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The Land Today
 May 1, 2010 - A Visit to Mary Cummings Park
May 1, 2010
Of Buckthorn, aching backs, new friends and ticks
By: Robert Truslow
E-mail: rtruslow@comcast.net

Today was one of those rare great, days you hope do not come around too often; warm weather, bright sun and plenty of hard work. We met at 7:00 in Northeastern’s upper parking lot, close to the Central Field of Mary Cummings Park. Collecting tools from the car trunk before starting out, we had only just met so gently inquired about one another. The man and the boy, volunteering for a day of park maintenance; me, along to lend a hand.

I told them about the park, using a little Trail Gide map to give a sense of where things are located. They could not believe such a vast open area could be so hidden from view, so unknown, despite their familiarity with the area. We talked about invasive species and how they disrupt interdependent systems that have evolved among native species. Buckthorn seems to be something like an advanced grass, sort of like bamboo, or a primitive tree like locust or mimosa. It leafs out earlier in the spring than other plants and holds its leaves longer in the fall, giving it the chance to shade out native species. It quickly takes over an open field, sending out runners that become new trees. It does not take long.

Bow saws were needed to topple the more mature Buckthorn, with thicker trunks, but pruning shears were able to dispatch the smaller ones. A large hawk landed in a nearby tree to watch our progress. Young Kevin had never seen a hawk before and did not know they lived around here. I told them about the many wildlife species that are protected by the combined lands of Mary Cummings Park and Whispering Hill Woods. Without this land buffer from humans, the wild creatures would be pushed completely out of their natural homes.

But, Kevin did not like the idea of coyotes being in the area. That is, until he understood that coyotes keep the breeding stock of species they hunt more healthy by culling only the weakest member. He began to understand how as scavenger predators, coyotes are a beneficial contributor to the overall health of the natural ecosystem.

We were making good progress so took a break to visit RC Flyer’s Field to see the airplanes. At the bottom the trail was completely blocked by a thick mat of vines that had been pulled down by a falling tree. Crossing the stone wall, Dalton marveled at how intact the massive wall is and the effort required to build it. Crossing back over the wall below the impasse it occurred to us that trail erosion had become so bad that maybe the trail should be left blocked in favor of the new trail that was forming.

No airplanes were flying when we arrived. Club members were finishing up installation of several new “gates” to protect people from the occasional out-of-control plane that came ripping up the field towards the exposed pilots. We were ogling the many types of airplanes when my back-door neighbor, Harry, showed up with his large yellow airplane in tow. You just never know who might be interested in remote control flying.

Walking back to Central Field we noticed how much destruction was being caused by dirt-bikes around the old Camp Ground and talked about how easy it would be to restart a summer camp at that location. Too bad Boston has not seen fit to build a gravel road into that area that could accommodate a bus-load of kids from the city for an outing and a cook out.

My shoulders, back and arms were getting tired from all the sawing, but we were reaching the end of the infestation. I let the younger guys work along as I took a few extra rest stops to catch my breath. Sitting there, leaning against an aspen tree, I think, let me enjoy how beautiful the park is. The breeze made the leaves quake and dance, providing cheerful music to my reverie. Peaceful, sitting there, when I usually am busy walking along, taking in the scene in passing. Nice. I will have to spend more time sitting quietly in the future.

Then we were done and headed back to the cars, proud of what we had accomplished in a few hours and looking forward to a cold drink, a smoothie from Panera Bread nearby. I reminded the guys to shower, change clothes and look for ticks when they got home. While drinking my strawberry smoothie I caught a tick crawling on my throat and quickly drowned it in a cup of cold water. Then Kevin noticed a second one on my shirt, so I sent it on home to Jesus too.

Can’t wait for a shower and a nap!

Rob Truslow
rtruslow@comcast.net

 A Botanist's Days at the Cummings Estate

I have been to Cummings as much as I can and have come to adore the place. Being up there makes me relaxed and happy. It really is a gorgeous piece of property with the contrast between the fields and woods. I always liked it, but as I get to know it better, I like it more and more.

It's so big that you can get a really good walk like you can at Horn Pond. Right now I can't even cover the whole place in a three hour walk, but, of course, that may be because I am stopping to observe almost everything. One thing I like is I rarely see anyone else; I love the sense I have of privacy. The people I have seen have been just as nice as the people I meet at Horn Pond, which means good people. Dog walking is not as good as at other places because there is no place for a dog to swim.

