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, March 30, 2009

The Wood Frog Eggs Hatch!

Twenty Nature Strollers gathered to say Happy Birthday to the newly hatched wood frog tadpoles at the vernal pool near Glenmere Lake.

Amongst the egg masses were several that were hatching,

some with developing tadpoles inside, and some that looked fairly recently laid.

The vernal pool is shallow and small this year--probably quite warm too. Wood frog eggs hatch sooner and the tadpoles develop faster at higher temperatures. When first emerging, the wood frog tadpoles lie still, but not for long! They will hang out on the egg mass grazing on the green algae.

This group of tadpoles better watch out! A green frog has got his eye on the area, looking for some easy pickings. Turtles, raccoons and snakes will travel to vernal pools like this one at Glenmere Lake for nutrient-rich amphibian eggs. Other tadpole feeders include: dragonfly,
damselfly, predaceous diving beetle, and fishfly nymphs. Salamander
nymphs are carnivores too.

The Nature Strollers were also (mostly) happy to see this
large, rust-colored spider,
and a select few of the faster hikers
got a good long look at an eastern comma butterfly.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Ponds Burst with Life

The dip nets are coming up full as spring progresses.
Our pond life survey turns up more than seven crayfish of various sizes.
Willow determines that this active crustacean is female.

A water boatman makes its first appearance in our net since 2008.
Its legs do remind us of oars.

Lorin demonstrates Zen pond-stalking technique.

Maia and Olivia take their turn, but Zen is not their style.
Foot stomping, full-body immersion would be their preference if not restrained by a loving adult.

Sybil and Olivia come up with yet another crayfish!

Scarlett and Maia are mesmerized by the wiggling bullfrog tadpoles.

Father and daughter discuss the catch.

A damselfly nymph, one of the many aquatic insects that stalks the pond bottom.

First and second year bullfrog tadpoles.

Whoops! Better give these two eastern red spotted newts some privacy!

Even the mosses sense the urgency of spring.
Bright red stalks hold up lime green spore capsules.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Woods Walkers on Lazy Hill Road, Goosepond Mountain, 22 March 2009

Come join the Woods Walkers on Sunday mornings... lose a few pounds, drop a level or two in anxiety, and pick up a Blue-spotted Salamander or gain insight into the characteristics of Coyote scat! How can you think you'd want anything else???

Peeper Party!

Seventeen Nature Strollers held a party in honor of the spring peepers that have been making the auditory landscape so beautiful lately. The diminutive frogs' chorus rose and fell around us as we searched the ponds of Goose Pond Mountain State Park for signs of awakening. One of the best things about revisting the same place throughout the seasons is learning about the seasonal round, the orderly appearance of species according to their own seasonal calendars. At Goose Pond Mountain, the skunk cabbage are followed by the spring peeper and red-winged blackbird. Wood frogs soon awaken and move to the buttonbush swamp, water spiders, aquatic beetles and backswimmers become active.

A sharp-eyed Nature Stroller distinguished these extremely tiny wooley alder aphids
from the white spots on the bark of the speckled alder. This is our earliest sighting
these fascinating creatures.

Uh oh, the praying mantis egg case we have been keeping tabs on has been visited
by a downy woodpecker or chickadee. If you look carefully you can see that a
portion close to the branch has been pecked away.

What's in that pink bucket?

Another sign of spring! Eastern red-spotted newts on the prowl.

There he is! There he is!
A calling woodfrog is pointed out. Man! These guys are hard to see
against the leaf-litter strewn bottom of Buttonbush Swamp.

And the result of all this calling? Glistening masses of wood frog
eggs that hold the promise of a new generation.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Peeper Party Provisions

I forgot to get pictures of some of the Peeper Party provisions we had at Goosepond Mountain... but take a look at Lily and Penelope enjoying leftovers the next day. There's nothing like Green Frog vanilla pudding or Wood Frog chocolate pudding (both complete with vanilla wafer froggy eyes) to help celebrate the return of the frogs! We also had blue Jell-O with raisins inside... it definitely looked too much like egg masses for most of the adults to eat, but it was a big hit with the kids!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Wood Frogs are Back!

