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, June 30, 2008

Black Meadow Road, 30 June 2008

In addition to the field guides we bring along on our outings, we'll occasionally bring audio and video of some of the harder-to-see creatures we might encounter. One evening late at night we were called to Black Meadow Road to record footage of Fowler's Toads and Gray Treefrogs calling. This is footage we will be able to show our Nature Strollers families, answering the "What is making that noise?" questions that their field guides cannot. The clip above shows a Gray Treefrog calling, and in the background you can hear the hysterical-sounding Fowler's Toads screaming for females. Our Nature Strollers children (and parents) love to see these creatures making the noises they hear at night!
Fowler's Toad

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Goose Pond Mountain Old Road, 25 June 2008

With all of the crazy storms we've been having we'd expected some debris on the trail... but not this much! Several LARGE tree branches and actual whole trees were lying across the path, almost blocking our way. With a little extra manuevering we were able to get around the obstacles and continue on our way. Turning over logs yielded nothing too exciting today, so we just enjoyed each other's company on our first official summer walk.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Goose Pond Mountain Created Wetlands, 19 June 2008

Kat reflects on an impromptu outing at the boardwalk...

It's been raining on-and-off for almost a week now, prohibiting us from planning any outings. Today seemed promising but it was too last-minute to send out an announcement for a walk. I decided to go on an outing on my own with the kids, and packed them up just after 11am. When we arrived another mother I did not know and her 4-year-old son and 3-month-old daughter were just setting out on the trail. As I unloaded my own children and we started out on the trail, a Monarch Butterfly flitted ahead of me... and I was able to capture it in my net. I had just purchased a small net bug house and had it with me, and I carefully transferred the butterfly to the bug house. It made viewing the butterfly much easier for my toddlers. The girls took turns carrying the butterfly in its temporary home as we caught up to the other family by the second pond. Amber introduced herself, Dylan, and Mia to us and we started talking about getting out with our children as the children admired the butterfly up close. She mentioned that she enjoyed getting out with her son very much but since her daughter's birth it wasn't as easy. I told her a little bit about our group and the Orange County Audubon Society. After a few minutes the children helped me open the bug house and let the butterfly go free. It even gave Lily a kiss as it went, and then it even paused to nectar on some clover so I could get a picture! We continued our walk together, and I pointed out the Milkweed (which was now in bloom) and the Northern Watersnake sunning itself at the edge of the boardwalk. Dylan couldn't get enough of that! Walking around the path back to the cars, I pointed out all the toadlets hopping out of our way. They blended into the path, resembling the pebbles Penelope was so fond of scooping up and letting slip through her fingers. Amber said that she never would have noticed them had I not pointed them out, and she then proceeded to point them out to her son. I asked Lily and Penelope what these little creatures were and I was delighted when they, in unison, answered, "American Toads!" When we got back to our cars I provided Amber and her family with our postcard and magnets. I hope she and her children will accompany us on a future outing.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Farmer's Market Fridays are BACK!!

Come meet us at the Goshen Farmer's Market every Friday (weather permitting)! We usually meet at the monument on the Village Green at around 11am, and then we all do our shopping (for local fruits, veggies, cheese, meats, baked goods, wines, and more). Adina Bialas (of Bialas Farms) is one of our Nature Strollers families, and she always has something neat to share with us that day. Janet (of Janet's Quality Baked Goods) loves to give the kids her special "Janet's cookies," and her stand is the best place to get your bread for a picnic. After stocking up on our things for the week (and getting Penelope her "pickle-on-a-stick"), we reconvene and head over to the shade of the trees on the big lawn. Kat brings the radio and we all just relax, noshing on our purchases and packed lunches.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Heritage Trail, 07 June 2008

Kat reflects on todays outing...

It was HOT, but we were happy to be out. We were out in search of nesting Snapping Turtles. Last year at nesting time we had the fortune of seeing quite a few of these large New York State reptiles as they searched for places to lay their eggs. This time (perhaps because it was just SO hot) we did not see any turtles themselves, but we did see evidence they had been digging in the gravelly dirt along the trail. Of the seven families that joined us today, two of them told us tales of seeing Snapping Turtles rolling, wrestling, and splashing in the water as they mated. I had seen it once too, in the water on the other part of the Heritage Trail we usually take (along our Orange County Audubon Society's 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary). This route is currently closed due to construction on Route 17, but we are hoping it opens again in time for us to see the baby Snapping Turtles emerge on our planned walk in September.