Once, on a weekend I did encounter about 8 ATVs, but that's it. Another day, I noticed a truck parked along Blanchard Road with ramps down for an ATV; also, two police cars were pulled in by the blue water tower. Connection? Another day one person was flying an airplane. The airplane people have cut the grassy area they use really well, and there is no trash around the area. Most of the trash seems to be where the kids have parties on weekends. Rodney said he got $50 from the cans we picked up the day of the walk. We were only two, but we still filled his car up and mine partially while we were trash collecting the other morning. Along other trails and paths, the trash situation is not bad with one or two exceptions. I have been carrying out three or four bags each time. There are three or four rusty cars around, and a red Honda that's been trashed but good. Nothing is ever all bad; I found a lovely Buddahist sanctuary someone had built.

As an amateur naturalist, I haven't found all I might because I have been concentrating on plants. I have a list of plants, vines, shrubs and trees that is 186 species long. The folks at New England Wild Flower Society are impressed I could find so much in October, but I've been studying winter plant ID for some years now. There are no 'rich soil' plants that I could find, nor is the place by any means botanically boring. I was impressed with the ratio of Native to Introduced plants in the large area that is Oak/Hickory. I think most of this Oak/Hickory area belongs to Woburn. A surprising number of the plants I found can't be found at Horn Pond. I was bushwhacking up a stream bed on two occasion and saw two deer. What a joy to see them so naturally.

The area that used to be farmed which became fields is, not surprisingly, not as botanically interesting. It, also, harbors far more troublesome invasive plants than I'd like to see. I saw a dead Robin on the ground the other day and had to wonder if it hadn't eaten one too many Common Buckthorn berries. As Common Buckthorn's Latin name suggests, Rhamnus cathartica, it is a laxative for both birds and most especially humans. Bird's don't seem to know that at eat the berries with great glee. I don't know what happened to the Robin; it wasn't eaten by a hawk or the like; I just don't know, poor little thing. There are more Common Buckthorns at Cummings than I have ever seen anywhere else, and the branches of many are loaded with berries.

The was a very small Black Swallowwort patch there two years ago. Last year there were two patches of it I wouldn't call very small. This year these were still there and there were new vines and seedlings all over. It's impossible to eradicate. The best that can be hoped is that it will grow over the Oriental Bittersweed and Buckthorn and destroy them. Hopefully it won't grow over two native plants that grow prolifically in the area, Red osier Dogwood and Panicled Dogwood. There is, also, a patch of Porcelainberry which is said to be better at taking over Oriental Bittersweet than Blackswallowwort. It also is unstopable.

All of the wetlands have been delineated and studied. I don't know who did it for what reason, the City of Boston, potential developers, who. Some of the wetlands could possibly be vernal pools which would make them more valuable. I'm told Theresa Harrington would know. A lovely natural feature is a spring, which according to a friend of mine who just died at a very old age, who grew up almost across the street from the Cummings property, had the most delicious tasting, cold water. Wouldn't it be nice if it could be tested and made accessible to walkers? I bet the grasses have never really been studied, and it would be nice if I could do that to discover rare wetland ones.

I have worn your ear off, I'm sure. What I have to do now is take many, many, many GPS point so that I could build a somewhat accurate map. My GPS is the simplest on the market, and what I do will not be like what the professionals do. Then I need an empty map to plot the points on. I've never done this before so could use any ideas and help I could get from anyone. First of all I need an empty map. Can you help Cathy?

I hope you don't mind that I'm sending a copy of my letter to you to the Woburn Chat. As I got going on this, I realized it had a lot of good stuff I didn't want to write twice. I look forward to lunch where you work at the end of this week or next. It will be fun to see you again.

the best,

Betty Wright


I have fallen in love with the Cummings place. It has to be saved. Curiously the Woburn 40 acres seem much more botanically rich than the Burlington area. But open fields are so rare these days anywhere that the Burlington area offers a lot of interesting habitat.

