Barred Owl at Ridge Hill Reservation

Out walking this afternoon and heard two barred owls hooting. Very distinctive call. So exciting! Thrilling to actually spot one of them during the day, and get a few shots.

Wood frog eggs in a vernal pool


Even before the wildflowers get going, the peepers and wood frogs announce spring. (Wood frogs sound like ducks, or a bunch of loose banjo strings.) Usually I just listen… but this year I went on a vernal pool walk with a naturalist in Dover (organized by the Dover Open Space Committee).

I just loved having things pointed out to me that I have never noticed before, like gelatinous floating egg masses shimmering there on top of the water (eggs of wood frogs) and silvery translucent submerged masses (eggs of spotted salamanders).

So today I went looking in Needham for some egg clusters and I tell you, I did a lot of tromping with no luck, but did find this one and it’s pretty good. Before I would have thought it was just some algae/vegetation caught on that branch, but in the closeup you can see it’s a bunch of gelatinous ova containing black embryos, and some have turned into tiny tadpoles. (I’m pretty sure these are wood frog eggs, but let me know if not.) The egg mass is green with symbiotic algae; the babies stay with the egg mass feeding on the algae for a few days before dispersing into the pool.

Below is a phone shot I took on the vernal pools walk — wood frog eggs earlier in the cycle than my green shots above — newly laid, no one has hatched, and it hasn’t been colonized by algae. Vernal pools are temporary shallow pools that dry up after a couple of months– because of that, fish can’t live in them, and because of THAT, all kind of amphibians can lay their eggs in them without them being eaten by fish.

Wood frog (Rana sylvatica)

House Sparrow Fledgling

The only wildflower I’ve seen this spring is skunk cabbage, but a morning walk at Rocky Narrows (Sherborn MA) was so full of birdsong, it really felt like spring. Saw this little sparrow on its penthouse roof deck and also a few gartersnakes out catching rays.

Bonus video: The peepers are out and loud at Ridge Hill Reservation in Needham. Peepers are “chorus frogs,” and can live in breeding groups of several hundred. Their bodies can be less than an inch long or up to about 1.5 inches. It’s only the males that make the sound (to attract their women). They hibernate under logs and leaves, and can survive being mostly frozen. Then in spring, you hear them especially in vernal ponds and other temporary wetlands. They lay their eggs in the water, and then live on land the rest of the year, feeding on insects. You can also hear wood frogs in this video — they’re the ones that sound like ducks quacking, or loose banjo strings getting plucked.

Pickerel Frog

pickerel frog, Massachusetts frogI haven’t posted in a long time because I hadn’t seen anything that I hadn’t already photographed, here in my narrow stomping grounds; I really covered a lot of wildflowers in my original fury of documentation. But today I saw two new wildflowers and this beautiful frog! The pickerel frog has front toes that are not webbed, making it more able to live on land apparently (and you can see the toes in this pic).

In winter they hibernate under debris in the water and come out for action from April to October. To catch their chow (insects, spiders, larvae), they will search grassy areas near their watery homes — like this frog, which was right on the trail, near the Charles River.

This is the only poisonous frog native to the U.S.! If attacked, it emits toxic skin secretions! However this does not deter its main predators: other kinds of frogs and snakes.

Pickerel frog (Lithobates palustris)

Spring arrived in April

skunk cabbageIt was a mild winter. The skunk cabbage seemed to just survive the snow, with frost-blackened tips. In early April, creatures were waking up. Here, a skunk cabbage hood (spathe) showing the spadix inside (the flower head).

garter snakeAlso a garter snake adventuring, and best of all, there were a glorious few days of peepers. When I recorded this, they were so loud, and there were so many layers of sound, and individual voices. Wonderful. Not long after this, we had a spate of severe cold and snow and the peepers were noticeably quiet.

After the snowstorm

South Street Bridge over Charles River, NeedhamWe had a snowstorm that took out power in our neighborhood, so suddenly we had to quit working and also couldn’t do all our various other projects that require computer-staring. So we hunkered down, made a fire, (cheated by going out for dinner)…. but after the storm was over, the sun came out for an orange sunset on the sticky snow. We drove to the South Street bridge and it was so gorgeous…

Charles River, Dover, Massachusetts, aftermath of blizzardsunset after blizzard in NeedhamThen the heat came back on during the night (yay!) and at dawn, we immediately went out to look for beautiful photographs. The sun comes over the ridge and touches the treetops first…

Dawn breaks over Charles River after a blizzardCharles River in Dover after a blizzardCharles River with glow from morning light, frozenSnowy day on the Charles River, Dover CharlesRiver-ripples-WThis last scene had a glassy surface, but my boot slipped into the river and made this rad ripple! A day of stunning sights. These are all of the Charles River as it divides Needham and Dover, MA… and all within five minutes of our house, which is so GREAT! And now, grateful for heat, light, and a way to upload my photos! Time to make some hot chocolate.

