Nature Strollers

The mission of the Nature Strollers is to support parents and grandparents in their role as primary interpreters of nature for their families; to provide opportunities for families to enjoy unstructured time outdoors; to familiarize families with local trails, refuges, sanctuaries and preserves; and to develop networks among families with a common interest in nature.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Blog on temporary hiatus

The Nature Strollers are still out hiking, but our Blog is on temporary hiatus. Please click on the recent posts to the left for an overview of our family hiking club's adventures and advice. We will resume blogging when our work schedules allow. Thanks for your patience and keep on strolling!

Monday, April 05, 2010

Twenty Toads A-Trilling

Our Monday Strollers trip leaders reported not twenty but over one hundred American toads active in the ponds! The high temperatures has served to inspire an early breeding season. The first males heard trilling were sounding off a month earlier than last year! The main contingent of toads made it to the pond sixteen days earlier than last year! The photo above is of a couple in amplexus. You can see the necklace-like strings of toad eggs which will result in hundreds of tapoles per couple! Luckily for them, they leave the little guys on their own, no need to parent a hundred babies at time.

Here are some of the miles and miles of toad eggs found in the pond. As the eggs age and the embryos develop, the outer jelly-like coating clouds up. Soon it will disintegrate and the small black tadpoles will be free to swim about and find food.

This male is trilling, hoping to attract a female. American toads are among my favorite creatures for teaching children about the natural world. They call and lay eggs within inches of the shore, and are not startled by the approach of little feet. The Strollers and their kids are able to watch them sing, breed, and lay eggs close up. Then we can track the growth of the tadpoles on each subsequent trip. I must say that American toads are the mascots of the Nature Strollers, a perennial favorite, a wonderful sign of spring, and an auditory and visual treat.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Strollers Celebrate the Vernal Equinox on the Trail

Two-and-a-half weeks ago we had three feet of snow.
One week ago we had inches and inches of flooding rains.
This week we have temps in the sixties and seventies!
It isn't every year we begin our outings in t-shirts and shorts.
What a way to welcome SPRING!

Of course in this shoulder season, there are some remnants of Autumn out and about as well. The kids spotted this wooley bear caterpillar on the move. Soon enough it will pupate and become an Isabella moth.

The spring peeper chorus began on the 17th of March this year. Their song accompanied us on the trail. We saw, but did not hear, six woodfrogs in the buttonbush swamp.

The kids were in ecstacy, using their nets to bring up a cast of aquatic characters including a bullfrog tadpole, damselfly larva, several dragonfly larva, caddisfly larva cases, backswimmers, and a brown and red aquatic beetle.

We found an asian praying mantis egg case.

And a Carolina mantis egg case. Both had predator marks, woodpeckers or chickadees.

We tried to be quiet by the buttonbush swamp, but even so, the shy wood frogs would not sing.

With Goosepond Mountain in the background, the Strollers catch up after a long, cold winter.

Here are the dragonfly larva the kids found, an up close and personal view.

Camille found a snail!

Sebastian holds a caddisfly larva case made out of stems from aquatic vegetation.

Penelope tests feet that have been trapped in shoes too long.

Here are her tootsies in the mud! Isn't it great to be a kid. Isn't it great to be barefoot!!!

Under the old oak tree what should we find but evidence of a noctournal visitor. An owl pellet.

What's inside. We picked a pellet apart with two sticks and discovered the bones and skull of a rodent.

In the red maple swamp, the skunk cabbages lend a certain um... air to the environment. Inside their flashy spathes are the tiny flowers. The honeybees we saw on the wing will soon be visiting these first flowers of spring.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Secret Messages and Hidden Gems

Other children have passed this way before us. They left behind a cryptic message
written on the smooth tablet of an artist's conch mushroom. Our kids look on, impressed, wishing they'd been the ones to find nature's sketchpad.

Our favorite state parks can be relied upon to reveal some hidden treasures this season. The gemstone-quality luster of the native salamanders: red eft, blue spotted, and redback are revealed as the kids overturn logs for a peek at the hidden worlds beneath.

Boys and sticks. What more is there to say?

Monday, November 09, 2009

Autumn Rambles--Sterling Forest

Sterling Forest State Park is our new stomping ground this season. The kids have grown and are enjoying the more challenging terrain. We climbed to the top of the Sterling Ridge. Here several Nature Strollers rest atop a glacial erratic made of puddingstone. We also saw the scrapes in the rock made by the passing glaciers of the last Ice Age.

Sterling Forest is home to a lovely lake.

Ripe pear-shaped puffballs provide lots of entertainment.
Olive brown spore clouds enchant the kids.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

No, She Doesn't Sting!

Sybil discovered this five inch long ichneumon wasp, Megarhyssa macrurus, on the side of a shagbark hickory tree at Goose Pond Mountain State Park. This impressive female wasp is a member of a predatory wasp species that sports a long, flexible ovipositor, or egg laying tube, that is often mistaken for a three to four inch stinger! This beautifully patterned wasp is harmless to humans. The purpose of the ovipositor is not defense but reproduction. The female identifies a potential host for her larva, the larva of another wasp species (the pigeon tremex wasp) deep within the tree by using her antenna to detect the chemical odor of a fungus that is associated with the host larva. She then drills through the wood of the tree with her ovipositor and lays her eggs on the wasp larva within. When the Megarhyssa wasp's eggs hatch, they make a meal of the pigeon tremex wasp larva. I was triply impressed by this creature, for her beauty, size and complex ecological role. Thanks, Sybil!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Orchid Surprise!

