tree swallow

the bird houses dotting the summit of cedar hill in northborough apparently are homes for tree swallows. though beautiful (an all-white bottom topped by a metallic blue on top), i consider tree swallows common enough that i don't pay any particular attention to them anymore (i've seen them at fresh pond, i've seen them at mt.auburn cemetery). however, getting a good photo of a tree swallow is still a challenge because usually they're flying around catching insects. this particular subject i saw it land on the post of a bird house. i slowly inched my way closer, continuously taking photos along the way, making sure i wasn't trampling over any poison ivy patches. finally it did fly away, but i don't think it was anything i did, it went off to hunt for more insects.

i couldn't fall asleep last night. maybe it was the excitement of knowing i wouldn't be working today (friday) but instead going out and getting some nature kept me awake. maybe it was the can of coke i had at my parents' place. whatever the reason, i just couldn't sleep. i read. nope. i watched tv. nope. i even got up to surf the internet a bit but i still couldn't get drowsy. finally i went back to bed and watched a tony blair documentary on PBS until 6am. by then the sun had already come out and i could hear my upstairs neighbors moving about in their kitchen. i didn't fall asleep until 8am. only then was i sleepy, but more like exhausted after battling insomnia all night long.

unfortunately i wouldn't get to sleep very long since i had to wake up at 10am and help my father put up a fence. i rode down to the cafe and found him in the parking lot making preparations. when we went and saw the fence that my grand uncle had provided for us, they were actually disassembled planks instead of a whole fence segment, so fence mending would have to be postponed. instead i borrowed the car and went down to ricky's flower market in union square to buy some hay bales to use as garden mulch. "can i help you?" a young man asked me. "do you guys sell any bundles of hay?" i asked. he thought about it for a few seconds then said, "no, we don't sell that." i thought about going someplace else, but everywhere else i could think of were either too far and a waste of time so i went back to the cafe and returned the car.

i got back home by noontime and fixed myself some lunch in the form of the leftover pasta my sister made last night. after i ate, i packed up my gear and made my way to crane swamp in the four boroughs, that region of central massachusetts beyond framingham. it took a while to get to since i the back roads, from route 16 to route 9 then finally route 30. the weather was hot and sunny, and i knew my arms and face were baking; i could literally feel myself getting darker. since i didn't bring any maps other than what i memorized and the trail map printout, i was afraid i got lost after riding for over an hour and still haven't reached my destination. i kept on going though, figuring even if i got lost, it was still an adventure visiting towns i've never been to before. the weird thing was according to the trail map, the parking and entrance leading into cedar hill reservation (one of the many preserves around crane swamp) looked like it was now an office park. but i put my faith in the trail map and pulled over into the large parking lot. looking around, i found trail markers that seemed promising.

before i went into the forest i coated myself with bug spray. though there wasn't any mosquitoes yet, just the fact that i would be walking the perimeters of a swamp promised plenty of bloodsuckers to come. in hindsight, despite the hot weather, i should've worn a light windbreaker just to keep the bugs off of me. but initially it wasn't bad. there was an information kiosk, so i knew i was going in the right direction at least.

the trail crossed some power lines, then some train tracks. that lead to an open grass field, where i saw swallows flying about and i think a yellow warbler as well. the caretakers seemed to have a mowed a trail so the grass wasn't very high but i was checking my pants occasionally to make sure i wasn't harboring any hitchhiking ticks.

a zigzagging boardwalk cut through a muddy marsh before coming into a shady wooded forest, a carpet of red pine needles coating the ground. a small wooden bridge spanned a gentle babbling brook, and the place had a very serene feeling to it. unfortunately, this was also where the mosquitoes started to appear.

there were so many it felt like it was raining mosquitoes. despite being protected by an invisible shield of insect repellent, it still freaked me out to have my bare arms and face and my hair be brushed by mosquitoes trying to find a clear spot to take a bite. even some of the photos i took had blurry spots on the image - not because of dust on the CCD chip, but because mosquitoes were flying in front of the camera lens. i walked hurriedly through this portion of the trail, as it went up cedar hill to the summit.