Due to excessive heat and not too much shade, cutting our walk short today seemed like a good idea. Our toddlers weren't complaining at all, but the heat was clearly slowing us all down. We turned back short of the "Turtle Pond" that was our original destination, but we were so glad we did... Aidan spotted a giant moth resting on a leaf, caught in the open by the heat and the rising sun. It was beautiful! Owen (who doesn't go anywhere without the First Golden Guide to Insects we gave him last year, thanks to our New York Audubon grant) and his mom thumbed through his book to identify the moth. It was an Io Moth, one of our largest silk moths, named after a creature in Greek mythology. We clearly saw the black eyespots on the hindwings, and we could surmise by its brown coloration that this was a female. This was a treat because male Io Moths are seen much more often than females. The moth obligingly let us take turns holding it and photographing it. We only wish we were as photogenic as it... the Io wasn't sweating like we were. When we finally got back to the cool of our cars we chatted a little about our find. The 11 children, eight parents, and three grandparents that had the pleasure of seeing that Io Moth today won't forget it any time soon!

Friday, June 06, 2008

I KNOW this stuff!!!

Kat's latest "WAIT... I know what this is!!!" experience...

As I was doing some maintenance in my raised bed vegetable garden, I became distracted by a pesky fly. I kept brushing it away from my forehead, but it persisted in buzzing around my head as I bent over yanking out the weeds from my lettuce patch. I sat back on my heels and slumped over, dejected, and then I noticed it... a Wood Frog (light colored, probably female), right at the edge of my garden! I had my camera and my critter tank handy (it had housed an American Toad on yesterday's walk), so I coaxed the Wood Frog inside so I could look at it and take pitures without having to handle it. I thought about keeping it in the tank to show the babies when they woke, but it was so hot... so I snapped a couple of pictures and then let it go in the cool of the forest (where I am sure it was headed). Later that evening as I was watering my vegetables, a butterfly landed in the tree next to my garden. I got great looks and another good snapshot (my camera was still in reach). I identified it as a Viceroy Butterfly, clearly noting the black line along the bottom quarter of the lower wings that distinguishes it from a Monarch Butterfly. The very next day while donning my garden clogs to do more vegetable watering I saw a strange creature wiggling along my sliding glass door. My camera handy yet again I snapped a picture of this insect, most likely a larvae, moving along the glass in its homemade house of sticks. I was reminded of the Caddisfly larvae we saw this year at Goose Pond Mountain, another creature that builds its own home around itself.

This time I knew exactly what kind of frog I saw... because we had seen them with the Nature Strollers just last month. I also knew that I was looking at a Viceroy and not a Monarch Butterfly, because we had just had the discussion about the difference between the two at a Nature Strollers outing at Kenridge Farm. I am still puzzling over the insect I saw on my window, but I know where to start looking... because we had seen the Caddisfly larvae and read about their construction abilities. I know this stuff... and even my terrible case of "momnesia" could not suppress this information!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Goose Pond Mountain Fire Hydrant Road, 05 June 2008

Kat reflects on our outing...

We had originally planned to meet at the Old Road, but perhaps the presence of the relentless mosquitoes on our last outing there deterred everyone. After waiting a bit and deciding no one else was going to show up, Laurel and I moved our cars over to the spot where another old road led into the state park. The road was partially paved though in terrible shape. A bright red hydrant was still there, looking oddly out-of-place in the green and brown of the forest. I had tried to follow this road once myself one evening, wondering if it would lead us to the stream that feeds the wetlands (but is out-of-reach from the boardwalk location); it got too dark before I could really explore it.
We had just started walking in today when we heard someone calling; Terri was here! She, Camille, and Elisa unloaded and caught up to us in no time. We weren't sure about this location as we really hadn't been here before, but we had seen tons of Bloodroot and Dutchman's Breeches blooming in early spring, so we had wanted to check it out. It was great to have Terri and her girls joined us on our test run.

Within seconds we were glad we had come. Ebony Jewelwing dragonflies, a black-winged dragonfly with a bright irridescent blue body, flitted around us in the Jewelweed. As we got to the hill near the hydrant Laurel captured a young American Toad. This could have been one of the toads we saw emerging as toadlet last spring. I put it into my little carrier and the kids took turns holding it as we walked.

