Our Northeast Harbor Summer

Greetings to all friends of The Naturalist’s Notebook! We wanted you to know that we are planning a very different summer for 2015 at the Notebook.

Pamelia and I are taking a break from running two seven-day-a-week Naturalist’s Notebook spaces this season and instead will open only our Northeast Harbor site.

The Seal Harbor Notebook isn’t going away. We’ll continue to develop our nature installations in that 13.8-billion-year building for 2016 even as we focus on launching a spectrum of Notebook projects that we’ve been working on and are very excited about. (We’ll also be addressing some medical issues and traveling and I’ll be beginning my Sports Illustrated work on the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics.)

We’ll start our season around July 21 and be open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., five days a week (closed Sunday and Monday), possibly six in August. We won’t run any workshops, but the Northeast Harbor Notebook will be filled with a new universe of fun, intelligence, interactions and shop-and-think installations to explore.

Pamelia and I had one of our most creative winters ever. We’ve done some sharp editing and begun the evolution of The Naturalist’s Notebook into its next phase, which will include a completely redesigned website (the two of us are having a blast building it ourselves) that will be the surprise-filled, interactive, 365-days-a-year hub of our unique 13.8-billion-year exploration of nature. We want to make the virtual Notebook as original, intelligent and fun as the physical Notebook spaces are.

We look forward to seeing at least some of you this summer and we thank you for your years of sharing in our continuing Notebook adventures. We hope that you’ll follow our popular Facebook page and explore the new website when we unveil it in the weeks ahead. Stay tuned.

Have a great summer exploring the nature of your life with binoculars, a microscope, a camera, a field guide…and of course a pen or pencil and a notebook!

With 13.8 billion good wishes,

Craig Neff and Pamelia Markwood

Our First London Marathon: From Dinosaurs to Prince Harry

Pamelia and I watched Kenya's Eliud Kipchoge pull away in the final half mile to win in 2:04:42.

Pamelia and I watched Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge pull away in the final half mile to win in 2:04:42.

You may never have heard of Paula Radcliffe or Eliud Kipchoge or Tigist Tufa. You may not think it fun to stand for hours in cold, gray weather watching people run. But on Sunday, Pamelia and I pulled on extra layers and hit the streets for one of the world’s great events, the London Marathon, in which more 38,000 runners traversed a scenic 26.2-mile route from Greenwich Park (aside the historic Royal Observatory, through which the Greenwich Mean Time meridian passes) to Buckingham Palace. It was bone-chillingly wonderful.

The start, in Greenwich Park.

The start, near Greenwich Park.

Here’s the thing about the London Marathon: The field each year includes not only the world’s fastest elite competitors—such as world-record holder Dennis Kimetto of Kenya, the 2015 pre-race favorite—but also public-spirited everyday runners who generate a stunning $75 million in donations by linking their miles to causes ranging from children’s cancer research to rainforest conservation. The race is Britain’s biggest annual charity fund-raising event. 

Ian Bates, 44, from Crawley, England, ran wearing a T-rex costume that weighed 84 pounds.

Ian Bates, 44, from Crawley, England, ran wearing a T-rex costume that weighed 84 pounds.

Others on Sunday dressed up to run for fun, whether as a Tyrannosaurus rex or Captain America or the Mona Lisa or a bride and groom—though those two actually were a bride and groom whose ceremony took place midway through the race.

One of the course's many landmarks was the Tower Bridge.

One of the course’s many landmarks was the Tower Bridge.

I covered many marathons over the years as a writer for Sports Illustrated and always wanted to at least attend the London race. It always takes place within a week or two of the Boston Marathon; great 26.2-mile events pop up each year along with the daffodils and tulips. On Sunday, however, I was eager to see not just the spectacle but also how Kimetto would fare against the second-fastest marathoner in history, his training partner and countryman Wilson Kipsang. Could Kimetto’s almost unbelievably fast record of 2:02:57 fall?

From our vantage point 400 meters from the finish we watched Kenya's Mary Keitany (left) hold off Tirfi Tsegaye of Ethiopia for second place in the women's race.

From our vantage point 400 meters from the finish we watched Kenya’s Mary Keitany (left) hold off Tirfi Tsegaye of Ethiopia for second place in the women’s race.

