Monday, April 30, 2007

Eastern Spotted Salamanders

Sunday, 8:35 PM, April 30, 2007

Just as a follow up to my earlier post about the Amphibian Monitoring Program I wanted to show you some pictures of the salamanders I relocated last night. I really wanted to get out again tonight but we have high winds predicted and things are already swirling in good shape. The road I have to take is through Groton State Forest and the chance for downed trees is very good tonight. Cutting trees in the dark is not something I want to learn to do.

This first picture is of two Eastern Spotted Salamanders. The one in the front has a little note attached as I am questioning the blue spots. There are Jefferson and also Blue Spotted salamanders in Vermont and there are hybrids of those two. I wasn't aware that the Eastern (yellow) Spotted hybridized. Alex tells me "no" which means he listened to the lecture better than I did. He cannot, however, tell me how blue spots got on a Eastern (yellow) Spotted Salamander.

These salamanders get to be a foot long. The largest last night was 8.5" That translates to several years old but again I don't remember the exact ratios. I noticed that they don't mind walking all over their friends and fellow salamanders so they do have some human traits too.

When these guys walk, they can cruise right along but nonetheless they are very difficult to spot. When they do stop, they raise their heads but this is only half an inch off the ground so there's not a lot to perceive. If you pick them up and then place them back down they hold in a kind of lame posture with tail curled and head pointed down towards the ground. I was a little apprehensive when I picked up the first one as it turned its head toward my hand and I didn't know what to expect. Probably been around Karl the wonder dog too much. He always bites the hand that feeds him!

One time a reader commented that he enjoyed reading my blog even if I took a circuitous route to get to the garden topic. There's no garden issue with spotted salamanders but the fact is they are part of our environment. If we are good gardeners, we're always thinking about what lives where we garden. Sometimes the absence of certain things such as frogs or the presence of things such as long horn beetles I've never seen before, makes me think about how our environment is changing. Having a new piece of land to work at a new, much lower elevation will encourage us to look at new plant and animal relationships. If you have any questions or comments, let us know.

Karl wants to go out and the way the wind is blowing, I hope this is the last call for tonight.
Gardening wishes from the mountain above Peacham Pond where Wayfarin Strangers plays High On A Mountain ..........where the wind blows free...... and the spring peepers and wood frogs have already called it quits for the night.

George Africa

Spotted Salamanders, Amphibian Monitoring

Monday, April 30, 2007

A dark, gloomy day here on the mountain above Peacham Pond. The rain is pounding on the standing steam roof and only a kid like Alex could sleep through this kind of noise. Karl the wonderdog already greeted me in the office, looked out the window and went back to bed. He doesn't like the rain but this morning I think it's good to see. We have about 10,000 pots planted right now and they always can use some water. Water from the sky is easier on labor, time and cost than from a garden hose.

arrive from Today more delivery trucks come. I suspect that this morning the soil and supply truck will arrive from Tewksbury, Massachusetts. This is coming from Griffin Greenhouse Supply, one of the two big east coast suppliers. We have used them for years. I don't even want to think about the bill as petroleum prices have affected every single thing that comes to us.

Since buying this piece of property we have thought more about the environment and what's going on to the land we use. The fact that the Winooski River borders a piece of the land gave us a chance to get involved with others with similar interests. A few weeks back we went to a great lecture on amphibian monitoring and this weekend we figured it was time to do some night surveys. On the list of things to be on the lookout for are the Eastern Spotted Salamander, the Jefferson Salamander or hybrids of this and the Easterns, the Eastern Red Backed Salmander, the Easter Spotted Newt, the Wood Frog, Spring Peeper, American Toad and other frogs.

Friday night it looked like I'd be on my own as Gail and Alex had a busy day and Karl isn't all that good at spotting things at night. I made it as far as Owl's Head on Route 232 and then turned around and gave up. The fog was so thick that seeing to drive was enough of a challenge. Sarturday night after some rain I thought things would improve but the temeprature here plunged to 38 and the fog was again quite intense. Last night was different except that I still couldn't find any companions to help with the lookout. My proposed search area was the Railroad Bed East that runs from above MarshfieldVillage to Wells River. It's part of the old Montpelier to Wells River RR.

When I checked out the road yesterday morning it was passable. There were rough places with a few real bad spots made worse by the Vermont boys possessed to challenge their ability to get their trucks stuck in mud. The beavers had been working in different places but the wildlife staff seemed to have most under control.

Last night I found 4 Eastern Spotted Salamanders in the less than half a mile section I had ear marked for survey. I also found one American Toad who did not want to move out of the way, innumerable wood frogs and a bunch of spring peepers. Not having ever done this before I figured the frogs would see me coming and hop away but that's the problem, they don't. Although peepers and wood frogs go silent as you approach a vernal spring or other wet area they sing from, they are in their favorite environment then and they dive under the water. On land they remain motionless and this is how they become pancakes when traffic passes.

