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.

Monday, April 30, 2007

6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary, 30 April 2007

What a windy day! The wind didn't stop four Nature Strollers families from hitting the trails, though. Heather and Harry; Donna, Phoebe and Thornton; Laurel, Sebastian and Acadia; and Kat, Ian, Lily and Penelope set out to see what was waiting for us on our first outing at the sanctuary this spring. The winds didn't stop the wildlife from showing itself, either. Almost immediately after starting out, we saw Yellow-Rumped Warblers flitting from tree to tree and painted turtles basking in the sun. We spotted a Canada goose on her nest, trying her best not to give herself and the location of her nest away. Up high, we saw a large soaring and hovering bird-of-prey, noticing the distinct gull-like angle of its wings as it flew. Through the binoculars, we identified this bird as an Osprey, the only bird-of-prey who almost solely relies on live fish for food. We were able to get a few photographs of the bird as it searched for it's dinner.

Walking along, we spotted a muskrat eating it's own dinner. Acadia got a great look at it, commenting, "It's eating the plants!" That reminded us all that it was dinner time, so we headed back to the cars. On the way back, we took Lily and Penelope out of the stroller and they walked along the trail with Thorton. We flushed a Great Blue Heron from it's favorite spot on the stream, and as we packed up our cars, we spotted an Eastern Bluebird overhead. It was a perfect walk!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Tadpoles Have Hatched!

Kat posts...

This morning, Laurel and I went to check out Hunter Farm Preserve to see if we will indeed be able to take the Nature Strollers out there on Friday. Afterwards, I decided to do some returns while I was in the Middletown shopping area. After bringing back a bunch of clothing to Babies R Us, I got back into my car and headed home. While we were eating lunch, I listed to my phone message... it was Sybil calling to tell me that the tadpoles at Goose Pond Mountain have hatched!! I called Laurel right away, and we made plans to meet at Goose Pond after Lily's OT session. Although we figured it would be raining by then, we decided we would go and take turns looking into the ponds while the other waited with the kids and the cars.

When we got there, we saw thousands of tiny black tadpoles... it was amazing! I took a few shots and even though it was raining, I did get a good one.

If you have the chance, go see the tadpoles at Goose Pond Mountain!!!

Thanks for the alert, Sybil!!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Kenridge Farm, 24 April 2007

Laurel reflects on our outing at Kenridge Farm...

Perfect weather greeted the Nature Strollers for their April hike at Kenridge Farm, part of the Museum of the Hudson Highlands. Twenty families rolled out of the parking lot and onto the trails where we were immediately greeted by the acrobatic flight of tree swallows. Many strollers got the opportunity to see these birds perched in the sun and see the iridescent blue color the sun’s rays create on their feathery backs.
As we approached the chain of ponds, we heard a distant trill. Ahead we would find the once-a-year gathering of American Toads. These amphibians have thick, bumpy skin that allows them to spend the majority of their life on land, but once a year they return to the pond to lay their chains of jelly-like eggs. The trilling sound is made by the males inflating a sack beneath their chin and is one of the more beautiful frog sounds of spring. We were lucky to visit during this week and got to see dozens of males (smaller) and females (larger). Necklaces of eggs, black on top and white on the bottom, lay draped over the pond’s bottom. We caught a male toad for a close up look. The kids had a good time touching him gently with one finger.

A sweep of the net in a smaller pond pulled up bullfrog tadpoles that had spent the winter in the muck at the bottom of the pond. Bullfrog tadpoles can take up to two years to transform into adults. All the children enjoyed peering into the container to watch this large tadpole swim. In another netfull we collected a backswimmer, an aquatic insect that swims on its back, one pair of legs propelling it through the water like a set of oars. We also found a pond snail.

