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.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Goose Pond Mountain State Park, 19 April 2008

The intrepid president of Orange County Audubon proves she is not squeamish as she shows a family the dried remains of a garter snake.
You know spring has sprung when the woodland wildflowers start to bloom. Check out the display at Goose Pond Mountain State Park. Bloodroot carpets the roadside before you get to the boardwalk parking lot.
Dutchman’s breeches by the thousands (I am not kidding) inhabit the entire mountainside off Rte. 17M. This sight is a magical one for children, and getting rarer each passing year, as woodland is developed, non-native shrubs like barberry shade out the native flowers, and deer munch the remainder to the ground. So get out there!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Goose Pond Mountain Created Wetlands, 15 April 2008

While we couldn't imagine swimming around in the cold water of the ponds in April, the Pickerel Frogs and Red-spotted Newts we caught today seemed not to mind at all. Lorin and Scarlett, some of our regulars, joined us again today as it just keeps getting warmer and warmer... and they can't bear to be inside! We all wanted to check on the status of the American Toad tadpoles because we heard them singing again after a couple of days' hiatus. Sure enough there were more eggs in the first pond, and we could clearly see the difference in development of the first set as opposed to the second set. The first set looked like small paisleys and the second set was still perfectly round, probably having just been laid the day before. We let the girls take over wielding the nets (making sure they dipped in tadpole-free zones) and stood back to watch them show off their catches.

Everyone seemed to be in high spirits, and warm feelings and smiles seemed to warm the air as well. By the time we got to our log at the Buttonbush Swamp we had shed a layer and put away our hats, and we were content to just relax and sift dry leaves through our fingers and look up into the trees to se if we could anticipate when we'd have the "leaf-out." As we stared into a Hickory tree we saw movement, and back-and-forth in the pines we identified two Ruby-crowned Kinglets, life birds for Lorin and Kat. We watched them as they boldly foraged above our toddlers, very happy that we had come out.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Kenridge Farm, 13 April 2008

It’s a drizzly day at Kenridge Farm. Several families join us on the Stowell Trail to spend a Sunday afternoon together in the woods. We come across aggregations of springtails on the rocks. As Sebastian leans over one group, they leap off the rock, falling like iron filings to a magnet.

Turtle rock is a favorite stopping point on this trail.
boys climb the shell for a better view of their surroundings.
Sebastian calls out with surprise when he brushes up against a chilly green darner dragonfly on a trail marker.
Because of its immobility, everyone is able to get a close look. Did you know that dragonflies, like other insects, have antenna? This is the first time we’ve seen them.

The kids loved walking on the wooden planks set in the mud along the maple sugaring trail. It was a challenging balancing beam act for the smaller ones. The group ended up at a cluster of ponds and observed the wood frog and spotted salamander eggs and watched fifteen red spotted newts moving across the pond bottom. Then we headed past the pussy willows and up the hill to the parking lot, the kids having spent two hours in the company of their parents in a springtime landscape of field, pond and forest where there is so much to see, if you just know how to look.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Goose Pond Mountain State Park, 12 April, 2008

The toads surprise us as usual, singing a week earlier than last year. After tumbling out of the car and organizing strollers, slings, and sneakers, we are not far along the trail before elusive snatches of the toad’s trilling is brought to us on the breeze. Then it’s a race to their semi-permanent pond, to greet the males and females that have hopped from wood and field for a chance to lay eggs. The activity quiets at our approach, but we soon pick out some toads sitting on the vegetation and others floating in the water. We all wait anxiously for them to become used to our presence, after all, we are a rather large group. Then the display begins.

Play these videos to hear the American toads singing!

The males closest to shore are identified and pointed out to adult and child alike. We await the moments when they inflate the skin under their chin and produce their song. The kids can’t believe the “balloon” these little guys are blowing. We net one male for a closer look at his bumpy skin and golden eyes. At the second pond there is more amphibian activity. The kids net a bullfrog tadpole, and proudly show it off. Mother and child share a moment. While grandparents on our Saturday hike cocked an ear to the trilling, kids spotted the necklaces of toad eggs tangled along the bottom of the pond.

The American toads are always a big hit with our crowd. A passer-by drawn in by our antics commented that the toad’s egg laying was just like Animal Planet. Think of that; the stuff on documentary TV might actually be occurring out there somewhere and if you’re glued to the tube, you’ll miss it.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Goose Pond Mountain State Park, 09 April 2008

The toads are trilling! The Nature Strollers were treated to their cascading song several days earlier than last year, catching us by surprise. As we walked toward the first pond today we heard them. The male toads inflate their throats as they produce their love songs.