One of the most eerie parts of the evening was adjusting to the constant calling of the woodcocks which find the swampland on either side of this road a find place to reside. On a typical night they no doubt feed for worms along this roadbed but last night I interrupted their schedule. They flew back and forth over my head at high speeds and although I never saw one, I heard what sounded like hundreds. I'll have to mention this again to the Audubon folks who are currently surveying this block of Vermont.

Today will get busy real fast so I have to get clicking here. What I did last night was really enlightening and a side of nature you might never see unless you make the effort. Just walking a road in the middle of the night changes perspective. I need to get to the new land and do a similar night survey. If you get a chance, check out your own neighborhood and you might just be surprised as I was.

Wet gardening thoughts from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the absent snow uncovered the winter workings of just too many moles.

George Africa

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Willows and Riparian Plantings

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Just after 6 AM and I already feel like I'm "behind" for the day. Arthritis has a way of slowing down even good gardeners and after helping plant 375 gallon pots yesterday, I can feel some unused muscles getting back into shape. My right hand has finger joints I can count by the degree of pain but after I get going here they'll loosen up and I'll be ready for another day of planting. I hope!

46 degrees here on the hill and probably colder down on the new property. I keep forgetting to buy a max-min thermometer to put down there so I can begin tracking the way the rise and fall of the Winooski River affects the temperature. There are good and bad points to having the river border part of the property. Its inherent beauty over weighs other points but the almost daily increase in water flow by about three feet is something I don't care for. Green Mountain Power owns a power plant on the Lower Cabot Road in Marshfield. Water from the watershed that includes Peacham Pond and the Marshfield Reservoir flow down along Route 2, up to the water tower and then down the hill through the pent stock to the power plant. Many afternoons after 2:30 the pent stock is opened and water rises rapidly. When that happens, more and more river bank is carried to Lake Champlain a little at a time. As you travel Route 2 and look towards the river, you notice oxbow after river oxbow washing out and it becomes clear how serious this is. The Friends of the Winooski River is sponsoring a guest speaker from Green Mountain Power May 9th and I'll be asking some questions about this problem. Here's the lecture info:

Hydropower on the Winooski River on May 9th at the Cabot Town Hall at 6:30 PM. Jon Soter, Manager of Power Production for Green Mountain Power will be the focus of the presentation on GMP's operations on the Winooski River. Jon will cover the company's overall operations and capacity. The presentation will also cover the historical development of hydropower as well as GMP's focus on other renewables such as windpower.

Regarding bank erosion I am going to do a little preventive work myself. When Gail went to the flower show in Essex earlier this year I asked her to buy me a couple bundles of pussy willows. There's always a booth that sells a large variety of different willows for spring home decoration. Few seem to know that if you stick them in water they'll root in short order and compound your investment if you have a place that needs planting. Gail came home with a bundle of yellow and a bundle of black willows which I gave a fresh cut to and placed in water. Willonw have an inherent chemical that makes them root easily. In fact many folks take willows and cut them in small pieces and throw them in a bucket of water with other harder-to-root items. The chemicals dissolve in the water and enhance rooting.

I took these pictures two weeks ago and at that time gave the whips another fresh cut and changed the water. The roots are twice this big now and are getting ready to put outside to harden off a little before planting. The yellow willows have thinner leaves than the native varities common to wet areas around Vermont. The black willows have interesting catkins.

The black willow bundle Gail purchased was a little more dehydrated than the yellow and have been slower to get started but this would not ordinarily be the case. Some catkins went into full bloom as soon as they hit the water. The raven feather I've included in the picture is only intended to show size as its 12" long. In another week or so I'll plant these along the river bank about 5 feet from the high water line. Just another way to keep Marshfield soil in Marshfield.

Have to get going here!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where a fine rain falls and loons call from the reservoir but receive no replies from their friends on Peacham. Can loons hear when they are underwater having breakfast?

George Africa

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Spring rains, spring wild flowers

Saturday, April 28, 2007

7 AM here on the hill. 42 degrees and foggy. A light mist is falling from above and two drenched mourning doves are pecking out the last millet seeds from the corners of the platform feeders.
Spring is here. I'm a little foggy myself as I was out last night on the amphibian monitoring program, walking the road with two flashlights that weren't strong enough to see anything but water logger night crawlers.

I don't know about you but when I get interested in a blog I go back often looking for new information and new stories. I get a little miffed when authors go on vacation or just drop out of sight altogether. I must admit I became one of my own "enemies" the past couple weeks for a variety of reasons. We've been helping with a piece of autism legislation in Montpelier, had a 90th b-day party for Gail's mother, spent the beauty of last weekend raking leaves, dawn to dust, and have had a slew of doctor and dentist appointments to get out of the way. We still have a week's worth of leaf raking but Alex and Gail helped me get the plastic on the greenhouse and now we're ready to pot plants no matter what the weather.

This time of year gets us sparked up and the hellebores and hepaticas now blooming in the lower garden bring an instant beauty that helps with the spark. The hellebores look terrible because of the way the weather cycle changed from January to a couple weeks ago but I can tell the second flush of flowers will be special. Right now there are three different colors in bloom and for once the foliage looks great.