I went back to the Cummings property again today and had the most marvelous walk. Cloudy days make some leaves brighter, and the Spicebush was gorgeous. But the Winterberry Holly with its bright red berries in wonderful beyond all. I found some more wetlands with their bands around their trees showing wetland delineation has been done. The soil appears to be rich acidic which means I don't really expect to find any rare plants. Today I got to where I was looking at the corner of Bedford and Rt. 3. Then I worked my way back of the greenhouses. As you get towards a road, you get more invasives. Up from them are pristine, gorgeous woods that are perfect for a walk at any season. It seems that half the total place is covered with hardwood and half is open with succession going on which I find curious. The stone walls are of various ages and conditions. The hardwood forest appears to be 50 to 70 years old. To the Rt. 3 side of Northeastern to a tall handsome stone wall, it looks like the invasives are so bad that the place is unrecoverable. Oh, is the place full of Poison Ivy!! I'll keep you posted as my explorations progress.

I want to take my camera up there to start an album (with the help of others) that we can show to lawyers, pols and the like. I'm off to Topozone to see if I can get myself a map - I have GPS coordinates. If I can't, I'm going to draw an out of proportion map showing trails as I am beginning to understand them. I,also, have about 100 names to start a Floral Inventory list. It's amazing what you can do in October in the way of plant ID.

But best of all, I had the most wonderful time. It is spiritual alone in the woods as well as beautiful. And Cathy - I don't need a compass. Whenever I want to know North, I turn on my ears and listen for 128. That's good enough to orient me. But I have been doing this for 25 years so I do have a lot of practice.

- Betty Wright

 Birding at the Cummings Estate

At least 130 species of wild birds have been identified in the Cummings Estate/Northeastern University Suburban Campus area over the past 10 years. According to Marj Rines of the Menotomy Bird Club, the number of American Woodcocks seen at the Cummings Estate has greatly declined in the past years. Marj thinks this is due to habitat destruction caused by the ATVs which people ride there.

The photos shown here were taken during an exploratory bird walk at the Cummings Estate March 18, 2006.

Above: Black-capped Chickadee
Left: Brown-headed Cowbird

Other birds seen during this walk included: Brown Creepers, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Eastern Phoebe, Kingfisher, Red-winged Blackbird, Red-tailed Hawk, White-breasted Nuthatch, Tufted Titmouse, Downy Woodpecker, Brown-headed Cowbird, White-throated Sparrow, Canada Goose, American Robin, and American Crow.

Our thanks to Eric Smith of the Menotomy Bird Club for these and other beautiful bird photos which he has made available for the WREN website.

 Recorded Bird Sightings - Cummings Estate/Northeastern University Suburban Campus

Many thanks to Marj Rines of the Menotomy Bird Club for her extensive list of bird sightings in and around the Cummings Estate, which has provided the foundation for the list below.

