The Photo Tour “Natural History Of Tomaquag Valley”

By HHA Member Tom Helmer

The HHA web site encompasses the chronological history of human activity, as in the rhyme “In fourteen hundred and ninety two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue”.

But we also are concerned with the completeness of our coverage of Hopkinton by devoting time to the “Natural History” of our town. ‘Gee, that’s really swell.’ you might be thinking, followed rapidly with a logical question along the lines of: ‘What in the world is Natural History?’

The correct answer to that question is the perplexing reply “Everything”. But to let you see on the insider’s joke, let’s look up Natural History in our trusty Funk & Wagnalls. The dictionary gives three definitions:

  1. A treatise… (Wow! Two words in and I had to look that one up! It means “A systematic exposition or argument in writing including a methodical discussion of the facts or principles involved and conclusions reached.)

O.K. Let’s start over…

Natural History, Noun,

  1. A treatise on some aspect of nature.
  2. The Natural development of something (as an organism or disease) over a period of time.
  3. The study of natural objects especially in the field from an amateur or popular point of view.

(Hey! There’s that word “Amateur” again. Check out the article “Amateur” under the “About Us” drop downs.)

This Photo Tour is prepared in the spirit of definition #3, and it encompasses the plants, animals, seasons and the star of Tomaquag Valley, Tomaquag Brook in it’s many variations, from sleepy and dull, to rambunctious and wild, in it’s rain swollen state and it’s tiny trickle brooks and marshes.

As a hiker with over 300 miles spent in Tomaquag Valley alone, I know that each of my photographs portray the beauty of our valley, but one of them also shows the ever present danger that can surprise you on a carefree stroll away from our controlled environment into the uncontrolled home of wild Nature.

In the photos, there is a “Very Cute” picture of an adorable baby racoon snuggled up at the base of my neighbor Don’s oak tree. This little bundle of Disneyesque benevolence has rabies, a communicable disease transmitted via saliva from the bite of an infected mammal to another mammal.

Without sounding like a treatise, untreated, rabies is a slow, grim, fatal disease for the unfortunate mammal infected. Humans are treated before the disease rots your mind by a painful series of shots. You help slow down the spread of rabies by making sure Fluffy and Sparky get their rabies shots.

You have to be nuts to get as close to a rabid animal as the picture would indicate. While I do qualify, I also have a real good telephoto lens, so I’m not that crazy. If you encounter a nocturnal animal strolling about during the day, leave the area immediately.

I hope you enjoy the photos. Each one was shot less than 1 ¾ miles from my front door. The woods of Hopkinton, wherever you live, and the woods near our site’s many visitors, will all contain similar beauty if you take the time to look at the Natural History that surrounds us.

The tour begins with a vernal pool in the Spring. This is where life began for many of the amphibians of the forest, like the wood frogs that spring about violently, and the salamanders and newts that try to stay out of sight. The evening air is full of the shrill calls of Spring Peepers. The bull frogs, which remain tadpoles for portions of two years and need to mature in permanent ponds, add to the chorus of the Rites Of Spring.

In the Valley, the water is high, and the marshes and wet places are active nurseries for skunk cabbage and fiddle head ferns. There are many trickle brooks, each with their own beauty, each contributing to Tomaquag Brook’s high water. Be aware that this brook puts on a disposition disguise every time it passes near an automobile bridge. It pretends to be half asleep and incapable of having fun. This is a lie! You will see the photos progressively shift from Docile to “Day after the big rain Rambunctious”.

As Tomaquag Brook in the wild is no where near a road, that means you have to hike to it, or look at these pictures. The advantage of looking at the pictures is two fold. This is the brook with really high water, and you are far less likely to catch Poison Ivy inside your home.

With Spring, all sorts of wildlife comes out of dens and burrows to move about. The deer prints are obvious, the raccoon prints need some time to notice the “Hand” of it’s front paws, and the “Foot” of it’s rear paws.

Many geese and buzzards migrate away for the winter,
but like giant versions of the Swallows of Capestrano, they return to Hopkinton.

For a “One Way History Hoot”, click on the link to Hinckley, Ohio’s annual Buzzard Day celebration! But be sure to come right back, so I hope you have already book marked our site.

Getting back to Hopkinton, on a more serious note, Spring also brings up the predator activity in our woodlands. I regularly check any muddy spots that I walk by to get the latest news on who’s been passing through. I went by this spot two days in a row. On the first day it was a clean slate. On the second day, a Bobcat had passed across the spot.

We have large Fox and Coyote populations, but like Sparky the dog, their claws are not retractable. These claws would show in the print. A Bobcat is sort of like a giant version of Fluffy, on steroids, with a bad attitude, and retractable razor sharp claws. Note that no claw impressions are visible.

Other animals are out and about as the seasons shift to Summer, then on to Fall. The forest floor is re-carpeted with leaves, giving fresh evidence that coyotes have no loyalty to fellow canines, as the dog hip bone testifies, and that deer do as they please. Sometimes the beaver fell a tree, only to have it hang up in another tree, denying them much Winter food in the bark.

And surprise, surprise, you find you have been walking a trail all summer long with a White Faced Hornet’s nest dangling over your head.

As it gets colder, the squirrels lay claim to your bird feeder, and the big, fat ones are the worst piggies!

Then, late in November or early December comes the first cold snap, and the goldfish pond is transformed into an ephemeral art work, as long and high ice crystals have sliced across the still water.