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.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Goose Pond Mountain Created Wetlands, 20 July 2006

Field notes and more photos coming... stay tuned! Highlights today included a dragonfly laying her eggs!!

Monday, July 17, 2006

Goose Pond Mountain Created Wetlands, 17 July 2006

Laurel reflects on the day at Goose Pond...
Sybil and her sons, Nathan and Anderson, and Sebastian, Acadia and I met at six thirty pm to avoid the stifling humidity and blazing sun of a particularly unpleasant July day.
Goose Pond would prove very productive this evening. Within minutes Sybil had plucked a young snake from the water with her net. It rose alarmingly quickly to the top. We tried to contain it, I topping her net with a second, but it was too active and slipped out of our makeshift cage. There was no way to identify or photograph this rascal. I mentioned that Sebastian and I had caught a young black rat snake in the same pond a few weeks earlier. It was brightly colored, with bluish marking, extremely handsome and much unlike the dull adult black rat snake Sybil’s family and ours had seen her on another occasion.
Feeling cheated, I set the clear Tupperware container on the ground and the boys set to filling it. Nets brought up small dragonfly and damselfly larvae, backswimmers, water striders and snails. One successful dip netted a salamander larvae with feathery gills. It was probably a young red spotted newt. Sybil’s boys had landed one of these in a past visit, so they were a little less entranced by its delicate beauty than my children and I. In fact, I kept returning to the container just to view it.
Next I spotted the empty carapace of a dragonfly larvae in the water. The light brown exoskeleton was as light as cellophane. It had been left behind when the larvae, having reached its last molt, climbed up the stem of a cattail and transformed into a dragonfly. During this process exoskeleton had split along the back of the thorax and the dragonfly had pulled its body and legs from its old skin. The aerial creature that emerged must have been magnificent in comparison to the squat, greenish- brown larvae. The shed was large, and I assumed it was probably from a skimmer or darner. The winged adult had joined the numbers of flying predators that circled the pond. Though our activity had driven a few away, a large number of dragonflies in all colors, blue, green, red, white and brown still filled the air around us. I wondered if the individual that left its shed behind was one of them.
Before we left to cross the boardwalk to the next pond, Nathan spotted a creature none of us had ever seen beyond the pages of a book. With Nathan pointing it out, Sebastian got up the courage to grab it from the surface where it was cruising. The creature resembled a walking stick, its body and legs long, light brown and thin. From my reading, I knew instantly it was a water scorpion. This insect is a species of true bug with sucking mouthparts. Luckily, Sebastian had grabbed it away from the head, because—like several other aquatic bugs—it can inflict a painful bite. We noticed it had wings folded along its back and thin tubes extending from its abdomen. These are used together like a snorkel and allow the insect to breathe underwater. With this great discovery, we released all our captives and made our way across the boardwalk.
At the second pond, we were close to catching a green frog, but of course, failed. Following this, I found a dead painted turtle under the water. The grisly discovery made Anderson very sad, so we moved on, letting the boys run ahead.
When we reached the third pond, we saw something so unusual that I cursed myself for never thinking to bring along a video camera. It was the erratic flight of a large green dragonfly that attracted our attention. This individual appeared to be hopping across the water on its tail. Upon closer inspection we realized that the insect was actually dipping the end of its abdomen in the water, flying a short distance, and dipping again. What we were witnessing was the behavior of a female laying her eggs. To avoid getting swamped, the dragonfly broke through the surface film of water with the just the tip of her abdomen. With each dip she deposited an egg. The process went on for several minutes until we lost sight of her among the cattails. The show over, Sebastian and Nathan ran to catch up with Sybil and Anderson who had gone ahead and were resting in the shade.
Near the cars, where the kids like to play on the boulders, I had one last surprise when Acadia almost stepped on a large dead moth about two inches wide. Its shape was that of a member of the sphinx and hawkmoth group. I do not have a comprehensive guide to moths, but this individual closely resembles John Himmelman’s photo of a waved sphinx in his wonderful book Discovering Moths: Nighttime Jewels in Your Own Backyard
So many new discoveries made in one short romp. There is just so much to learn when you spend time on the banks of a pond. I’ve been hanging around them for thirty years now, and saw three new things just this visit. Who knows what wild things we’ll see next time? The anticipation is half the fun.