Females are larger and follow the song to join their mates in the pond and lay eggs. These eggs are laid in beautiful spiraling strands, like necklaces. The eggs themselves are counter-shaded; they are black on top and white on the bottom, helping to camouflage them from predators from above and below.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Glenmere Lake, 05 April 2008

More of Laurel’s lone ramblings...

To the right of the entrance at Glenmere Lake is a large vernal pool. It is a magical place. The bottom is carpeted with last year's oak and maple leaves, the trees trunks and branches are reflected in the water. Around the base of each tree is a mossy coronet, green even in winter. It is a quiet place, most of the time, but for several weeks in the spring it can hardly contain the voices of woodfrogs. On this day, there is a different visitor. Not fifteen feet in front of me, at the base of a mossy oak is a pileated woodpecker. The largest species in our region. It has a dark gray back and a red Mohawk. A second pileated was on a nearby tree. When I opened my car window to see them, they flew a short distance with their characteristic dips, showing the white underside of their wings. They settled on trees on the opposite side of the pool. I watched them for five minutes before they flew out of sight, regretting that I could not get a picture without startling them.

The pileated woodpeckers were an unexpected surprise, I was drawn to the pool expecting to see eggs and I found them, even though they were pretty well hidden. The dimpling of the pool’s otherwise smooth surface gave them away. Wood frogs lay their eggs near submerged shrubs and sticks. Females tend to lay them in the same area, so you may see huge rafts of them floating just under the surface. These eggs look just about ready to hatch. Wood frogs dependence on vernal pools to keep their eggs away from fish, has meant that their tadpoles must be rapid developers, leaving the pool before it dries up, as vernal pools are apt to do as the season gets warmer and drier.

Without children in tow, I was able to venture farther along the trail. In some water-filled ruts I noticed large aggregations of black insects. Upon closer inspection I recognized them as springtails, sometimes called snow fleas. These primitive insects really seem to have springs as they can catapult themselves many times their length using their forked tails to launch them. These tails are held under a little latch when not in use. Springtails' role in nature is in the construction of rich soil.

I took a detour onto a little used trail, this one is covered in moss and winds its way through the junipers. It is a magical little place, of owls (well, I got a photo of an owl pellet) and lichens (reindeer moss).

Glenmere Lake, 05 April 2008

We made a quick trip to the roadside vernal pool at Glenmere Lake to check on the progress of the wood frog eggs. On last visit, the egg masses were clear, now you can see that they are slightly tinged with green, having been colonized by algae. Looking much less like black dots, you can clearly see the development the larva has made. Because the rate of development is somewhat temperature dependant, the wood frogs in this shady pond mature at a slower rate than the ones in the sunny pond at Kenridge Farm, but in a few weeks they’ll look like this. Because this vernal pool lies mere steps from Mayor Harter Road, we encourage you to bring your family every week to check on the wood frog’s progress. It makes a lovely after dinner jaunt.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Goose Pond Mountain Created Wetlands, 02 April 2008

We've started hearing the Spring Peepers and Wood Frogs, so we decided we had to bring our families to listen; little did we know that we'd also be seeing the frogs today! Eight famillies (and roughly 13 pairs of mittens) joined us on this sunny but chilly day. At the first pond we netted a mating pair of Spring Peepers, still in amplexus. Most of the people on today's outing had never seen a Spring Peeper, much less a mating pair! After brief looks and a few photographs of these usually elusive amphibians we let them go and headed along the boardwalk to the other two ponds. One of our pond net masters scooped up two Bullfrog tadpoles. The kids crowded around to peek at them in the little container we bring along for better viewing of our catches. Parents talked about the size of tadpoles of different species and the length of time they take to metamorphose into their adult form. While the children might not have provided their full attention to this discussion, they were no doubt absorbing it passively. As we continued our walk around the circle we paused at the Buttonbush swamp, listening to the duck-like quacking of the Wood Frogs. We were watching several splash around in the water of the swamp when another pond net master behind us yelled for our attention. He had spotted a Wood Frog in the leaf litter and scopped it up, bringing it over to us so we could all get a look. Again, almost none of our companions had ever seen a Wood Frog. We talked about the "superhero" mask of the frog, pointing it out to our children and giggling as we made up stories about masked Wood Frogs hopping around and fighting evil. We placed the frog back in the leaf littler and headed back to our cars, listening to the frog cacophany of spring.