Thomas Hook

Fall in June

This from naturalist and photographer Thomas Hook, of Southbury, Conn.:    “Was driving up Old Sherman Hill Road in Woodbury (Conn.) today and saw these two leaves out of the corner of my eye and stopped to get a picture. I went home and got the right lens and came back to take another shot. These were the only two autumn leaves in an expanse of green.’’

This from naturalist and photographer Thomas Hook, of Southbury, Conn.:

“Was driving up Old Sherman Hill Road in Woodbury (Conn.) today and saw these two leaves out of the corner of my eye and stopped to get a picture. I went home and got the right lens and came back to take another shot. These were the only two autumn leaves in an expanse of green.’’

In response to the picture, another New England Diary friend sent part of the first stanza of Maine native Edna St. Vincent Millay’s (1892-1950) poem “The Leaf and the Tree’’:

“When will you learn, my self, to be

A dying leaf on a living tree?

Budding, swelling, growing strong,

Wearing green, but not for long,

Drawing sustenance from air, 

That other leaves, and you not there,

May bud, and at the autumn's call

Wearing russet, ready to fall?’’

Beware 'Fairy Circle'

Thomas Hook, the Southbury, Conn.-based photographer and naturalist who took this picture, explains: “This circle of mushrooms appeared on my lawn last evening and it’s the first I’ve seen in many years. It medieval times it was known as a ‘Fairy Circle,’ not to be stepped into for fear you would disappear into some supernatural realm or be faced with an early death were you to step in and then step out. In Germany it was called a ‘Witches’ Circle,’ wherein dancing occurred on Walpurgis Night. Whatever your belief system, it was exciting for me to find, as good as finding a Scarlet Tanager!

Thomas Hook, the Southbury, Conn.-based photographer and naturalist who took this picture, explains: “This circle of mushrooms appeared on my lawn last evening and it’s the first I’ve seen in many years. It medieval times it was known as a ‘Fairy Circle,’ not to be stepped into for fear you would disappear into some supernatural realm or be faced with an early death were you to step in and then step out. In Germany it was called a ‘Witches’ Circle,’ wherein dancing occurred on Walpurgis Night. Whatever your belief system, it was exciting for me to find, as good as finding a Scarlet Tanager!

Migrants and yardbirds

Photos (below) and commentary by Thomas Hook

I’ve noticed that in September comes a day or two that always feels like the end of summer with autumn soon arriving. On Sept. 17, the remnant of what had been Hurricane Florence was approaching my town of Southbury, Conn., from the west-southwest. It was warm and humid but it felt as if change was in the air.

Birds who migrate rarely stick around, but that afternoon some stayed in the trees in our front yard feeding rather than passing through. Perhaps anticipating the heavy rains due to fall on Southbury the next day, they were trying to get in a meal before taking cover.

The first two photos below are of a Northern Parula and a Red-eyed Vireo, birds that I normally only see in the spring. They were  heading south, way south. 

I also saw a pair of cardinals that I thought at first they were leucistic (an abnormal condition of reduced pigmentation) but in fact they were simply molting. So the third picture is of a male, looking bedraggled but hopefully healthy enough otherwise. The Cardinals are yardbirds and won’t migrate. This guy will stick around.

parula2.jpg
vireo.jpg
card.jpg

Bearing away the bird food

Photo and comment sent the other day by Thomas Hook, New England Diary's  distinguished Southbury,   Conn.-based   wildlife photographer.

Photo and comment sent the other day by Thomas Hook, New England Diary's  distinguished Southbury, Conn.-based wildlife photographer.

"Over the weekend, I spent a few hours buying fresh seed for the feeders, washing the feeders themselves and finally filling them and hanging them up yesterday afternoon. This morning, I looked out and saw the whole setup destroyed. The strong and solid steel arms that held up the feeders were  torqued off their base and in one case completely disengaged. Was the bear watching from the woods waiting for me to finish so he or she could come into the yard and have a proper meal before settling down for a long winter nap?

''Meanwhile, the bear hunter (below) looked calmly from his inside perch at the messy remains of the assault. He seemed concerned but I’m not sure why.''

reggie.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

A civic temple's white over white

Photographer and New England Diary contributor Thomas Hook took this gorgeous picture after the recent snowstorm and reported: "This is King Solomon’s Lodge No. 7,  in Woodbury Conn., serving Freemasons from the local area. It appeared confidently at rest on its perch above all the messy snow and traffic along the busy street below. It was built in 1838 at the cost of $700.''

Photographer and New England Diary contributor Thomas Hook took this gorgeous picture after the recent snowstorm and reported: "This is King Solomon’s Lodge No. 7,  in Woodbury Conn., serving Freemasons from the local area. It appeared confidently at rest on its perch above all the messy snow and traffic along the busy street below. It was built in 1838 at the cost of $700.''

The Masons, while long ago  associated with anti-Catholicism and nativism, morphed into centers of healthy fellowship as well as of charity and other civic good works.  Sadly, they have faded as Americans have abandoned much of their once famous love of community organizations in favor of extreme individualism and self-absorption.

Winter resident

-- Photo by THOMAS HOOK

A Black-Capped Chickadee in Southbury, Conn. Chickadees are probably the bird most associated with winter in New England.  You can hear them chirping on the coldest days. By the way, will global warming lead semi-tropical birds to stay in our region through the winter? We think of the flock of gray parrots that for years lived on a point in East Providence, on Narragansett Bay.

Feeding our color hunger

A Red-Bellied Woodpecker in Southbury, Conn .   -- Photo by Thomas Hook.