There is some interesting work going on now with hybridizing hepaticas and I think in a few years this work will be introduced to the perennial gardening world. I can't site any hybridizers off the top here, as I have followed this interest on bunny hopping Internet cruises. Regardless, if you like this plant like Gail does, do some research.

Wednesday night Gail and I went to visit the new land. The Winooski River was up and roaring but the land was not as wet as we expected. The new driveway had settled in nicely and the $700 worth of manure delivered last fall shrunk to half the size and Gail's dismay. It's really ok as that's what happens with organic matter. In a couple-three weeks when we finish planting here, we'll attack the new gardens and dump tons of other organic material into the gardens we rototilled last summer. This is the time to take a quick look at this land as you drive by because things will begin to happen soon.

I mentioned last winter that I had found that the upper corner of the property we bought served as a staging area perhaps 30-40 years ago for road sand for the state and local highway crews. If you pass by now you can see an old road that staggers somewhat parallel to Route 2 and the Winooski River. It's more obvious now that I have cut out mountains of brush. It's on that first ridge that's I'll begin planting hostas in June.

This hosta picture is taken in our lower garden here on Peacham Pond Road but it gives a good rendering of what we plan for our new gardens. We want a large display of hostas which over time will begin to mesh together with different colors, heights and ripples. If you aren't used to this large a concept it may be hard to imagine but in five years it will be a show stopper and you'll have no excuse for not stopping. If you see me out working come the end of May, stop anyway and chat. I won't stop working but I won't stop talking either. Ask Gail.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where the loons call morning conversations to their friends in transit overhead. Seeing loons in flight is like seeing moose in Vermont. It may take a while but you'll be excited when it happens.

Spring gardening wishes,

George Africa

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Winooski Headwaters Speakers Series

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

7:30 PM and the final daylight is fading quickly. It's so nice to look out the office window this time of year and view the field below, still covered with snow but changing dramatically each day. In the lower daylily nursery is a spade shovel left last fall when I was digging a late daylily for a late customer. "Autumn Prince" was the tall, floriferous plant just covered with buds. I can still see the high bud count and the +5 foot tall plants. I recall that the customer had just stopped to talk and spotted the blooms from the house and "had to have one". Tonight they are still sleeping, frozen solid, but a fine memory in my mind.

I made a trip to Rutland today after starting in Waterbury so every part of me is tired. I did want to mention the Friends of the Winooski River again ( 866-683-7197). They have posted three events that you might be interested in. Since our new land borders the Winooski, I'm trying to keep involved.

Here are the announcements taken directly from the local Field Notes, Vol VII No. 8.

Invasive Species: Identification, Impacts and Management. Emily Seifert, Conservation Stewardship Manger for the Vermont Chapter of the Nature Conservancy will be the guest speaker. April 11th at 6:30 PM at the Plainfield Town Hall.

"Japanese knotweed, common buckthorn, and burning bush are just some of the species we'll discuss. Emily will cover what defines an invasive plant species, how to identify them, impacts they have on Vermont's environment, and steps landowners can take to control them."

This presentation interests me because i have been recognizing more and more invasives and trying to deal with them. A few years ago I added a page to our Vermont Flower Farm website. Take a look: Click Invasives

Hydropower on the Winooski River Jon Soter, Manager of Power Production for Green Mountain Power Corporation will speak May 9th at 6:30 PM at the Cabot Town Hall.

"While the focus of the presentation will be on the GMPs operations on the Winooksi River, Jon will cover the company's overall operations and capacity. The presentation will also cover the historical development of hyrdo power as well as GMP's increased focus on other renewables such as wind power."

I plan to attend this meeting to hear more about the power plant just off the Cabot Road leaving Marshfield Village up Route 215. GMP is said to be changing out the pentstock which brings water from Marshfield Reservoir so there will be potential changes to the entire environment in that area when this happens. I also want to gather more information on why they let the water out of the generation plant when they do. If river use is going to to be recommended, planners and users have to understand what it's like to be in the river with steep banks when a wall of water comes rushing down.

Aquatic Species of the Winooski Headwaters June 6th at 6:30 PM at the Old School House Commons in Marshfield, "Steve Fiske Aquatic Biologist for the Dept of Environmental Conservation will offer a combined presentation and field trip, weather permitting. A brief intro to the concept of biological integrity, and the biological condition gradient. A hands-on identification workshop of mussels and crayfish found in the upper Winooski watershed will be followed by a trip to the Martin Bridge to observe the Margetiffera population. Following the presentation, folks interested in helping to survey the upper Winooski and its tributaries over the summer for crayfish and mussels will meet to organize."

Have to try to make this presentation as it sounds like a good summer research/homeschool project for Alex. Sounds fun to me too.

And with these announcements completed , it's off to quieter times for me. The Winooski is an interesting river and its history is something we intend to study. If you know something you think we'd like to know, please call or write.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where black is the color of the night.

Gardening wishes;

George Africa