Muskrats scampered through the straw-colored cattail stems on the banks of the ponds, sliding into the water when we approached. We saw their cattail muskrat houses and feeding platforms easily as the vegetation had died back over winter and exposed them to view.
Several nature strollers pointed out two basking northern water snakes and were able to get good pictures of the pair.
Mourning cloak butterflies joined us along the path to the far pond. These brownish black and yellow butterflies overwinter as adults, sheltering under the bark of trees. Cabbage white butterflies were out in profusion. We caught a male and a female for the kids to view. A red tailed hawk circled overhead. Unidentified fish swam under the water, giving us a new challenge for a future trip. The good company, fresh air and exercise coupled with wonderful sights and sounds left us all satisfied with our morning outing and looking forward to the next one in May.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Goose Pond Mountain Created Wetlands, 23 April 2007

Kat posts...
None of us can stay away, what with the American Toads mating and laying eggs! We dare not miss the hatching of the tadpoles, so each time Sybil, Laurel or I have a free minute, we call each other and say, "Let's go to Goose Pond!"

On this particular day, we were observing what was probably the last day of the toad mating season for the year. There were virtually no females left in the pond, though the males were continuing their chorus. Sybil had Anderson and Olivia with her, and since Olivia was snuggled next to Sybil in her sling, Anderson wielded the pond net. After a few unsuccessful tries for a toad, he came up with a Pickerel Frog. We got great looks and pictures. Thanks, Anderson!

Anderson continued his quest to catch a toad, and Sybil, Laurel and I laughed at one individual who was clearly confused... and had missed the boat. This particular toad was desperately trying to mate with a cattail. That was a first for me!

After hanging around for a few more minutes listening to the chorus, we contemplating moving on. Sybil decided to head back (she had forgotten her stroller and Olivia was becoming heavy), but Laurel and I forged ahead. As we walked along the boardwalk we saw a Phoebe land on a branch right beside the boardwalk rail. Hoping to make it to the second and third ponds, we took only a few shots. Lily had started to become unhappy sitting in the stroller, and Acadia soon caught the "fussies." Laurel and I decided to take the shortcut back to the cars, and planned on returning later in the day (after much-needed naps).

Here is a short 3 1/2 minute movie I created with footage of the mating toads. Enjoy!

If you cannot view this video, click this link to view it externally on Google Video!

Goose Pond Mountain State Park, 23 April 2007

Laurel posts...

The end of April brings some early wildflowers to Chester, NY! While driving along route 17M to the right of a temporary stoplight erected at the construction site adjacent to Goose Pond Mountain State Park, Kat and I noticed that the entire hillside was carpeted with thousands of white wildflowers. These turned out to be Dutchman’s breeches, so named because the flowers resemble an upside-down pairs of pants. The scene was right out of an Audubon calendar. Dutchman’s breeches have lacy green foliage and each stem is hung with a number of blossoms. They were growing alongside the nodding, yellow bells and spotted leaves of the trout lily and the white blossoms and single leaves of the bloodroot, creating a lovely woodland carpet of color. All these early blooming spring wildflowers attract bumblebees, solitary bees, flies, beetles and other early pollinators. If these insects fail to show, they can also self-pollinate. Later the seeds of the bloodroot and the Dutchman’s breeches will be harvested by ants and taken underground where those that are not eaten will sprout to form new plants. The seeds of the trout lily are distributed by crickets and other insects in a similar fashion. Trout lilies take nine years to produce a flower, and we happily photographed these blooms of plants that were older than our children!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Goose Pond Mountain Created Wetlands, 22 April 2007

Kat reflects on her Earth Day experience...

Happy Earth Day!!

After a wonderful day with friends at Bear Mountain (which included a picnic and a trip through the Trailside Museum), I was headed home with my exhausted babies in my car. With all of the excitement of the day and due to the fact that the girls only had a very brief nap on the ride to Bear Mountain, I wanted to kill a little time and allow the girls to sleep a little longer in their carseats. My husband and my friend had decided to ride their bikes home from Bear Mountain, so, alone with my sleeping babies, I decided to take a detour and drive over to Goose Pond Mountain to see what I could see from the front seat of my car. I was dying to get out and get another glimpse of the American Toads mating in the pond, and listen to the cacophany of calls from males looking for mates... but I didn't want to wake the babies to do so! As I pulled into the parking lot, I saw the familiar silver Accord... and knew Laurel was here, too. Great minds think alike! Since I couldn't leave the girls alone in the car, I got out and stood on top of one of the gigantic rocks in the lot to scan the landscape for her. I looked unsuccessfully for about five minutes. Soon enough she popped her head up... she had been squatting, taking pictures of the toads! I called her name and she saw me, waved, and walked briskly towards me with her camera. When she came close enough we both started speaking excitedly, me about my day at Bear Mountain, and she about the pond. We laughed about the fact that we had both come back to Goose Pond for the same thing... the toads! She offered to sit with my girls so I could take a look and a listen for myself, so we arranged for her to go back and continue taking her photographs as I waited with my girls in the car. After she finished, she would come and relieve me... and I, too, would go and get some shots of the toads. It was a perfect plan.