To stay warm and find viewing spots not obstructed by banners and the maze of crowd-control fencing, Pamelia and I kept moving. We joined the mass at Buckingham Palace, where a large video screen was broadcasting the marathon telecast, but finally settled on a perch on Birdcage Walk, the onetime site of King James I’s Royal Menagerie and Aviary and a perfectly named location for The Naturalist’s Notebook duo. (Oh, and there just happened to be a Cock ‘n’ Bull Rotisserie barbecue and hot dog stand 20 yards away.)

We could see runners come down Birdcage walk and turn right into the race's final stretch.

We could see runners come down Birdcage Walk and turn right into the race’s final stretch.

Sharp-eyed birder Pamelia spotted another apt feature of Birdcage Walk: a large bird’s nest  being built in a tree top right above the runners. She saw what appeared to be a crow flying a stick in to the nest. Unfortunately her view wasn’t good and we didn’t have our friend the great naturalist (and record-setting ultra marathoner) Bernd Heinrich with us for expert confirmation.

The field included runners dressed as everything from a purple cow...

The field included runners dressed as everything from a pink cow…

...to Captain America...

…to Captain America…

...to a bone-head raising money to osteoporosis...

…to a generous bone-afactor raising money for osteoporosis research…

...to, inevitably, Elvis...

…to the inevitable Elvis…

...to—this one was a Naturalist's Notebook favorite along with the T-rex—a rainforest plant who spoke of the need to conserve rainforest for future generations, and for the good of the planet.

…to—a Naturalist’s Notebook favorite, along with the T-rex—a rainforest plant who spoke of the need to conserve rainforest for future generations, and for the good of the planet.

Here's the bride, before getting hitched at the midpoint of her race (to a guy running in a faux tuxedo).

Here’s the bride, before getting hitched at the midpoint of her race (to a guy running in a faux tuxedo).

In the end, the race was fast but not record-fast. Favorites Kimetto and Kipsang could not keep up with fellow Kenyan Kipchoge, who won in 2:04:42. Tufa, from Ethiopia, won the women’s race in 2:23:22. But she did not receive the loudest cheers among the women.

Those went to 41-year-old Paula Radcliffe, Britain’s great marathoning champion and the female world-record holder (2:15:25, run at London in 2003), who was competing for the final time. She ran with the mixed-gender masses, not with the elite women, and smiled often as she cruised to a 2:36:55 finish.

Paula Radcliffe enjoyed her farewell as race at least as much as the crowd did.

Paula Radcliffe enjoyed her farewell as race at least as much as the crowd did.

She capped her day by receiving a lifetime achievement award from one of the few bigger British celebrities on hand: Prince Harry. (Other notables included soccer star David Beckham and his wife, Victoria, the former Spice Girl, whose 12-year-old son ran in the children’s marathon, and seemingly every London-area politician running the the United Kingdom’s May 7 general election.)

Paula Radcliffe, her lifetime achievement award and her Prince.

Paula Radcliffe, her lifetime achievement award, her kids and her Prince.

Pamelia and I took away 26.2-miles of memories and an appreciation for the 38,020 runners and the effort they put in.

Pamelia and I took away 26.2-miles of memories and an appreciation for the 38,020 runners and the effort they put in.

And that lunch from the Cock 'n' Bull's Dog 'n' Bun stand, with Buckingham Palace in the distance and a couple of mysterious visitors in Pamelia's hands, turned out to be a story in itself. A story for another day.

And that lunch from the Cock ‘n’ Bull’s Dog ‘n’ Bun stand, with Buckingham Palace in the distance and a couple of mysterious visitors in Pamelia’s hands, turned out to be a story in itself. A story for another day.

Happy London Marathon Sunday to all. And stay tuned for more adventures from the road!

—Craig Neff and Pamelia Markwood

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Two Amazing Weeks with a Bobcat

bobcatstrollWe first caught sight of the bobcat on a snowy day in February.  He or she—we never did figure out its gender—snuck up on a flock of ducks that were eating spilled sunflower seed beneath our bird feeders. In an explosion of noise and flying snow, the panicked ducks took off. That is, all but one, which the bobcat carried off in his mouth.

That's the bobcat in the lower right.

That’s the bobcat in the lower right.

