Exploring Plainville: Plainville Public Library

Located a short distance from the center of town on South St. (Route 1A), the Plainville Public Library is a center for information gathering and learning for all ages. Library users are no doubt familiar with the inside of the building, but there is much for keen observers to notice on the grounds of the library property.

Birds and other Animals

Though not what I'd consider a hot spot for bird activity, there are certainly birds to be seen and heard at the library. American Crows can cause heads to rise as they loudly mob a Red-tailed Hawk. During the summer, American Robins hunt for worms on the extensive lawn that surrounds the library. Check the shrubs behind the building (north-side) for Gray Catbirds and Northern Cardinals. In winter, listen for flocks of Cedar Waxwings or observe soft-voiced Dark-eyed Juncos as they flit about and play in the snow.

During the daytime, Gray Squirrels can be found moving through the trees and scurrying across the open spaces. Planted gardens near the library's entrance can attract butterflies and other insects. Take a seat on a bench and see which creatures you can spy.

Trees, Shrubs, and Plants

There are many trees to see at the Plainville Public Library. Along the road, there are young planted Kentucky Yellow-woods (Cladrastis kentukea) and Sweet-gums (Liquidambar styraciflua), and you can find an older White Ash (Fraxinus americana) on the left as you turn into the parking lot.

Lining the south side of the parking lot are large spreading Oak trees (Quercus sp.), which I've yet to identify to a particular species. They appear similar to both Scarlet and Pin Oaks, and may very well be some kind of planted cultivar. In any case, they are large Oak trees.  Update: Upon further investigation, the oak trees are Pin Oaks (Quercus palustris).

To the left of the entrance walkway, there is a Honey-locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) that most years drops a significant crop of black, flattened pods. On the north side of the building, you can find another tree with long pods – Northern Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa). The pods of this tree are not flattened and spiraled like Honey-locust, but rather look like long green beans which turn dark brown when mature.

Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadenis) – a coniferous tree with short needle-leaves – can be found on the north side of the building, along with a few White Mulberry (Morus alba) and Kousa Big-bracted-dogwood (Benthamia japonica, unripe fruit pictured above) trees. If you time it right, you might even be able to sample the edible fruit of the last two species.

Public libraries connect users with books, films, and all sorts of other resources, and they provide public spaces where people can collaborate or simply find a quiet corner to relax. Next time, before you head inside the library (whether in Plainville or in the town you live) to look up a mystery in your favorite field guide, spend a few minutes checking out the open spaces outside. You might be surprised by what you'll find.

Foraging Wild Fruit: Fox Grape

Last week, I found some ripe Fox Grapes (Vitis labrusca) in Plainville.

These wild grapes have seeds, which can be chewed and consumed, or alternatively spat out.  If you just want strong grape flavor with no chewing or spitting required, simmer the grapes in a little bit of water, mash them up and strain out the skin and seeds.  You can use the resulting dark, pungent liquid to make jelly, sauce, or wine, or you can simply drink it straight or thinned with more water.

Preferring a whole fruit experience, I typically just eat them out of hand.

Quiz #21: Bird

Earlier this summer, during a walk through local woods, I stumbled upon this brightly colored feather (photos show both the upper and lower sides).  The feather's total length is 4.25 inches (about 10.8 cm).  Who did this feather belong to?

Leave a guess in the comments below. And be sure to check out the answer to last week's plant quiz on the Quiz Answers page.

Birding Biddeford’s Hills Beach

During my Maine vacation, I spent two evenings walking Hills Beach in Biddeford. Both nights the tide was low, and the birds were plentiful.

On the first night, this American Avocet landed fairly close to me in shallow water, allowing me a close opportunity to identify this life bird.

americanavocet

On the second night, I found this Little Blue Heron feeding on exposed mud flats alongside Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, and a Great Blue Heron.

Little Blue Heron at Hills Beach in Biddeford, Maine

Exploring Plainville: Eagle Scout Nature Trail

Located on Everett Skinner Rd. just north of the Plainville Athletic League (PAL) fields, the Eagle Scout Nature Trail features a wooded swamp, a small pond, a pine grove, a vernal pool, and a brook (called the Old Mill Brook). A wooden sign welcomes visitors to the parking area.

The property is owned by the town and managed by the Plainville Conservation Commission. As the name suggests, Boy Scouts have contributed over the years to the site by installing bridges, marking trails, and trimming fallen trees.

Birds

This property attracts a variety of song birds at all times of year. Resident birds include the Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, and Downy Woodpecker. This is a fairly reliable location to hear and sometimes see Hairy Woodpecker and Brown Creeper. If you walk quietly along the stream, you may spot a secretive Wood Duck.

Migrant summer nesters include Pine Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, Ovenbird, Wood Thrush, and Northern Waterthrush. On several occasions in the spring, I've heard a Winter Wren singing enthusiastically along the brook, though I don't believe this species remains here to nest.

Other Animals

The Old Mill Brook is a good spot to observe animals and their sign.  Muskrats can be seen in or near the water, though they can be quite secretive.  In winter, look for the tracks of Mink, Fisher, or Coyote in the snow.  Summer is a good time to see Ebony Jewelwing damselflies fluttering along the shaded stream.  The bridge near trail marker #10 is a particularly reliable spot.

Trees, Shrubs, and Plants

In June, be sure to visit the pine grove and enjoy the Pink Lady's-slippers that dot the ground. Earlier in the year, the trail along the stream features a variety of flowering species, including Three-leaved Goldthread, Partridge-berry, Marsh-marigold, and several species of Violets. Northern Spicebush – a native shrub – is also quite common here, sporting round, paired buds in winter.

Scan the ground near post #5 for Downy Rattlesnake-plantain. This plant grows in patches and has distinctive leaves (see photo below). In late July or August, you may even see some of the plants in the colony flowering.

Lastly, this is an excellent site to meet some trees. The trail features twenty numbered posts that were originally installed as part of an Eagle Scout project. Years ago, a descriptive brochure was available in a box near the trail head, but for now, let this list guide your tour.

1 Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus)
2 Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis)
3 Red Maple (Acer rubrum)
4 Cherry Birch (Betula lenta)
5 Flowering Big-bracted-dogwood (Benthamia florida) and Downy Rattlesnake-plantain (Goodyera pubescens)
6 Corner of Stone Wall – a reminder of former land use
7 (Painted on rock) Glacial Rock – a reminder of the ice-age
7 (Post Marker) Rotting stump of Cultivated Apple (Malus pumila)
8 White Ash (Fraxinus americana)
9 Black Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) near water
10 American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) near wooden bridge
11A Pitch Pine (Pinus rigida)
12 Gray Birch (Betula populifolia)
13 Black Oak (Quercus velutina)
14 Poison-ivy (Toxicodendron radicans)
15 Glossy False Buckthorn (Frangula alnus)
16 Black Cherry (Prunus serotina)
17 Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) succumbing to the shade of the forest
18 Eastern White Oak (Quercus alba)
19 “Bridge to Nowhere” overlooking Vernal Pool
20 "Fern Valley"

If you walk this trail, I'd love to hear about your experience.  What is your favorite part?  Leave a comment below.