A Red-Bellied Woodpecker in Southbury, Conn

-- Photo by Thomas Hook.

We thirst for color in the winter, and many birds give it to us. That's a big reason that we set out bird feeders -- to feed our color hunger. Of course, in the process we also end up feeding the squirrels,  but they put on a manic show that can also help alleviate our seasonal affective disorder. And the ability of so many creatures to survive the brutality of winter may remind us that we, who have it so much easier, can do so too.

Thomas Hook: Rural beasts moving in on exurbia

Photos and text from Thomas Hook, in Southbury, Conn., a   frequent contributor to New England Diary

I was sitting in my den downstairs reading the newspaper when out of the corner of my eye I spotted something moving. Turning my head, I saw a black bear shambling towards our garage. He or she is a large animal (average size is 250-300 pounds). The bear was literally less than 10 feet away and the size, bulk and actuality of him astonished me. 

My first thought was to get a picture. I ran upstairs, got my camera and looked out the window to where the bear might be but I couldn’t see it. I went out the front door and suddenly saw it coming out of our garage. I noticed both ears were tagged as it stared at me from 20 yards away. It quickly moved away into a copse of small trees in our front yard.

It was raining hard and the visibility wasn’t good and so when it suddenly appeared from the foliage (moving fast) all I got were two blurry shots, but get them I did! I would have taken another few but was interrupted by our 30-pound dog, Reggie, running out the door commencing to chase the bear into the woods. I furiously screamed for him to stop because one whack from the bear’s paw might have been the end of our dear little friend. 

Reggie stopped 30 yards into the trees and came back, doubtless sensing how upset I was. My last glimpse of the bear was it looking back at me from down in the wetlands.

I got Reggie inside and then walked into the garage to inspect the damage (we’ve had bears visit us before). It only had time to open one can used for storing birdseed before it must have grown alarmed and shifted into flight mode. 

With the bear now confirmedby the pictures, I now can look forward to photographing some of the other animals normally associated with truly rural areas, and nor our exurbia, that have eluded me but have been seen in the neighborhood either by me or others: moose, fisher cats and bobcats.

 

Lure of the local restaurant

Photo by Thomas Hook

This sign at a restaurant in Woodbury, Conn., is the sort of  roadside kitsch that many of us now treasure in this age of standardized chain restaurants and stores. It recalls secondary-highway roadhouses in the '30s, '40s and '50s before the Interstate Highway System promoted advertising standardization and gutted nonchain establishments in many small towns by taking potential customers around, rather than through, these communities. That made travel easier and faster (for a while anyway) but it ripped apart the fabric of many nice  places.

Mr. Hook has a well-practiced eye for  roadside charm. So did Vladimir Nabokov, especially in his shocking (for the time!) novel Lolita, one of the great road novels, and published in the late '50s, before the Interstate Highway System really got going on all  cylinders and changed so much.

By the way, the  food at the Split Rail is said to be very good.

Southern spectacle moving north

 --- Photos (one is below the text) by Thomas Hook

With leaves like ferns, beautiful, sweet-smelling pink-puffball flowers and a tropical aesthetic,  mimosa trees are moving north with global warming. These fast-growing, messy and rather short-lived trees are becoming increasingly common in southern New England. I think that they’re beautiful,  romantic and a bit sadness-producing. And unlike most trees in our region, they bloom into late summer.

They  also create a bit of a jungle feeling, which takes a while to get used to in our clime, but then our clime is changing.

Try to ignore their overproduction of seedpods, which means that if you have a mimosa you may soon have a mimosa population explosion.

Get used to those drawbacks and enjoy the spectacle that these immigrants from the South create.

Mr. Hook, a distinguished nature photographer, took these pictures last week on his andhis wife’s forested land in Southbury, Conn.

-- Robert Whitcomb

Functional but creepy

-- Photo and information by Thomas Hook

Mr. Hook notes that "Insects are everywhere. The exact number is unknown but there are at least a million separate species.''

So he joined  a a Facebook group called Insects of Connecticut.

This  spring and summer, while gardening, cleaning house, driving,  or whatever, he has noticed a number of interesting types that have enhanced his appreciation for these six-legged creatures. 

So, camera in hand, he goes on the hunt in his yard, on the edge of steep woodland in Southbury, Conn.

This female Pelecinad wasp crossed  his path one day. She is not one that will likely sting us.

She uses her long slender abdomen to thrust into the soil in search of grubs. When finding one, she lays an egg on it and when the egg hatches, the larva penetrates  the body of the defenseless grub and eats it from the inside out. 

While this is gruesome, it explains why this wasp has evolved into her current shape -- very functional but still a little bit creepy.

Meanwhile, we wonder how many species of insects global warming will send us in New England.

Backyard bathing beauty

Photos by Thomas Hook, taken in Southbury, Conn.  

I have always loved the little  lush worlds of backyard ponds, especially with frogs residing there. (See photo below.)  There's so much life in such small places, and it's all so alluring on a hot day. The trick is to keep the raccoons from eating the frogs.

This tiny pond is at the bottom of a steep wooded hill, whose springs feed the pond.

-- Robert Whitcomb

Beautiful beast

--- Photo by Thomas Hook

This creature, resting on a milkweed leaf in Southbury, Conn., is a Candy-striped Leafhopper. Mr. Hook used a macro-lens to get this shot of this less-than-half-an-inch-long animal. Good things come in very small packages!

Note: We erroneously rendered it "Candy-stripped,''  in an earlier version. Apologies to Mr. Hook!