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.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Goose Pond Mountain Created Wetlands, 30 May 2007

Laurel reflects on our outing at Goose Pond...
Mom, Lorin and kids Dakota, Willow and baby Scarlett joined us on an afternoon jaunt around Goose Pond. Lorin admitted that the walk was really for her and had urged the kids to come along. It was no dull task for them however. Along with its familiar cast of creatures, the first pond held a surprise. Dakota discovered that many of the tadpoles had metamorphosed into froglets. Hundreds of these minute beings hopped like crickets all around the pond’s edge. We had to tiptoe to approach them and still we feared we’d steped on a few.
These early froglets were probably spring peepers as they retained some of their tadpole tail, though there is a probability that they were joined by some early transforming toadlets as well. Four gossamer wings lay on the banks where the froglets hopped. Bejeweled with dew, the dragonfly’s wings were all that was left of somebody’s dinner. Along the boardwalk, those who were not chasing runaway toddlers watched the common yellowthroat warblers as they flew back and forth from their nest.
On the other side of the preserve we looked for northern water snakes. While Sebastian introduced Willow to the praying mantis egg cases in the pine trees, Dakota stalked and captured a green frog. The adults were especially taken with its metallic golden eyes and because of the angle of the light we were able to see through its tympanum (eardrum) and notice what appeared to be a hollow chamber beneath.
The girls enjoying "their hill."

Common Yellowthroat.

Toadlets emerging! Can you find one? It's no bigger than the letter "C" in the Canon logo.

The male Northern Oriole keeping watch over his nest.

Dakota caught a Green Frog, and we had great looks.

Dakota's Green Frog. Look at the beautiful golden color underneath.

Sybil and her children arrive... they HAD to come see the toadlets!

Peeking in at little Scarlett.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Moonbeams Preserve, 25 May 2007

Six families joined us on our outing today. Unfortunately, the grass at Moonbeams was not mowed, and it was a very hot day. It was virtually impossible to allow toddlers to walk by themselves, and it was very difficult to get even our joggers moving. The fields, though, were full of wildflowers, and there were too many Eyed Brown butterflies to count. Laurel caught quite a few to show the children. We didn't see the Indigo Buntings, but we saw a pair of hawks circling the preserve, and they were calling loudly to each other. We could hear them quite clearly. As we walked toward the promising cool of the forest, we lost a couple families to the heat and tall grass (don’t worry, they just turned back to find the comfort of their cars). We gained one when we made it to the woods; the Samse’s caught up with us after we found the cool shade of the forest. At least ten degrees cooler with a clear path to the river, Moonbeams woods is a joy. They are a haven for owls, and you can regularly find owl pellets if you know where to look. The soft green of new ferns clothed entire glades. New York fern, Christmas fern, and others grew near their cousins the clubmosses. Kat pointed out two evergreen species that grow in runners across the forest floor. The upright, unbranched clubmoss was called stiff clubmoss and the branched clubmoss that look like little trees are ground cedar or ground running pine. Clubmosses are cousins to nonflowering plants that lived millions of years ago. Today they are disappearing as forests are cut down and people pull them up and sell them for use as Christmas greenery.
We made our way down to the river, past some large downed trees. It’s high banks did not afford the children a close up experience, but the sparkle on water enchanted them all the same. On the way back, we saw the remains of a predator’s dinner, feathers and bones, and wondered who’d had a robin for lunch? Though it will be difficult to be able to return to Moonbeams unless it is mowed, we enjoyed our time here nonetheless.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Goose Pond Mountain Created Wetlands, 24 May 2007