Check out some of my pictures... I got great shots of a male toads singing (look at the ripples in the water from the vibrations), some shots of toads mating and laying eggs, and shots of the strings of eggs all over the pond. I also got some video, which I will try to upload soon. I plan to go back again tomorrow, as the eggs hatch roughly 3-12 days after being laid (depending on the weather). I would love to be there for this phenomenon, too.
What a marvelous Earth Day!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Nature Strollers Guestbook

Hello everyone!
We have added a guestbook feature to the Nature Strollers web site, and hope that you will use it to provide feedback for us. Your feedback (given after an outing, when you receive email, or whenever you feel like it) will help us make the Nature Strollers better. Please take a minute to visit and sign the guestbook. Thanks, and we look forward to seeing you out on the trails!

Fuller Mountain Preserve, 21 April 2007

Laurel reflects on our outing with the Orange County Land Trust...
Kathleen and I went on an Orange County Land Trust hike to Fuller Mountain Preserve in Warwick close to the New Jersey border. It was a scouting mission to see if the preserve would be suitable for future Nature Stroller hikes. We quickly determined that the rugged condition of the trail was not conducive to stroller use, but anyone with backpacks, front packs or older kids will find this place magical. The Land Trust owns 200 acres along a ravine surrounding Fuller Mountain Brook. This area has not been farmed or had many trees harvested so a lot of the native vegetation is still intact. The wildflower bloom there should be incredible come May. We saw that the forest floor was covered with the spotted leaves of trout lily that will hold aloft yellow, nodding, lily shaped flowers next month. Trout lilies take nine years to bloom, so though the ground seemed like it would be carpeted with yellow, only about 25% of the plants will produce blooms. Coltsfoot, a yellow wildflower, is in bloom now by the parking area, and the spicebush shrubs were ready to burst their buds.
The kids on the hike turned over logs and rocks searching for creatures and were rewarded with several red-backed salamanders, a pickerel frog, and best of all a two-lined salamander which is not common. We even saw the eggs of the red back salamander, yellow spheres clustered in the soil under a rock. Mourning cloak butterflies and Compton tortoiseshell butterflies danced through the forest; one tortoiseshell even paused for a while on my hand!
We highly recommend this walk for older kids. My son Sebastian literally immersed himself in the brook. He is seven years old and had no trouble with the hike, I would recommend it for kids five and up. You can find directions to Fuller Mountain Brook on the Orange County Land Trust web site, Look for a tiny parking area with “POSTED” signs next to the tiny bridge over Fuller Mountain Brook. Please note that we recommend the trail that begins at the parking area. A much more difficult trail begins across the street, it is treacherous and not easy to follow.
Stay tuned for some great pictures!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Goose Pond Mountain Created Wetlands, 20 April 2007

It is SPRING!!

Our outing today at Goose Pond Mountain drew quite a crowd. We had roughly 18 adults and 21 children join us today for our first warm spring outing of the season. It was perfect, too, because Goose Pond is a great place to go to see the first official signs of spring. Our outing started off with a bang... as we were gathered under the shagbark hickory tree (thanks for the identification, Rich!) and before we even set foot on the trail, Kat saw an Osprey (or "fish hawk" as it is commonly known) splash into one of the far ponds, looking for a meal. It was too far off to photograph well, but it was close enough for the group to watch it as it flew away with it's catch.

