August 18, 2015

Coastal Grass at Great Meadows

Coastal barnyard grass (Echinochloa walteri), aka Walter's millet
In an August evening walk along the Dike Trail at Great Meadows NWR - Concord Unit, the backlight of the setting sun sets several clumps of coastal barnyard grass (Echinochloa walteri), also known as "Walter's millet," ablaze among the mid-August wildflowers.  The sight stops many in their tracks.

Thanks to one of this month's walk participants at Great Meadows, I was asked to reconsider my ID for this grass, which for several years I have assumed was foxtail barley (Hordeum jubatum).  Re-noting its branched inflorescence and prominent bristles that stand out on the lower stem and continue prominently up through all of the inflorescences, I tracked down the correct ID.  Checking in with Ray Angelo's Vascular Flora of Concord, Massachusetts, he mentions that Richard Eaton (author of the Flora of Concord, 1974) said this grass was abundant in Concord in a single location - along the dike trail at Great Meadows.  It inhabits the upper edges of salt marshes and other low-lying wetland shorelines across the eastern U.S.

August 14, 2015

Great Meadows Evening Walk - Aug. 16

Sunday, August 16, 6:30 pm
Great Meadows NWR - Concord

Join me for one last evening stroll through the refuge to enjoy the colorful glow of late summer wildflowers and fruits, the hum of myriad bees and dragonflies, the choreographed pulsing of evening gnats, and the symphony of crickets and katydids and dusktime birdsong.  We'll meet Joe-Pye weed, buttonbush fruits, silky dogwood berries, tearthumbs, evening primrose, wild cucumber vine, and cardinal flowers along the way.  Come prepared for serendipitous wild encounters of all kinds!  Donations are gratefully accepted.

Led by local naturalist and photographer, Cherrie Corey (yours truly)

Open to all ages.  No pre-registration required. 

Co-sponsored with Friends of the Assabet River NWR

Please note:  Refuge headquarters waives the entrance fee for these walks.  However, I encourage everyone to consider purchasing a $12 annual pass to help support critical visitor service needs at Great Meadows NWR - Concord Unit.

Meet at the information kiosk at Great Meadows NWR in Concord.  Take Rte. 62 to Monsen Rd.  Follow Monsen Rd. and turn left into refuge driveway when road turns sharply right.  Follow refuge road to the parking lot at the end.  GPS coordinates:  203 Monsen Rd. (yellow house on left immediately before the refuge driveway).

For questions or to be added to the emailing list for notice of these and impromptu evening walks, contact Cherrie at or 978-760-1933.

August 2, 2015

Blue Moon Shared - A Glorious Rising

Some forty-three eager walkers joined me on July 31 at Great Meadows for a lovely summer evening stroll down the cross-dike trail, timed to share a glorious Blue Moon rise over the marsh. We explored the many blooming summer wildflowers and airborn and scurrying critters along the way. A swelling chorus of tree crickets and cicadas provided the music and a little family of mallards trying to get from river to marsh through our forest of feet in a 'make way for ducklings' moment.

A blue moon is the contemporary, popular term for a second full moon that occurs within one calendar month, which happens about every 2.5 years.  For an older definition of 'blue moon' see this link, Blue Moon Folklore.

The moonrise was stunning, with the refuge's expansive American lotus field (a mixed blessing) lighting up as the moon climbed higher.  The last blue moon rise took place in August 2012.

Once mother mallard coaxed all of her ducklings through our throng, they paddled away through the moonbeams, giving us all a shiver in the perfection of that moment.

July 22, 2015

Dawn to Dusk - Summer at Great Meadows NWR

Walking through Great Meadows NWR in Concord, on either end of a summer day, reveals the bustle and beauty of life in this warmest stretch of the year.  On July 15, I took a dawn stroll through curtains of early fog, past festoons of spidery gossamer on nearly every surface.

Many spiders begin weaving their webs at dusk, to take advantage of calm winds and increased insect activity through the night.  On early summer mornings, delicate webs can be seen nearly everywhere, highlighted by dewdrops and the slanted rays of the rising sun.  Here, a meshweb spider wraps plant leaves and stems in a tangle of threads, waiting in its tunnel for the vibration of insect visitors that signals breakfast has arrived.

Joe-pye weed, with its magenta buds and stems highlighted by whorls of vein-textured leaves, is a pretty native that brightens wet meadows, wetland shorelines, and the many agricultural drainage ditches throughout Concord.  It joins the pink/magenta/green summer palette along with showy tick-trefoil, swamp milkweed, and the invasive purple loosestrife.

Though perfectly designed through several hours of effort, these ephemeral webs last but a few hours into each day...a gift to behold during an early morning walk.

Blue vervain grows annually along the cross-dike trail at Great Meadows.  This year it has been especially abundant.

 A very humid summer's dawn, after a cool night, and excess moisture hangs in the air.

Young geese and their parents forage for breakfast along the trail.

One of my most memorable encounters of the morning is this mesh web spider's (Dictynidae) silken wrapping over the pink-budding head of a Queen Anne's lace inflorescence about to bloom.  This spider was uncertain about the close range of my camera lens and quickly retreated into its hiding tunnel on the left side of the flowerhead.