Pamelia and I were stunned. Any bobcat sighting is a rare treat. We had never seen a bobcat here before, and only once had I observed one in the wild, fleetingly, more than a decade ago by a beaver pond (in a woodsy wetland marked on old maps as Wildcat Swamp) in Northwestern Connecticut.

The bobcat scampered off with the duck that he or she had caught.

The bobcat scampered off with the duck he had caught.

Though bobcats are the most common wildcats in North America, their population is no more than a million or so (maybe 750,000). That’s not all that many, considering that their territory covers roughly 3 billion acres from Mexico to southern Canada.

They’re solitary animals except during mating season (late winter to early spring) when males and females can be found together. Was ours in search of a mate? We heard reports of other bobcat sightings in Maine around the same time as ours, though none within 10 miles of us.

To our amazement and delight, the same bobcat kept returning nearly every day for more than two weeks. Through our windows we observed him in action, at close range, time and again, in daylight. We appreciated every sighting. We knew this might be a once-in-a-lifetime event.

The bobcat often returned to scout our feeders. That black box is a motion-detecting wildlife camera.

The bobcat often returned to scout our feeders. That black box is a motion-detecting wildlife camera.

A typical afternoon viewing session would begin with either Pamelia or I yelling, “There he is!” after seeing him. As he moved around, we would dash back and forth between windows, trying to angle better views and photograph him. (We wished we had taken the window screens off last fall.) He generally would stay close enough for us to watch him for anywhere between five minutes and an hour.

The 'cat often walked by our art studio. He or she sometimes hid under the picnic table in the distance when hunting.

The cat often walked by our art studio. He sometimes hid under the picnic table in the distance when hunting.

We came to know his patterns. The bobcat followed routes through the snow from one hiding spot (under a fir tree or picnic table, for example) to the next. Sometimes he descended to the rocky shore at low tide; other times he headed away from the water, into the woods. The only prey we saw him catch was that duck, but on some mornings we found feathers on the snow, suggesting that the bobcat (or some other animal) had found a meal overnight.

The bobcat seemed to have an injured left eye. The eye appeared cloudy, and from certain angles the bobcat looked almost cross-eyed. Bobcats in the wild have a life expectancy of 10 to 15 years, so we wondered if this was an old cat that had been through the wars. Seven years ago carpenters working at our house had seen a bobcat; could this have been the very same animal?

Notice the odd looking left eye. Could the bobcat have been partially blind?

Notice the odd looking left eye. Could the bobcat have been half-blind?

For several days I moved our motion-decting wildlife camera to a corner of the house where we had seen the bobcat. I was curious if the camera would capture the cat at night. Bobcats are primarily nocturnal—another reason why our daytime sightings were so extraordinary. The only images the camera produced, however, were afternoon shots of our bobcat’s coming and going. That doesn’t mean he didn’t hunt at night; we merely have no evidence of  it other than those suspicious feathers in the snow.

At times, apart from its short tail, the bobcat reminded us of an oversized Maine coon cat.

At times, apart from its short tail, the bobcat reminded us of an oversized Maine coon cat.

The bobcat in another of the resting/hiding spots along its route.

The bobcat in another of the resting spots along its route. Again, very house-cat-like.

Resting just outside the studio doors.

Resting just outside the studio doors.

The bobcat was not huge—perhaps 20 to 25 pounds. His paws were noticeably larger than those of a house cat.

The bobcat was not huge—perhaps 20 to 25 pounds. His paws were substantially larger than those of a house cat, but smaller that those of his cousin the Canada lynx, a threatened species that also can be found in Maine. The lynx has longer legs, less noticeable spotting and hips that are higher than his shoulders. Lynx paws are large enough to help him move through deep snow; bobcats aren’t as well suited to that.

Here's a shot from the motion cam.

Here’s a shot from the motion cam.

He paused to take in the coastal Maine view.

He paused to take in the coastal Maine view.

We don’t know where the bobcat went, but we hope it found a mate and a place safe from coyotes and human threats such as hunting. If you have any bobcat stories or photos—or other wildlife tales—to share, please let us know. What was your most memorable animal sighting?

We'll miss seeing this beautiful cat on the prowl.

We’ll miss seeing this beautiful cat on the prowl.