On our walk today, we came across something completely unexpected, a rare and wonderful surprise. Scattered across the forest floor in a secret shady wood, nineteen pink lady's slippers were in bloom. This was so special an event we took several trips out to show them to our Nature Strollers. Several people commented that they had never seen these beautiful orchids before. This specimen was at least a foot tall and impressed these two Nature Strollers with its unusual design. This young lady declared that being the first to spot one entitled the sharp-eyed child to a wish. With so many in bloom, there were plenty of wishes to go around.

Not all of the twin leaves produce a blossom (see the leaves on the left hand side of the photo). Lady's slipper can take four or more years to flower, and then they may not produce a flower every year.
"Graceful and tall the slender, drooping stem,
With two broad leaves below,
Shapely the flower so lightly poised between,
And warm her rosy glow."
---Elaine Goodale

The puffy lady's slipper flowers have an intricate pattern of dark pink veins. Honeybees, bumblebees, andrednid and halictid bees enter the flower, only to find they can progress in only one direction. This one-way street ensures that the bees will pass by the anthers and collect pollen.

Acadia is thrilled with our find. Her very favorite color is, of course, pink!

This is the dried seed capsule from one of last year's lady's slippers. The orchid produces over 100,000 miniscule seeds which are dispersed by the wind. However, they can only grow in spots with the perfect combination of soils, moisture, and particular species of symbiotic fungi. The presence of standing seed capsules will clue you in about where to look for flowers in the spring.
Our eyes dazzled by the beauty of orchids, there is still no way we could miss this startlingly orange creature. Lily inspects the red eft, in high contrast against the green moss of a fallen log. The red eft is a juvenile red spotted newt. It represents the terrestrial phase of an aquatic salamander. Red efts have the ability to survive out of water, cross great (considering their size) distances, and colonize new ponds and swamps.

Here is a close-up of our fine fellow. Look at those spots!

Okay, I haven't taken the time to page through the 400+ photos and descriptions in my caterpillar book to identify this one. He was happily munching on an oak seedling. Doesn't he sport lovely chevrons? I wonder what he will turn into, moth or butterfly?

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Fuller Mountain Brook

We subscribe to the immersion method of nature study here at Nature Strollers. Rule number one: never visit a stream without getting your feet wet! Fuller Mountain Brook was running fast and clear this Saturday afternoon, its babble pleasant accompanyment to our stroll. Five families joined us on this pre-mother's day hike to take in the native flora of this relatively untouched river corredor. I particularly love this land trust preserve because of its relatively unknown status. The trail is fading, one must step carefully for all the wildflowers coming up in the middle of it, so few feet trod its length. It is a hidden gem.

The promethea moths must find it satisfactory as well. This cocoon, spun from silk and a spicebush leaf, is extremely well camouflaged. It sure kept its secret from the strollers who were looking hard to spot something "different" on this spicebush tree. Eventually, I had to give it up. The children admired its clever design and felt its weight. The pupa is still inside.
The streambanks are lined with ferns and skunk cabbage. The colors still springlike in their cool intensity. It is an invitation to follow the twists and turns of the riverbend deeper into the forest.
Exquisite Jack-in-the-pulpit were flowering in profusion. The flowers can be male or female depending on the amount of energy stored by the corm (similar to a bulb).

I don't think this is exactly what I was talking about when I said we should get kids back into the woods! But the virtually impenetrable tangle of fallen tree branches made for an all natural (and inexpensive) jungle gym.

Along the streamside, the corregated leaves of the hellebore lend a striking glossy green to the foliage of the preserve. These have not flowered yet. I am told the blooms resemble orchids.

Renew all hope, ye who enter here!
The grapevine arch acts as a portal to the marshy wetland.

I guess it's water strider mating season. Shhhhhhhh...

Fuller Mountain Brook is known for its beautiful violets. Most of these lovely five petalled flowers go unpollinated, but that is okay. The violet has small flowers at the base that never open and self-fertilize. The seeds of the violet are transported to fertile sites by ants.

Dwarf ginsing--not the kind sold in health food stores--makes a lovely floral accent to this mossy tree root. This is a wildflower I seldom see elsewhere. Whether on account of its habitat being relatively undisturbed for two hundred years or its particular preferences for soil types or moisture regimes, I do not know.

The pileated woodpecker Polly heard early on in our walk has been hard at work looking for insects under the bark of this dead tree. Our walk included many such finds including frogs, red velvet mites, and a flat millipede. A leisurely pace and lovely surroundings made for a wonderful success, I hope all the mothers that followed our lead were pleased and found renewed strength and refreshment from this outing.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Glenmere Lake, 26 April 2009

The 95 degree weather kept most creatures out-of-sight, but we couldn't pass up a quick (but HOT) trip to Glenmere for a picnic in the pavilion. We did see the resident Bald Eagle soaring in the sky as we pulled in, but that's about all we had energy to chase. Who would have thought it would have snowed and been almost 100 degrees in the very same month?
Fuzzy shot because it was soaring so high, but you can clearly see the distinct "straight-out" wingspan of a Bald Eagle.


Friday, April 24, 2009

Fitzgerald Falls, 24 April 2009

Ferrying toddlers across the stream proved much easier than we thought.
Olivia enjoys her sandwich with the falls as a backdrop.

What a picnic spot!

The big kids stopped by for a snack, taking a break from their sloppy slurching.

Are these dangle earrings or the work of the Caddisfly larvae?

This fern was growing in a tiny crevasse right next to the falls.

Bees galore pollinating the Trout Lily, which takes seven years to bloom.

Whether Acadia said something hysterically funny or it was just the fresh waterfall air, Lily couldn't contain her gut-busting laughter.