In mid-July, this swamp milkweed (Aesclepias incarnata) was still opening its flowers.  Blooming about 2-3 weeks after its common milkweed (Aesclepias syriaca) cousin, both are primary food plants for monarch butterflies and entertain a wide variety of pollinators.

Milk parsley (Peucedanum palustre) grows abundantly at Great Meadows in Concord, but is known to grow only in three other locations in North America, all in eastern Massachusetts.  Milk parsley grows throughout Europe and central Asia and has been broadly used as a medicinal and food plant.  It's also a very attractive member of the parsley family (Apiaceae), so we can imagine it might have been brought here initially for any of these reasons. 

Showy tick-trefoil (Desmodium canadense) forms a beautiful shrubby border along the cross Dike Trail.  After blooming for about three weeks in mid-summer, it becomes a glowing tangle of hairy pods (photo later in this post) that stick to every animal and walker that passes by.

Blue dashers (Pachydiplax longipennis) outnumber all other dragonfly species at Great Meadows.  The males - with their big turquoise eyes, powdery blue abdomens, and amber blush in their wings - look entirely different from the females.  They're easy to spot, perched horizontally on flower, leaves, or small branch tips.

A beauty in the shadows along the marsh's edge...the twining, glowing green hearts of climbing false buckwheat (Fallopia scandens).

When the weather is humid and soil moisture is high, jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) has the ability to release excess water in its tissues by pumping it out through tiny openings (called hydathodes) at the edges of its leaves.  On damp sunny mornings, we find jewelweed festooned with glittering droplets that sparkle like the plant one of its names.  It's other name, touch-me-not, refers to its hair-trigger seed pods that explode with the lightest touch.  Jewelweed often grows abundantly near poison ivy and a mash made of the plant has proven effective in stopping the spread of poison ivy rash.

White-faced meadowhawk (Sympetrum obtrusum), female or young male, sitting on exuding jewelweed leaves in early morning.

This vigorous wildflower takes center stage in all four seasons.  Fresh evening primrose flowers open on mid-summer evenings after sundown to attract battalions of large sphinx moths.  These newly opened blossoms give a refreshing splash of clear yellow to the morning landscape and will continue to attract an array of daytime pollinators before fading at the next sundown.  Flowers also attract primrose moths (Schinia florida) who arrive in late summer to lay their eggs inside the plants' developing fruit capsules.  Many hundreds of evening primrose fruit capsules survive the grazing of caterpillars to form hundreds of highly nutritious, tiny black seeds that provide essential nourishment to late breeding goldfinches and winter migrating songbirds.  The dried and emptied seed capsules sit atop stout stalks and weather a golden brown, to persist like ornaments in the winter landscape.

A small colony of American germander (Teucreum canadense) caught my eye this month, the first I've seen at Great Meadows.  I know of two other locations for this plant in Concord, though there may be more.
Slippery elm (Ulmus rubra), above, and American elm, are common understory trees in the floodplain forest

Some lingering morning fog on the Concord River, bordering the refuge, as the rising sun spreads reflections across its glassy surface.

On July 21, I took an evening stroll through the refuge, shortly before sunset when the light is most dramatic and the air is humming with insect songs.

The backlit glow of the evening sun brings a magical perspective to this familiar landscape, making even the most familiar plants and creatures seem like beings from another dimension.  Here, the common sallow sedge (Carex lurida) grabs my attention amidst a tangle of cattails.

Blue dasher dragonflies, especially lively in the waning light of warm evenings, create fanciful acrobatic silhouettes in backlight.

The last blossoms of a few stalwart fleabane plants (Erigeron sp.) still light up the trail with their starry flowers.  Soon calico asters (Symphyotrichum lateriflorum) will fill in with their tiny white autumn blossoms.

A Pennsylvania ambush bug (Phymata pennsylvanica) lies in wait on an evening primrose leaf.

One of my favorite summer flowers, blue vervain (Verbena hastata), glows with a blue-purple light in the evening...very hard to catch in a photograph without backlight.  Whether wild or cultivated, all verbenas are particularly attractive to pollinators.

Perhaps, showy tick-trefoil's delicate pink blossoms and forming velcroed seedpods steal the show along the cross-dike trail and the waning sun sets them all aglow from mainland to the river.  

On this summer's night, the sunset echoes the palette of the flowers along the trail wrapping us within and without in a pink glow.

June 22, 2015

Summer Solstice Refreshment at Great Meadows

Several monthly walkers and I stepped out onto a puddled trail last evening where lush June foliage hung heavy from some 2.25" of Solstice rain that had fallen throughout the day.  Silky dogwood buds were bursting open, bird chatter filled the humid air, and the heady fragrance of milkweed and white sweet clover blossoms permeated our senses.  A tattered bronze copper (Lycaena hyllus) butterfly tucked into the thick clover growth for the night.

Puddles lined the dike trail like runway lights, a rare sight during this drought stricken spring.  Still with all the dryness, we found abundant blooms of silky dogwood, winterberry, yarrow, milkweed, common St. Johnswort, milk parsley (just beginning), curly dock, yellow avens, and white sweet clover.   

