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, September 24, 2008

Appalachian Trail, Vernon Boardwalk Section, 24 September 2008

This beautiful section of the Appalacian Trail in Vernon, NJ, was the setting for our outing today. The trail here is through a grassy wetlands, elevated on a well-maintained boardwalk. There is also a true suspension bridge. You can bounce and sway on the span looking down at the fast-moving stream below it. This bridge was our goal.

Unlike our walks at Goosepond, we weren't wanting for our Orb Weaver spiders. Within 20 feet of our walk we spotted several of these insects and their own unique signatures. Many of these spiders had gotten lucky; they were feasting on their web-covered prey.

As we walked along to the first little bridge to look for turtles, we spotted pairs of mating dragonflies laying their eggs in the still water. These particular fire-red dragonflies stayed as pairs, the male holding onto the female as she repeatedly dipped her abdomen, dropping an egg into the water each time.

When we reached the suspension bridge Suzanne pointed out the white rectangluar blazes of the Appalachian Trail, the largest volunteer project in America. We took a few minutes to ponder the thought of walking from Georgia to Maine along this trail.

On our way back to our cars we paused at the Jewelweed bush, finding and squeezing the explosive pods to release the seeds of this annual. "Jewelweed pops," as the kids call them, are fun and functional... the flowers are the favorite source of nectar for the hummingbird. We encouraged our children to spread the seeds, looking forward to seeing more next year.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Goose Pond Mountain Created Wetlands, 10 September 2008

Laurel reflects on today's outing...

Well it must be our lucky day, because Kat found a four-leaf clover! It has been a long time since I’ve seen one, though I’ve probably not taken the time to look since childhood. Maybe it was the clover that brought us such lovely fall weather. First we paused in the parking lot to check out the hollow shagbark hickory where Honeybees have a hive. Luckily, the park rangers noticed it in time, because the tree was slated for removal. A few bees flew in and out, nothing like the swarm we noticed near the entry last week.

Suzanne and her twin boys joined Kat and I and our daughters for two hours of discovery. The kids took turns puffing a ripe puffball. They were fascinated by each small brown spore cloud they made.

The small pond had some water in it from the recent leftover hurricane rains. The main action in the water was the mosquito wigglers, hundreds by the look of it. A Twelve-spotted Skimmer prowled the sky above the pond, buzzing by the boys' heads as they splashed in the shallows near the shore. Beyond the pond, the wet meadow is covered with blossoming Goldenrod. A good number of Honeybees were visible gathering pollen and nectar for their hive.

Looking down from the boardwalk, we were happy to finally see a Milkweed Tussock Moth caterpillar feeding on a Milkweed leaf. Unlike past years, we found very few Tussock Moth caterpillars or Monarch caterpillars, even though we turned over hundreds of leaves.

A Jewelweed had grown up onto the boardwalk, and to the delight of the children, Kat demonstrated the explosive properties of their seed capsules. The kids took turns spreading the seeds of this annual, a hummingbird favorite.

Also on the boardwalk, a large, still Grasshopper drew our attention. It seemed like a sculpture made of metal, it sat so still.

At the second pond, the boys and girls took turns tossing stones to see them splash. Nathan and Jonathan then bushwacked through the cattails to explore the pond’s edge. A large, orange dragonfly we’d never seen before kept doing fly-bys of our group, until it tangled with a Twelve-spotted Skimmer in a couple of aerial dogfights.

Behind the bench where we chose to rest, a Silver Spotted Skipper drank nectar from the clover. A Great Spangled Fritillary rested for a good long while on the path, hypnotizing everyone as it opened and closed its wings.

A few yards away we all watched, fascinated, as a large orange Tachnid fly (Trichpoda pennipes) cleaned itself on a patch of Goldenrod. Also on the Goldenrod was an unidentified insect. I looked through a few field guides and still cannot say for sure if it is a fly, wasp, or sawfly.

As we returned to the parking lot and checked our watches, we couldn’t believe how time will fly on a beautiful fall day when you are strolling through the marshes watching your children play and learn.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary, 07 September 2008

Stay tuned for Laurel's commentary...