i was the only person out there. besides not meeting anyone else, i kept running into cobwebs and inchworm silk along the trail, a sign that nobody's been out, at least for today. cedar hill also reminded me a lot of some the places in vermont where i found efts. at one point i even saw a wood frog, which is an obligate species of vernal pools, so on rainy days later in the summer, this would be a great place to come out and look for newts.

this shady woods wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the mosquitoes. various types of ferns dotting the landscape. something smelled really nice, which is probably due to the canada mayflowers finally blooming. i was surprised to see only a few ladyslippers, and only near the edge of the brook. there were however a lot of starflowers and wild geraniums.

finally i made it to the summit. i was expecting a desolate rocky outcropping but turns out there's a large open area populated by various invasive plants. i noticed there were a lot of poison ivy so i stepped very carefully. from here there was a good view south (naturally to the town of southborough). further down was more open space before it became woods again.

a well-placed information kiosk was built on the summit as well, explaining some of the ecology. there were also a lot of early milkweeds so this would be a good spot to harvest monarch butterfly caterpillars during the summer.

sure enough, there were some butterflies that were already visiting. the only one that approached close enough for me to get a good look (as well some photos) was a black swallowtail, which i've never seen before (compare and contrast with the tiger swallowtail i saw a few weeks ago). (so that fulfilled my quota of seeing something new every time i go out naturing).

black swallowtail (male)

there was also a hummingbird moth (one of my favorite moths) but it was very skittish and hovered just far enough that i didn't dare risk trampling through poison ivy to get close enough for a decent chance at getting a photo.

eastern phoebe

there were birds there as well. besides the aforementioned tree swallows, i also saw a baltimore oriole and a few phoebes. all of these birds were seen panting in order to keep cool on this 90+ degrees day. i didn't see any hawks which was surprising, i figured on such a warm day they'd be circling the sky riding the thermals. however, i did see one when i was coming in, an unidentifiable hawk being mobbed by a gang of starlings.

panting phoebe

as a matter of fact, i stayed on the summit for a while and the only thing lacking was perhaps a bench to sit down (i was afraid to sit because i didn't want to accidently get poison ivy on my bum). out in the sun, the mosquitoes kept away and i could nature unhampered. it even got great cell phone reception as i returned a few calls (none of them work related, thank god).

robin's egg

every spring/summer i find robin egg shells. why is that? is it because they're more conspicuous, with that robin egg blue? or are they most often the victims of theft by other critters? or is it because there's an exploding robin's population and i'm just finding evidence of their overpopulation? whatever the case, i'm still in awe whenever i find one (or the pieces of one). i can even remember the very first time i found a robin's egg: it was back in first grade, i was playing by a swing set when i saw this blue egg shell in the sand nearby. i don't think i knew it was a robin but i knew it belonged to a bird - just that i've never seen a blue egg before, so it blew my 6 year old mind.

instead of continuing further (the trail wasn't a loop anyway, i'd have to retrace my steps sooner or later), i turned back into the mosquito infested woods from whence i came. i made quick work of the downhill path and got out of there as fast as possible. people must've taken off early to get a head start on the long memorial day weekend because the parking lot was virtually empty when i returned. i took a sip from my warm bottle of water before getting on the bike and returning home. i had to kick in the reserve gas tank after i reached the 160 miles mark and pulled into the nearest gas station. for a little bit more than 2 gallons of gasoline i paid $7. it may not sound expensive for folks who drive cars, but i used to be able to fill up my tank with just $2. the good old days! when're they going to build a hybrid motorcycle?

i didn't get back home until 5:30. first thing i did was to take a shower and to check myself for ticks (none). i was so thirty and hot i finished the four bottles of ice tea my mother had given me earlier that day. originally i wanted to do some work in the garden but i was just too tired. neither did my plans to replacing the aquarium stand with the new one i bought, i'll do all that tomorrow (or this weekend, got plenty of free time).

i spent what was left of the daylight taking photos of neighbors as they walked by my house. i caught the red sox game and had some canned soup for dinner.