An approaching cold front piled clouds along the western and northern horizons dramatically catching and deflecting the setting sunlight.

As darkness approached, green frogs began their low groan, great blue herons flew in for dusk-time feeding, and young wood ducklings appeared with their mom skittering among the rain-bejeweled lotus leaves feeding and exploring.  Toward the end of our walking, the male and female beaver from the eastern-most lodge swam up to us and circled close in the rosy water, without a tailslap.

Our evening ended with the twinkling light of fireflies filling the woodland borders of the parking lot...all a perfect beginning to summer days ahead.

June 3, 2015

Summer Evening Walks at Great Meadows

Monarch butterfly on buttonbush

 Part of a continuing series of walks led by Cherrie Corey, local naturalist, exploring the seasonal wonders and landscape of Great Meadows NWR in Concord, MA

Sunday, June 21, 6:30 pm   Monthly walk  Walk is on tonight!
Sunday, July 19, 6:30 pm   Monthly walk
 Sunday, August 16, 6:30 pm   Monthly walk

Wednesday, July 1, 6:45 pm   Full Moon walk 
Friday, July 31, 6:45 pm   Blue Moon walk

All walks run about 1.75 hours

Warm summer nights and full moon light...join me for a series of six evening walks to explore the refuge on the edge of a long summer's day.  Birds and beavers stir and settle, herons feed, and great egrets fly to their roosts.  Hawk moths come out to feed on evening primrose blossoms and lotuses glow in the moonlight.  The air is heavy with floral scents and rainbows may appear as storms pass along the horizon.  It's a magical time to be out together.  Donations will be gratefully accepted.

Open to all ages.  No pre-registration required. 

Co-sponsored with Friends of the Assabet River NWR

Please note:  Refuge headquarters waives the entrance fee for these walks.  However, I encourage everyone to consider purchasing a $12 annual pass to help support critical visitor service needs at Great Meadows - Concord.

Meet at the information kiosk at Great Meadows NWR in Concord.  Take Rte. 62 to Monsen Rd.  Follow Monsen Rd. and turn left into refuge driveway when road turns sharply right.  Follow refuge road to the parking lot at the end.

For questions or to be added to the emailing list for notice of these and impromptu evening walks, contact Cherrie at or 978-760-1933.

March 29, 2015

Gardner Bohemians

While Gardner Bohemian may well describe how I felt growing up in this town in the 1960's, this winter it's being applied to a huge flock of rare Bohemian waxwings (some 180 strong) who flew into town in early March and have been gorging on crab apples ever since.  Yesterday while visiting my dad, I had the chance to visit the crabapple trees outside of Heywood Hospital where some 130 Bohemians were feeding in the wind-driven snow.

In a typical winter, dedicated birders will drive miles to see one or two reported Bohemians hanging out with a flock of our more common cedar waxwings.  Bohemians are a wandering lot, creating no permanent territory of their own.  They breed primarily in the taiga far in the northwestern reaches of Canada and Alaska, where cloudberries and insects are their delicacies, traveling from there into the northern edge of the U.S. in the winter in search of dried fruit.  With this winter's prolonged polar blast, snow cover, and abundant ornamental fruit supplies, an unusual number found their way into Massachusetts, mostly as individuals.  A long-term visit from a flock this size is phenomenal and gives observers a chance to experience a more natural range of Bohemian behaviors.

Remote as their breeding grounds are, wintering Bohemians are more likely found near civic buildings and golf courses in northern New England towns where crab apple trees are abundant.  The Gardner Bohemians have been found foraging outside of the town's hospital, Elks Lodge, courthouse, and Mount Wachusett Community College where fruit trees have provided abundant sundried apples, which they boldly swallow whole, their determined feeding reminding me of great blue herons trying to swallow fish.

Their favorite trees are still strung in holiday lights and thick with fruit. Photographing the feeding frenzy is challenging.  The birds sit motionless, chatting, and digesting at the top of a nearby 50' sugar maple tree.  Then they begin to stir and the whole flock lifts up, swirls in overhead, and descends like a cloud of smoke into a single tree, feeding wildly for less than 10 seconds, then grabbing extra fruit, they swirl up again and back to their resting tree.  They are very sensitive to noise and nearby movement while feeding, but became comfortable enough with my unmoving presence that they finally came in to feed right next to me.  I loved seeing these wild denizens of the north so boldly and gregariously eating amidst the trappings of civilization, so I chose to leave these details in my portraits of them.

Two huge wind turbines flank the field near the Bohemians resting tree providing a somewhat jarring visual counterpoint to the whole scene, though the sound did not seem to bother the birds.  On my previous day's visit, the birds left their roost and flew like a large black cloud down the middle of Green St. to the community college beyond.  I followed them to see where they were choosing to feed and found them dispersed on either side of the road in front of the college, taking turns joining a gathering of blackbirds and robins who were feeding on some fruit laden staghorn sumacs near the road.  Good to know we also have acceptable wild fruits to sustain them on their long journey north.

As always, happy to see wildness prevail in my hometown.