Laurel and Kat hosted an outing for the Goshen Moms Club. Two families, each with a toddler and a newborn, joined us on this super hot day. The toddlers enojyed walking right up to the pond to try to cach tadpoles. Dragonflies buzzed by them as they fished. We spotted numerous Cabbage White and Sulphur butterflies; we also spotted (and tried to catch) a Tiger Swallowtail. The newborns kept our group moving; they were lulled by the gentle movement of our walk along the path. As we passed the Baltimore Oriole nest, the female flew off, but the male stood his ground, watching us from the top branch of his tree. Hoping to see more Praying Mantises emerge from their egg cases, we examined them closely. We did see more evidence of their departure but we did not see any insects emerging that day. The American Robin was not on her nest, but we saw her nearby. The families that join us today lived nearby but had never been to this park before, and they were excitedly planning to return on their own in the near future.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Moonbeams Preserve Test Run, 21 May 2007

Laurel and Kat went on a test run at Moonbeams Preserve in preparation for the outing on Friday... and saw this GORGEOUS deep blue Indigo Bunting! We also saw a Phoebe (which got quite close to us in the parking lot), and several tiger swallowtail butterflies. We hope to see more when we go back on Friday!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Goose Pond Mountain with 4-H, 20 May 2007

The 4-H group certainly in the right place at the right time today! They were able to observe quite a few creatures and their habitats here in Goose Pond Mountain State Park (including the Created Wetlands boardwalk). Lynn and Kelly took the group onto the trail leading into the woods and up the mountain, where they saw and heard numerous birds, and various insects. They also saw the largest black rat snake either of them had ever seen! As the 4-H group moved over to the boardwalk area, the Orange County Audubon Society's Nature Strollers group provided the 4-H'ers with nets, with which they caught tadpoles, frogs, and waterbugs (including a large male waterbug carrying eggs on it's back). Not only did they spot a juvenile Northern Water Snake, but they spotted one enjoying it's lunch... a large bullfrog tadpole (which seemed almost too big for it to consume)! They were able to observe the egg cases of the praying mantis, and they even saw the baby insects emerging! They also spotted an American Robin's nest... with the bird sitting quietly on her eggs! They learned many things about forested wetlands and the creatures that inhabit this area firsthand... by observing them in the wild. Though we didn't spot any Eastern Bluebirds, the 4-H group participants each built their own bluebird nest boxes to bring home. It was a wonderfully productive day at Goose Pond Mountain State Park.
Special thanks to Kelly and Lynn (President of the Orange County Audubon Society) for leading the 4-H group today.
Stay tuned for Laurel's field notes. Until then, enjoy some of Kat's pictures from the day!

Goose Pond Mountain Created Wetlands, 20 May 2007

Though the weather looked quite ominous at times, seven families participated in today's outing at Goose Pond Mountain Created Wetlands. Today, we caught tadpoles and water bugs, and we spotted praying mantis egg cases, a melanistic (or black) squirrel, and the hanging basket nest of the Batlimore Oriole (which we also saw flitting around... Thanks, Mark!). We also got close looks at the Hiclory Hairstreak caterpillar and a Box Turtle, which Josh and his family had rescued from the street in Goshen. Stay tuned for Laurel's field notes; in the meantime, enjoy these photographs!

Back-to-Back Outings at Goose Pond Mountain

Laurel reflects on our two outings at Goose Pond... Continue reading entries for this day to view Kat's pictures...
Back-to-back Audubon hikes, one for the Nature Stroller tykes and the second for the kids of the Middletown chapter 4-H, led to a day of discovery. As soon as I got out of my car my eye was drawn to something new. One of the long oval leaves of the Shagbark Hickory tree near the parking lot was rolled up. Upon closer inspection I could see white caterpillar silk holding the sides together and a green caterpillar nearby. A number of caterpillars roll up leaves to make shelters and at the time I did not know what kind of caterpillar it was. Later I was able to identify it by looking at a list of caterpillars that commonly feed on Shagbark Hickory. A green one that makes rolled leaf shelters is the caterpillar of the Hickory Hairstreak butterfly. We’ll be looking for that one flying around Goose Pond later this summer. Right next door to the Hickory Hairstreak caterpillar’s home was a shrub whose leaves had been decimated by an infestation of tent caterpillars; the empty, white silk tent still remained between several branches, and a large tent caterpillar made its way along the ground underneath the trees. I couldn’t wait for the Nature Strollers and 4-H kids to arrive to see these examples from the world of butterflies and moths.