And if you’re wondering about the wildflower report: yes, skunk cabbage is up, blackened tops showing through the snow in some places, and plump and green in the swampy spring at Ridge Hill.

Violets… no, wait, it’s my tips for buying a used car

Axie Breen Photography BostonOkay, I know this is off topic. But when I went through the process of buying a used car, most of the relevant advice on the internet was general, from big corporate sites — not much in the line of personal experience. So I want to add what I learned to the google zone.

So first you figure out the kind of car you want and the budget you’re allowing to buy it. Then look around online to see who has some in stock. Then zero in:

1. Identify the car you want. Look at Edmunds, Kelley Blue Book online to get a sense of market value. Look at Carfax for deets on that particular car.

2. Call the dealer to check availability and make an appointment to drive it. Check the asking price and what it covers: If the car is advertised as Certified, does the listed price cover certification or is it actually extra? (Get alert to any bait-and-switch at the outset.) Is this a negotiable price or is this a no-negotiation shop?

3. Test drive. Don’t be too positive. Reserve judgment and keep in mind any flaws.

4. Negotiate. I read that an advertised price includes a “20% gross margin,” so to open your negotiation at 15% below… and come up to maybe 10% below, or what your research indicates is a reasonable price for that car. I’m not sure about these percentages — with a new car, you can find the wholesale price, but with a used car, it’s not clear cut.

Don’t take it personally if they act insulted at your offer. You have to pretend you do financial negotiations all the time, just like they do.

Do NOT reveal what you’re really willing to pay, because they will immediately clamp onto that figure and start working upwards from there. (When I revealed that number, I felt the balance of power shift.)

Work out the car price deal first before considering the value of any trade-in, because the figures get fast and confusing when they mix them together, plus there is lots of opportunity for them to discuss all the negatives of your trade-in.

Be ready to walk if you are not coming to an agreement you like, or if you feel like they’re trying to mess with you. Or ask for a few minutes alone (with your calculator) to recover from their patter, look at the figures and formulate your plan.

Also, this can take a long time, what with them consulting with their manager, etc., so be ready for that too.

You might be thinking to use CarMax or another no-negotiation car seller to avoid all that hassle, but if you are willing to do the homework and negotiate, I do think you will end up with a better deal than at a CarMax type place. (I know I did, comparing the similar cars and prices at those dealers with what I got.)

It’s nice to have someone go with you, if possible. In my case, for awhile they kept trying to deal with my husband, but I was actually steering this particular purchase and they eventually figured that out (as B got out a novel to make it clear he really was not the negotiator) and they had to talk to me. We inadvertently had kind of a good cop, bad cop thing going on, because he was more ready to buy and I was seriously ready to walk, and I do think that saved us some money.

Good luck!

Okay, we can have a bonus photo from nature: lettuce at Powisett Farm, Dover, MA.

Axie Breen Photography Boston


Pink water lilies

DSC_0118I photographed this lily, but look closely at who else is in this shot!


That’s right, a little frog has its nose stuck up there. And when we started looking for them, we saw loads of little frogs, still wearing their tadpole tails, enjoying their new ability to breath air, sunning themselves on the lily pads. (I can’t help but think, heron snacks.) I think these might be juvenile bullfrogs. There was a bullfrog at this pond with a call like a great foghorn.


Water Lily (Nymphaea sp.)

Bonus photo: Lucy investigating the beaver lodge, which is about twice as big as last year.

beaver lodge

Young herons

I wondered how this heron nest could possibly weather the severe winter we had, but I was glad to see it still there and occupied this spring. I believe these are the young ones, looking a bit like bowling pins til they turned their heads…


Herons lay 2-6 eggs in a clutch, in March and April. The eggs incubate about a month. Then they fledge when they’re about two months old. They still come back to visit for a few weeks.

Snapping turtle action

Snapping TurtleI was sitting at my desk when my attention was drawn by sudden movement outside. This turtle had just walked through the yard and when it came to the edge, where there’s a wall and a two-foot drop, it just took a flying leap tumble down to the driveway. Turtle parkour! At first I thought it might be injured, but it straightened its tunic and kept going. They’re surprisingly leggy and fast when in motion. Reminded me of this:

Presumably it was on an egg-laying mission.