Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Maynard: Things to do Outdoors in Winter

Visit a pond: Henry David Thoreau lived at Walden Pond in a one-room cabin of his own design and construction from July 1845 to September 1847. His experience at Walden provided the material for his book, which is credited with helping to inspire awareness and respect for the natural environment. A replica of the cabin is next to the parking lot ($8/car). A new visitor's center is expected to open next year.

Island in Durant Pond, Maynard, MA
For those in search of a (free) pond closer to home, Durant Pond, in Maynard, is in a petite gem of a nature reserve. This man-made pond is accessible from Durant Avenue, or via a longer walk from Rockland Avenue. Once on site, there is a footpath around the pond. Both approaches and the pond path can be squishy after wet weather. Boulders and soil were mounded at one side of this pond to create a very small island, which hosts a modest-sized tree. Another option is to drive to the end of Old Marlborough Road, park in the small parking area and walk a half-mile into the wildlife refuge to Puffer Pond. There is a dock with benches facing the lake. Very meditative.   

Take a hike: The Assabet River Wildlife Refuge also has a main entrance off of Hudson Road, Sudbury, with a sizeable nature display at the Visitor Center (open FRI-SUN) and maps of the 15 miles of trails, half open to bicycling, that crisscross the 3.5 square mile refuge. "The refuge has a large wetland complex, several smaller wetlands and vernal pools, and large forested areas which are important feeding and breeding areas for migratory birds and other wildlife." Be aware that all of December is deer hunting season, so think about either wearing orange or else visit on Sundays (no hunting).

Closer to home, the Assabet River Walk Trail, accessed from Concord Street or Colbert Avenue, offers lovely views of the river, especially now that the leaves are off (most) trees. Beech trees retain their light-brown colored leaves until spring. Ditto the dark brown leaves of some types of oaks. Parts of  this trail are squishy to submerged after wet weather. Consider boots.

Beaver damaged trees next to Assabet River
Climb a mountain: Mount Wachusett, altitude at peak 2006 feet, is about 30 miles west, mostly on Route 2. The road to the top is closed to motor vehicles until next spring, but it is possible to walk or bike up the road to the summit, some 700 feet higher than the visitor's center parking lot ($5/car). There are also 17 miles of trails in the Wachusett Mountain State Reservation, some of which offer other routes to the summit. All trails are described as having steep, rocky and rough sections, and may be slippery and muddy at any time of the year. Views are spectacular. Later in the year it is possible to ski down the same mountain, as ski slopes occupy the north side.    

Save our trees: Late fall is a great time to survey your own property for Oriental Bittersweet vines. And kill them. This invasive species kills trees by overweighing and overshadowing tree tops. Look for gray-colored vines, and in treetops, a haze of red berries. Come spring, returning robins will eat these, and by doing so, spread the seeds via their feces. If you are taking a hike in the woods there is nothing particularly wrong with carrying a small, folding, brush saw or pruner.

Photo of a white birch tree, wrapped in plastic wrap
with a sticky substance (Tree Tanglefoot) smeared
on the plastic. Female winter moths get stuck as they climb
up the tree. Males (with wings) get stuck higher.
January is already too late to take tree-saving protective action against winter moths. This invasive species - at present only a problem in eastern Massachusetts - emerges from pupae starting in mid-November, after first frosts. Wingless females climb trees, where winged males find them via attracting pheromones. Meeting and mating are completed by mid-December.Eggs hatch in early spring. Look for small green caterpillars. Leaves will be so full of holes as to look lace-like. These moths prefer maple, birch and fruit trees to oak or beech trees. Insecticide can be applied in the spring, but the cost is much higher than preventive action in the fall. Males are attracted to light, so if you leave your front entrance light on when you go out in the evening, you may find your front door host to scores of males.     

Turkey in yard on Brooks Street; flock of 25 birds
Click on any photo to enlarge
See a bird: Migrating birds have left, but stay-here birds are easier to spot without all the leaf cover. Locally, large bird sightings will include geese, turkeys, ravens and crows, perhaps even a bald eagle. Watchers at any level of experience can choose to get involved in the Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count, an event that occurs on one day in late December or early January for which volunteers are enlisted to report every bird they see, either during the guided event, or for the stay-at-homes, the birds that visited their own bird feeders. This year's event is the 116th annual count.   

Not in the newspaper article:

Fro the bird count, the "Concord Circle," which encloses the whole or parts of eighteen towns, concluded its 56th count day at midnight January 3, 2016. Lakes, ponds, rivers, and many streams were open for ducks and geese, a legacy of our record warm December, and our field teams enjoyed a reasonably mild and brightening January day. Our count, inaugurated in 1960, began with fewer than 20 volunteers and now has a participation level that varies between 260 and 300. This year's count tallied 86 species and 37,000 individual birds, from few (bald eagles and ravens; under 20 of each) to extremely common (Canada geese and mallard ducks combined = 20% of total).

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