We brought the Nature Strollers attention to the Northern Oriole’s woven nest, suspended from a tree branch, and watched the orange and black male as he attended to his duties. Later we also got a close up view of a female robin on her nest in the center of a pine tree. As we crossed the boardwalk, last years goldenrod galls were obvious on every stem of goldenrod we saw. These are formed when the tiny solidago fly lays its eggs on the plant’s stem. The eggs hatch and the larvae burrow inside. A ball shaped gall forms around them. The larvae chew an escape hatch in the winter, and emerge from it as adult solidago flies in the spring. On the far side of the park, the Nature Strollers were at the right place at the right time and were treated to the sight of a quick moving swallowtail butterfly as it nectared along the edge of the woods. It was hard to identify on the wing, but with large iridescent blue patched on the hindwings and dark black elsewhere, it was probably a Spicebush Swallowtail.

When Lynn and Kelly, also of the Orange County Audubon Society, joined us with tons of 4-Hers in tow, they brought with them a black and yellow, Flat-backed Millipede they had uncovered under a log. It was a wonderful find to share as none of us had ever seen this species before. While both the Nature Strollers and the 4-H peeked between the needles of the young pine trees to find eight preying mantis egg cases, the 4-Hers alone were treated to the sight of baby mantids emerging from the tan, Styrofoam-like case.

As usual this time of year the ponds were full to bursting with black toad tadpoles, huge Bullfrog tadpoles, dragonfly larvae, Backswimmers, Waterboatmen, and Waterstriders. The kids with nets went to work scooping out critters for observation. The 4-H kids were especially lucky that day because Kat spotted (right near shore) a young, brightly patterned, northern watersnake eating a Bullfrog tadpole, and I caught a male giant water bug who was covered with eggs that the female laid on his back. Golden Alexanders were flowering along the pondside and the skunk cabbage leaves were huge. A Great Blue Heron and a Belted Kingfisher flew overhead. Kids and parents dashed every which way, soaking up the sights and sounds of nature.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Kenridge Farm, 15 May 2007

Laurel reflects on today's outing...
Greeted by tree swallows, the Nature Strollers rolled down the path at Kenridge Farm, part of the Museum of the Hudson Highlands. With a strong, warm breeze at our backs, nine families descend to the chain of ponds that highlight this exquisite site. Our group included a couple of recent transplants who had never visited the site and one six-year local resident who said the same thing. So from the get-go we had success in introducing several young families to a safe, accessible nature trail in their area. Places like Kenridge Farm are invaluable. They allow suburban families access to the natural world and enable them to introduce their children to the world of nature in a way not possible in a manicured backyard.
Today’s trail held some surprises and some old friends. Our avian companions, the red winged blackbirds and tree swallows, remain as active as ever, while newcomers like the yellow warblers, Eastern bluebirds and Baltimore (northern) oriole added some local color! The oriole’s hanging nest is woven from plant fibers that might include (no one climbed the thirty foot tree to make sure) milkweed and grapevine bark. The nest was active and we observed the orange and black female oriole enter and exit several times. Nesting bluebirds were in and out of bluebird boxes. We only got a glimpse of the yellow warbler as it swooped across the water, a bright flash disappearing into the foliage of an island bound tree on the furthest pond. Later, another was spotted low on a branch as we walked back toward our cars. Mockingbirds at the stone labyrinth, barn swallows, a house finch near the feeder, and the flutelike song of the wood thrush in the woods rounded out our birding experience.
A frequent Stroller, Akiko, mentioned the lack of American toads. We had seen and heard so many on our trip in April, but today not a single toad was seen. The toads congregate at ponds to mate only one week a year. She had little to be disappointed about, however, as the products of their efforts were everywhere to see. The black toad tadpoles had hatched in abundance. Hundreds could be seen in the shallows of the pond at the lowest elevation and thousands at the pond in the woods near the sugar shack. Toad tadpoles congregate, unlike most other frog species, and are easily identified by their black color and relatively large body-to-tail ratio. As we watched the wriggling mass of tadpoles, the geese of the woodland pond brought their goslings close to shore for the children to see. The sedges, violets, and grasses at water’s edge held a number of damselflies, their wings transparent as glass. The tan exoskeleton (a shed “shell”) of a dragonfly nymph was affixed to a floating section of cattail. The kids got a close up view of this “water monster” and could see the hole where the adult dragonfly exited its larval shell and the small wing buds that had housed what would become the large, magnificent wings of the adult. Also among the algae and pondweed were substantial male bullfrogs with eardrums larger than their eyes, and a shiny green frog known for its twangy call. These frogs and a number of birds and butterflies were spotted by sharp-eyed moms who were searching the fields, waters and skies for wildlife. The white of bone caught the eye of one mother along the trail, a portion of a deer’s backbone. A still swallow on a limb right above our heads attracted the attention of another. Another success, families practicing nature study on their own!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Goose Pond Mountain Created Wetlands, 14 May 2007