Excited to see more, we set off along the path towards the first pond. Our varied group spread out along the edge of the pond, making it easy for passersby to see exactly who the Nature Strollers are. The Nature Strollers who joined us today included babies in slings and strollers, toddlers and young children on foot, older siblings, moms and future moms, dads, grandparents, and even one family pet! This is the kind of activity that people of all ages can enjoy, from the two-week-old infant snugly wrapped in his sling, to his grandmother, excitedly looking for pond creatures to catch and observe with his older sister. Beth, a mom-to-be (due next week!), expressed her happiness about being able to come today and meet other families, looking forward to joining us again after her baby is born. As we were becoming acquainted with each other, Laurel excitedly exclaimed, "The toads! I can hear the toads, and they're HERE!" We moved towards her, and she pointed out a pair of mating toads, saying that we might even be able to see the long string of eggs they lay later today, if we are lucky. All at once we saw the pond come alive... we were spotting these toads everywhere! They were singing to each other as they searched for mates. One of our "future naturalists" netted one, and she held it out for all to see.

View a short quicktime movie of the singing toads here!

After a while, we started to move towards the boardwalk and the other two ponds. Though our noisy group most likely scared off any birds or large mammals, we knew the ponds would hold a vast amount of life for us to observe. In the second pond, children were netting tiny crayfish, gigantic tadpoles, dragonfly nymphs, snails, and water bugs. We also saw a few fish and spotted one newt (most likely a red-spotted newt), but they were too quick for our nets. With each dip of the nets, the children were bringing their catch back to Laurel's tupperware container to see what they had gotten. This was a great opportunity for the children to see and even touch some of the creatures they might not even realize exist here in their environment. It was also wonderful for parents to be able to see their children's excitement, and take this opportunity to share their own excitement with their kids. The thrill of the catch was contagious, and children were sharing their catch with anyone who would listen! They huddled around the temporary aquarium, telling each other what was "on display" in the tank. One of our "future naturalists" netted a water spider, placing it in his bug house, and offered a close-up view of his catch to the toddlers in their stroller.

After saying goodbye to those who were heading home, a few families decided to go back and see what was happening with the toads in the first pond. They were making so much noise it was almost deafening. We netted a few more, and Seneca even held one out for everyone to get a better look! It seemed that no one wanted to leave; no one wanted the feeling of being outside on this gorgeous spring day to end... not even the toads!

Thanks, Suzanne, for sending me pictures and the movie of the singing toads. If anyone has trouble viewing the movie, please click here to email Kat... adding video to the blog is new for her! Thank you also to everyone who joined us today. We hope were were able to show you some of the wonders of our natural world, and inspire you to go back and visit again with your families. It was a huge success, and we hope that we see you out on the trails again soon!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Goose Pond Mountain Created Wetlands, 13 April 2007

Well, it was a bit colder than we originally thought... and the wind was really blowing!! Four families braved the cold, though, at our outing at Goose Pond Mountain today. We saw some wonderful things today, despite the cold and wind. We were fortunate enough to see an American Kestrel, and it seemed to love this weather! The American Kestrel is North America's tiniest hawk, and has beautiful blue, white, black, and rust colored hues in beautiful patterns on it's body. We witnessed it doing the most amazing aerial acrobats. It was hovering and dipping and soaring above the boardwalk, performing death-defying feats we thought only hummingbirds could do.

Today, Laurel brought her nets, and Sho, Acadia, and Camille dipped them into the chilly ponds to see what they could catch. Sho, with mom's help, was a pro... he caught a water strider and a dragonfly nymph... and that net is almost as big as he is! He helped Laurel photograph some of his findings. Camille and her dad tried their hands at the big pond in search of tadpoles and water bugs. Kat waded in the water in her rubber boots to try to net some of the crayfish the Nature Strollers had caught at the very same place just two days before, but she had no luck. We did catch a fish, a large tadpole, and a few snails, and we enjoyed looking at them close-up. We can't wait to go back gain when the weather warms up... the ponds here at Goose Pond are perfect for children to get up-close and personal with aquatic life!