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Nature's Notebook

The lure of Niagara Falls waterpower

Long a fascinating natural attraction, Niagara Falls also piqued the interest of industrialists including Lakeville native Augustus Porter (1769-1849). An engineer, lawyer and businessman, Porter surveyed the area as a young man and became one of the first white settlers in Manchester (after 1840 known as Niagara Falls), N.Y.

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Why so many vultures in North Canaan?

Sitting on my front stoop on a cool spring morning, I heard the heavy beat of wings overhead. I looked up into the spreading branches of a Norway spruce and saw the familiar dark forms of two black vultures perched on a swaying limb. They preened and shifted and then one of them took off, leaving the other flapping its wings for balance. I could see distinctly the silvery white flashes under its wingtips that help distinguish these birds from the larger turkey vulture, which has gray flight feathers and a brown back. 

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The Big Night of the peepers and pals

I missed the Big Night of the amphibians this year, if indeed there even was one. But I know that they emerged because the peepers are giving full throat now to the vernal chorus.  
I stopped on a gravel road one evening last week and heard them calling from the wet woodlands nearby even before I turned off my engine. There is nothing so insistent as a swamp full of tree frogs with mating on the mind.  

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Squirrels tripping lightly

This is the second in a two-part series about squirrels and their wandering ways.
 
And what of the forests of America? Were there not accounts by Audubon, Cooper or Muir of squirrels passing from tree to tree “from sea to shining sea”? 

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The Traveler Squirrel abides

‘Sing, O Muse, of the Traveler Squirrel.” So might Homer have opened the “Iliad,” had the ancient Greeks journeyed overland to the gates of Troy rather than across the Aegean Sea. That old chestnut about a forest so vast that a squirrel could cross from one far distant point to another without touching the ground is probably buried somewhere in a corner of your mind. 

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Armchair speleology

The March 2018 issue of “The Northeastern Caver,” passed on to me by a friend, lists three well-known caves in Connecticut: Roxbury Mine in Roxbury, Tory’s Cave in New Milford and Twin Lakes caves. The last two locations, it indicates, are closed to visitors.* 
We’ll take an armchair walk into the past to visit the third-mentioned cave, better known years ago as Miles Cave.

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Changes are coming, and not all are good

Here is a passage from an 1885 history of Berkshire County that applies just as well to our corner of the Litchfield Hills during the late 19th century:
“Agriculture just now, especially in the eastern portion of the town, is suffering a strange and painful decline.… Many hundred acres formerly yielding fine crops of hay cannot now be mowed, much less plowed. 

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Highs and lows of maple sap

Before the land was cleared for charcoal and pasture, the forested uplands of Goshen, Norfolk, Colebrook, Winchester and Barkhamsted were the heart of maple sugar production in our region.  

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Who’s leaving those leaves?

Our house is a short distance from the street. Eight concrete steps lead from the short walkway to the front porch.
Why, I ask, after it has snowed and I have shoveled a path to the newspaper box, do leaves collect at the foot of the steps? They are crisp and brown and annoy me.
We did, after all, rake and rake and rake our leaves last autumn and hire a trucker with a large vacuum to take them away.
The trees around our house are bare. Where do the new leaves come from?

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Red in tooth and claw

As I was shifting my car out into the street on a recent frosty morning, I saw a hawk swoop down and alight on a neighbor’s shrubbery. I do not say perch, exactly, because it was one of those ornamental evergreens that is both full-needled and weak-limbed, so the bird bobbed on the outer layer without finding a solid landing place. It was a female sharp-shinned hawk and she had just missed her chance at a fleeing sparrow that had vanished under cover. After considering for a moment, the hawk recovered her dignity and flew away down the street.

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