Kat posts about the impromptu Goose Pond Mountain trip...
It was too nice to stay at home, so in the window of time after school and before dinner we decided to get out to our local haunt. Sybil, Nathan, Anderson, and Olivia were waiting in their van as I pulled into the Goose Pond Mountain parking lot. They hopped out to climb on the big rocks while I got ready, and as I was buckling the girls into their stroller, Laurel, Sebastian and Acadia arrived. After stowing some equipment in various places in the stroller, the big kids, armed with nets, headed off to the tadpole pond at great speed, leaving behind a cloud of dust. The stroller group followed slowly in their footsteps.

It was a slightly cool late afternoon. Laurel and Sybil searched the pond for the American Toad tadpoles, curious to see where they would be that day. At each visit, the tadpoles had been found in different spots in the pond, though curiously all still together in one gigantic wriggling mass. They make their rounds along the perimeter of the pond, swimming in one enormous stream of wiggly black dots. This behavior is very interesting, and Laurel noted she had never observed this in tadpoles before. Perhaps, because we were almost daily visitors to Goose Pond, we were now privy to more of the secrets of the world around us.

As I waited with the kids and the strollers, Laurel and Sybil went to see if there was indeed water flowing just past the tree line to the west of the pond. I had seen glimpses of it when the vegetation was low, but I wasn't sure if it was another vernal pool or if it was indeed a steady stream. As I waited, Acadia and Penelope took turns playing with the buckles on the stroller. Lily pointed out butterflies as they fluttered by. Sybil came back first, toting Olivia in her front carrier. Laurel had gone a bit farther, and when she returned she reported that there was indeed a stream flowing through that area. She described it as a slightly deep and somewhat fast-flowing brook roughly 7 or 8 feet wide. Climbing over downed trees and matted vegetation, she had spotted a turtle basking on a log. It plopped into the water as she tried to get a closer look. The discovery of the stream was an exciting prospect; this meant there was another area of Goose Pond to explore.

Anderson, who had recently become a big brother, took an interest in Lily and Penelope as they were released from the confines of their stroller and were allowed to walk with the older children along the boardwalk. He was attentive and gentle, guiding the girls over to the second and third ponds. Penelope babbled incessantly to him, perhaps telling him about the snake she had seen there the week before. He listened with interest. As we paused at the bench between the two ponds, I snapped a picture of all of the children (minus Olivia, who was still snuggled against Sybil's chest) playing with each other on this gorgeous afternoon. Because the children were otherwise occupied, Sybil was able to grab a free pond net and scooped up an enormous bullfrog tadpole, observing that it was so large it could be marinated and grilled for dinner! Lily and Penelope decided they also wanted to try out the nets to see what they could catch, though they still need a bit of practice. Perhaps thinking of the tadpole and dinner, the families headed back to their cars to go home.