# Common name Latin name
1 Canada Goose Branta canadensis
2 American Black Duck Anas rubripes
3 Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
4 Blue-winged Teal Anas discors
5 Hooded Merganser Lophodytes cucullatus
6 Ring-necked Pheasant Phasianus colchicus
7 Wild Turkey Meleagris gallopavo
8 Double-crested Cormorant Phalacrocorax auritus
9 Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias
10 Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura
11 Osprey Pandeon haliaetus
12 Sharp-shinned Hawk Accipiter striatus
13 Cooper's Hawk Accipiter cooperii
14 Northern Goshawk Accipiter gentilis
15 Broad-winged Hawk Buteo platypterus
16 Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis
17 Merlin Falco columbarius
18 Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus
19 Virginia Rail Rallus limicola
20 Killdeer Charadrius vociferus
21 American Woodcock Scolopax minor
22 Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis
23 Herring Gull Larus argentatus
24 Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus
25 Rock Pigeon Columba livia
26 Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura
27 Eastern Screech-Owl Otus asio
28 Great Horned Owl Bubo virginianus
29 Northern Saw-Whet Owl Aegolius acadicus
30 Chimney Swift Chaetura pelagica
31 Ruby-throated Hummingbird Archilochus colubris
32 Belted Kingfisher Ceryle alcyon
33 Red-bellied Woodpecker Melanerpes carolinus
34 Downy Woodpecker Picoides pubescens
35 Hairy Woodpecker Picoides villosus
36 Northern Flicker Colaptes auratus
37 Eastern Wood-Pewee Contopus virens
38 Yellow-bellied Flycatcher Empidonax flaviventris
39 Alder Flycatcher Empidonax alnorum
40 Willow Flycatcher Empidonax traillii
41 Least Flycatcher Empidonax minimus
42 Eastern Phoebe Sayornis phoebe
43 Great Crested Flycatcher Myiarchus crinitus
44 Eastern Kingbird Tyrannus tyrannus
45 Northern Shrike Lanius excubitor
46 Blue-headed Vireo Vireo solitarius
47 Warbling Vireo Vireo gilvus
48 Philadelphia Vireo Vireo philadelphicus
49 Red-eyed Vireo Vireo olivaceus
50 Blue Jay Cyanocitta cristata
51 American Crow Corvus brachyrhynchos
52 Tree Swallow Tachycineta bicolor
53 Northern Rough-winged Swallow Stelgidopteryx serripennis
54 Bank Swallow Riparia riparia
55 Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
56 Black-capped Chickadee Poecile atricapillus
57 Tifted Titmouse Baeolophus bicolor
58 Red-breasted Nuthatch Sitta canadensis
59 White-breasted Nuthatch Sitta carolinensis
60 Brown Creeper Certhia americana
61 Carolina Wren Thryothorus ludovicianus
62 House Wren Troglodytes aedon
63 Winter Wren Troglodytes troglodytes
64 Marsh Wren Cistothorus palustris
65 Golden-crowned Kinglet Regulus satrapa
66 Ruby-crowned Kinglet Regulus calendula
67 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Polioptila caerulea
68 Hermit Thrush Catharus guttatus
69 Wood Thrush Hylocichla mustelina
70 American Robin Turdus migratorius
71 Gray Catbird Dumetella carolinensis
72 Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottos
73 Brown Thrasher Toxostoma rufum
74 European Starling Sturnus vulgaris
75 Cedar Waxwing Bombycilla cedrorum
76 Blue-winged Warbler Vermivora pinus
77 Tennessee Warbler Vermivora peregrina
78 Orange-crowned Warbler Vermivora celata
79 Nashville Warbler Vermivora ruficapilla
80 Northern Parula Parula americana
81 Yellow Warbler Dendroica petechia
82 Chestnut-sided Warbler Dendrioca pensylvanica
83 Magnolia Warbler Dendroica magnolia
84 Black-throated Blue Warbler Dendroica caerulescens
85 Yellow-rumped Warbler Dendroica coronata
86 Black-throated Green Warbler Dendroica virens
87 Blackburnian Warbler Dendroica fusca
88 Prairie Warbler Dendroica discolor
89 Bay-breasted Warbler Dendroica castanea
90 Blackpoll Warbler Dendroica striata
91 Black-and-white Warbler Mniotilta varia
92 American Redstart Setophaga ruticilla
93 Ovenbird Seiurus aurocapillus
94 Northern Waterthrush Seiurus noveboracensis
95 Kentucky Warbler Oporornis formosus
96 Connecticut Warbler Oporornis agilis
97 Mourning Warbler Oporornis philadelphia
98 Common Yellowthroat Geothlypis trichas
99 Wilson's Warbler Wilsonia pusilla
100 Yellow-breasted Chat Icteria virens
101 Scarlet Tanager Piranga olivacea
102 Eastern Towhee Pipilo erythrophthalmus
103 American Tree Sparrow Spizella arborea
104 Chipping Sparrow Spizella passerina
105 Clay-colored Sparrow Spizella pallida
106 Field Sparrow Spizella pusilla
107 Savannah Sparrow Passerculus sandwichensis
108 Fox Sparrow Passerella iliaca
109 Song Sparrow Melospiza melodia
110 Lincoln's Sparrow Melospiza lincolnii
111 Swamp Sparrow Melospiza georgiana
112 White-throated Sparrow Zonotrichia albicollis
113 White-crowned Sparrow Zonotrichia leucophrys
114 Dark-eyed Junco Junco hyemalis
115 Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis
116 Rose-breasted Grosbeak Pheucticus ludovicianus
117 Indigo Bunting Passerina cyanea
118 Bobolink Dolichonyx oryzivorus
119 Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus
120 Rusty Blackbird Euphagus carolinus
121 Common Grackle Quiscalus quiscula
122 Brown-headed Cowbird Molothrus ater
123 Orchard Oriole Icterus spurius
124 Baltimore Oriole Icterus galbula
125 Purple Finch Carpodacus purpureus
126 House Finch Carpodacus mexicanus
127 Common Redpoll Carduelis flammea
128 Pine Siskin Carduelis pinus
129 American Goldfinch Carduelis tristis
130 House Sparrow Passer domesticus