about my ability to find the items I was looking for.  Farro.  Is it a grain?  A legume? 

Dream window 120810
Back in November when the darkness really took over the day, I started to suspect I wasn't walking as much as I thought I was.  I have a job that has me on the go most of the day, but it's in fits and starts, not prolonged activity.  To get a more accurate picture of how much exercise I was (or wasn't) getting, I decided to wear a pedometer for a few days. 

I very quickly realized that pedometers must have been designed by and for men.  Unless you are wearing a belt, the usual clip style pedometer is not going to stay on.  Add a winter coat and you'll double your exercise - bending over every few steps to pick the pedometer off the ground.  I have the  Walking Advantage 340 by Sportline, which allows you to set your stride and decide if you prefer to measure the distance covered or the steps you've taken.  These are nice options, but the 1" clip was not enough to keep it attached to the top of my jeans. I wondered if a more expensive model would be better designed, but paying more to get the same information felt ridiculous, so I went the other direction.

I tried the free pedometer I received from my health insurance company. This one comes with the usual clip on the back, but it also has a leash which I hooked around my belt loop.  On the plus side, the pedometer stayed on.  On the downside, it made an audible click with every step I took.  I doubt anyone passing me on the sidewalk would have heard it, but it drove me crazy. 

Walking off the turkey 112312
The day after Thanksgiving, I was out on a walk with a local MeetUp group and the conversation turned to walking resolutions.  Not surprisingly, this came right after long discussions of what we'd eaten the day before.  When I asked if anyone could recommend a good pedometer, I got two enthusiastic replies.  The first was for a pedometer put out by Weight Watchers that attaches to your bra strap.  This eliminates the falling off problem, and makes it possible to wear the pedometer while swimming (something I'd never considered).  Though you do need to be careful which strap you put it on.  The woman who owned it said she was racking up great numbers one week, but didn't think she'd been doing that much exercise.  The more she thought about it, she realized she'd actually been in her car more than usual that week.  Then it hit her.  She was getting credit for each time she shifted!

The other recommendation was for the Nike+ system on the iPod nano.  She had my attention; I own a nano and use it almost every time I'm out for a walk. I'd seen the Nike emblem on the menu, but had figured it was some sort of tie in with their shoes, so I'd never investigated it before. 

One of the things I love about my tiny (and therefor oh so often misplaced) nano, is that it has a tight clip, the size of the device itself on the back.  This means I can attach it to the neck of my shirt in summer, the zipper of my heaviest coat in winter, even inside my shirt in case of rain. 

Could the pedometer be accurate if I could place it practically anywhere?  I clipped my traditional pedometer to my jeans, my nano to my coat and I set out for a walk.  The nano never fell off, the pedometer fell repeatedly.  At the end of the walk I compared the results.  Both told me how many steps I'd taken and the distance I'd travelled in miles.  The nano did say that I'd walked two hundredths of a mile more than the pedometer did.  The pedometer had been calibrated to my stride, so I'm confident it was the more accurate number, but for me the convenience of the nano was well worth a slight dip in accuracy.  I admit it didn't hurt that the inaccuracy was in my favor.  In addition, the nano kept track of how long I'd been walking and saved my walk history.   This was perfect for me. 

I'd be interested to hear what sort of pedometer you use and what you like/dislike about it.  Please leave a comment with your opinion.