Gossamer Tapestry

Reflections on conservation, butterflies, and ecology in the nation's heartland

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Gizzy Rock

Big Agassiz Rock

I'm home in Cape Ann, Massachusetts, spending time with my dad in the town of Manchester-by-the-Sea where I grew up. It's been quite a few years since I've been here at the height of summer, and Leon and I have never been here together at this time of year.

Little Agassiz Rock

Today, we walked up to Agassiz rock. It's just off of a route that we traveled regularly when I was a kid, and our family name for this spot was "The Gizzy Rock." It's not one, but two huge glacial erratic boulders, Big Agassiz Rock and Little Agassiz Rock. They are named for Louis Agassiz, Harvard geologist (and creationist) who first postulated that the large boulders that litter the landscape in this part of the country were brought here by the glaciers. The sweet pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia) was in bloom, it's cloying odor wafting through the woods as we began our walk.

The trail through the woods

Sweet Pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia)

The hike up to the boulders is short, no more than about 15 minutes, and leads through some beautiful hemlock/maple woodland, the ecosystem of my childhood. It was great to see some familiar species from back then- things like Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora), the plant that taught me the word saprophyte (a plant that produces no chlorophyll, but gets it's nutrients from the decaying vegetation that it grows in). I showed Leon the maple-leaved viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium). It was a big favorite when I was a kid, because the leaves turn a fairly vivid purple in the fall.

Indian Pipes (Monotropa uniflora)

Maple-leaved viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium)
These leaves will turn bright purple in the fall.

There were some nice species that I never noticed as a child. An unusual aster with whorled leaves caught my eye. On a whim, I Googled whorled aster after I got home. Yes, indeed, it's woodland whorled aster (Aster acuminoides). I love the Internet- make an educated guess, get an ID!

Woodland whorled aster (Aster acuminoides)
Another of my interests has changed since the last time I was at home during the summer. My entomological interests have expanded way beyond butterflies. The area around Little Agassiz Rock is a large expanse of granite with thin soil. Drought-tolerant plants like bearberry and lowbush blueberries grow there. It's a fairly common habitat type on Cape Ann. It turns out, this is a tiger beetle spot. I only saw one, but I got some nice photos. Better yet, it's a particular subspecies of the eastern red-bellied tiger beetle (Cicindela rufiventris hentzi). It's very narrowly endemic to the area right around Boston, including my home town. Whatt a great species to have as the very forst tiger beetle that I've ever found in New England.

Eastern red-bellied tiger beetle (Cicindela rufiventris hentzi)
Endemic to the Boston area

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At 18:14, Blogger BentonQuest said...

Doug, such beautiful pictures! You always make me jealous. But thanks and keep posting them. I can live vicariously though you!

At 21:20, Anonymous Ted C. MacRae said...

Nice photo of the tiger beetle. If you get the chance to pick up an extra specimen or two...

I haven't seen Indian pipes yet, I hope to find it someday.

Looking at that tiger beetle photo again, I love the lichen-covered rock (granite?) background.

At 16:57, Blogger sonia a.m. said...

Nice photos! Just amazing this Little Agassiz Rock!

At 23:19, Blogger Ur-spo said...

i remember indian pipes
I recall they had all sorts of stories about them; mostly about magical folk or Native Americans.

At 09:42, Blogger robin andrea said...

What a treat it must be to be able to walk the same familiar trails you walked when you were young. Love that local tiger beetle. A real beauty. Great pics.

At 22:03, Blogger Doug Taron said...

Ben- Thanks. I really enjoy blogging about travel.

Ted- I'm afraid that for this species, all I managed to collect was photos. I think that we're right at the end of the flight period, and Agassiz Rock is a protected conservation site. Maybe next year.

Sonia- Thanks, and welcome to the Tapestry.

Spo- They are very striking plants. Their ghostly white color and fleshy texture gives them the appearance of a very oddly shaped mushroom.

Robin- It was also fun to be able to share this special place with Leon.

At 05:40, Blogger cedrorum said...

Great post. It's always amazing to me how many plant species can grow in such a wide area of the east coast. Ironically, the Clethra alnifolia was blooming here last Friday as well when I took a little walk through a stand here. I bet the Vaccinium species is the same as well. Glad you and Leon are having a good time. One day I'll get up to Massachusetts to see it. From pictures it sort of reminds me of the Pacific Northwest.

At 11:44, Blogger T.R. said...

Congratulations on the backyard beetle - you have come full circle, very nice. I have never seen Indian pipes. Will have to look for them.

The rock hound must be related to the much beloved-by-the-bird-world Louis Agassiz Fuertes (1874 – 1927) the famous American ornithologist, illustrator and artist.

At 19:58, Blogger Kathiesbirds said...

Doug, sounds like so much fun. I didn't know that info about Indian pipes. No wonder they are white, no chlorophyl! I hope you have a great time on the rest of your trip.

At 13:01, Blogger Jim Lemire said...

Hope you're enjoying the trip home. We've had some rather nice, fall-ish weather lately...perfect as far as I'm concerned!

At 14:33, Blogger Dave Coulter said...

I'd think they'd have named that beetle after the Red Sox! ;)

At 15:24, Blogger H said...

Just when I was wondering where the bugs were you came through! *L*

Glad you guys had fun!

At 00:01, Blogger Gallicissa said...

Red-bellied tiger beetle looks good. I am sure you enjoyed finding it.


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