We continued our walk into the park along the shady trail, noting that the sun didn't reach through the tree canopy very much. This could have been the reason why we started spotting fascinating fungus after fungus, Dryad's Saddle growing out of a fallen log and witch's butter erupting from a twig.

We saw a number of clumps of the parasitic plant, squaw root, rising from the buried roots of an old oak tree.

The leaves of another tree yielded both a Ladybug and some kind of beetle larvae.

Just before we got back to our cars we saw a millipede as thick as Elisa's finger and an empty but perfectly built bird's nest.

Perhaps the bright blue Robin's egg we saw on the path used to be in the nest. We were happy we came today and will be sure to return.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Salesian Park, 04 June 2008

Kat reflects on an impromptu jaunt to Salesian Park in Goshen...
As a last-minute outing after Musical Munchkins Laurel and I decided to head over to the pond in Salesian Park in Goshen. I had been there alone with the girls on Monday and the place was swarming with many different species of dragonflies and damselflies. The Pumpkinseed Sunfish had been guarding their circular "nests," chasing each other and splashing around enough so that the girls stood quietly watching them for a few minutes. We also saw the Muskrat swimming around in the water. I wanted to show this to Laurel; I thought this would make a great destination for a Nature Strollers outing.
Today it wasn't as hot, and so there wasn't as much happening... but we did see and hear a lot. The dragonflies were there but most of them were resting on the sedges and Phragmites leaves. A few of them bumbled into my net and we were able to get close-up views. While searching for more we saw some egg masses of various colors on the undersides of the leaves. Laurel's detective work later identified them as either Horse Fly or Deer Fly eggmasses, which are cream-colored when first laid and darken over time.
Laurel scooped up a Green Frog that was peering at us under the cover of the pond muck and Penelope laughed hysterically as it tried repeatedly to leap out of her net.
The Green Frogs and Bullfrogs were making tons of noise, and we also heard this strange clicking or popping sound. We stood for minutes on end trying to figure out what was making the noise. I had been hoping Laurel would know what it was, as I had been obssessed with figuring it out since my trip here on Monday. I had theorized it was the sound of the thousands of insects I saw that day, crashing into the pond grasses as they flew. This didn't hold up as there were far fewer bugs flying around but the noise was still there. As we stared at the surface of the water and saw movement we thought perhaps what were were hearing was the sound of air bubbles popping as they pushed through the algae on the surface. Maybe it was the sound of the fish poking through as they tried to catch insects.
Laurel noted a small cluster of Milkweed plants near an abandonded structure and when I went over to look I noticed hundreds of aphids eating a different plant. The presence of the aphids had drawn a Ladybug and several large ants, picking the aphids off and eating their secretions. On our walk back to the car Penelope caught a tiny grasshopper on her shirt. We had figured we'd stay for only about 20 minutes or so to scope out the place, but our impromptu walk to check out the pond at Salesian Park in Goshen lasted over an hour!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Kenridge Farm, 03 June 2008

Kat reflects on an outing at Kenridge Farm...

Six new families joined "the usual suspects" to total ten families on the trails at Kenridge Farm. With each week and with each walk we seem to add new families and new faces to our group. Today was the kind of outing that leaves our families wanting more. On our way down to the big ponds we were treated to a splashy show by one of the resident Muskrats, causing our toddlers to giggle at it before it disappeared into one of its conduits under the water. Acadia held vigil on a boulder for a while, hoping to spot it surface again, until something Macrae found piqued her interest and caused her to abandon her post. Macrae and her mom Debbie had spotted a turtle in the grass, and they called everyone over to come take a look. Macrae, squealing with each step the Box Turtle took, proudly pointed it out to everyone and encouraged parents to pick it up to show their stroller-bound children. Debbie and her daughter have an infectious enthusiasm, and come the fall they will be taking the reins and leading some outings in the Cornwall area. After sending the turtle on its way again we checked on the Wood Frog tadpoles in the square pond, noting again how much larger they are than the ones we have been seeing at Glenmere. As we crossed the boardwalk to get back on the trail we spotted a beautiful Eastern Milk Snake, a first in the wild for almost everyone on our outing today. It disappeared into the tall grass before we could get a picture, and Penelope was kind enough to point out the way home for our reptilian friend.