Eighteen of our most stalwart and loyal walkers arrived on the trail at Goosepond Mountain State Park at eleven in the morning and discovered that the spring peeper chorus was in full swing. Everyone’s mood became joyous with the combination of warm sunshine and the amphibian heralds of even better weather ahead.

We made our usual stop at the toad pond, this time looking for caddisfly larva but none were evident. We did find several water spiders crossing the surface. Kat brought a snail up from the shallows to show the children.

Olivia (2) shows her mother some moss.

Wood Frogs in Amplexus

As we headed into the homestretch, accompanied by peeper song, we were caught by surprise. Kat’s sensitive ears picked up a competing serenade. The buttonbush swamp had erupted in frog song. Like the peepers (who were ten days early), these wood frogs were singing at least seven days earlier than last year.

Male Wood Frog Calling

Difficult to hear over the din of the spring peepers, the wood frogs’ call sounds like a bunch of ducks quarreling. They have twin sacs behind their front legs that inflate with air as they sound off (see photo above). The kids were thrilled to see the brown, masked wood frogs floating in the water with their hind legs splayed. Wood frogs are communal nesters, so the eggs will probably be found together around the submerged stems of a buttonbush. Since it is early in their breeding season, their masses of jelly-like eggs are probably still low in the water, but they should rise and dimple the surface.

A Honeybee Visits a Skunk Cabbage Flower
Before we left we watched as a blue heron flew directly overhead. Then we were off to the small red maple swamp. Amonette, Acadia, Sybil, Olivia, Lorin, Scarlett and I checked out the skunk cabbage flowers and were delighted to see honey bees nectaring at the blooms. Perhaps they are from the wild honeybee nest in the hollow shagbark hickory. Some of my reading indicates that in colder years, the honeybees use the spathes as warming huts as well as nectar sources.

Sebastian, Nathan, and Anderson spent hours adding to their shelter and playing in the woods.
Willow dropped by to inspect the construction.

Goosepond Mountain Created Wetlands, 17 March 2009

Happy St. Patrick's Day!! Ginny posted an invitation to meet her at the wetlands at Goosepond Mountain at 11am today to see if we could find any leprechauns. It was a gorgeous day... sunny and almost 50 degrees. How could anyone not want to go outside today???

We've heard the Spring Peepers for almost a week now, signaling the promise of warm weather and more opportunities for outdoor adventures. Six families headed along the path to the first pond, children cupping hands to ears to take in the chorus of frogs singing about spring. Oddly, as we reached the water's edge, the world became silent... those frogs must have thought we had our nets with us today. We did not, and in a few minutes a couple of brave peepers took the chance and chirped again... and the chorus resumed.

We looked for the Caddisfly larvae that Lorin spotted at this time last year, but we didn't see anything in the water except for a few snails. Jacob and Adam spotted several Water Spiders, zipping on the surface of the pond as if it was still frozen.

While Penelope lounged in the dirt, Sybil and Olivia spotted something new. Sybil held what looked like a seed pod or an egg case. It was a long, thin, partly hollow cylindrical tube she picked up at the top of the little hill between the two boardwalks. We inspected it, feeling it and looking around the area where it was found. We spotted another piece of this thing poking out of the last bit of the dead stem of the big Pokeweed bush. Peeling back the outer covering of the stem revealed more of this odd-looking cylinder.

We hung around the spot between the boardwalks for a while, talking about preschools and gardening and digital cameras, and digging in the dirt. The rumblings of some little tummies and curiosity about "the big kids" prompted us to continue along the path. Nathan and Sebastian had been active in the woods alongside the Buttonbush swamp, busy with a project of seemingly great importance. As I walked up to Lily waiting patiently near the Buttonbush placquard (she needed me for our ritual "lift-me-up-so-I-can-see-the-picture" activity), I heard it, and shouted, "LISTEN!" The pause in traffic along 17M allowed everyone else to pick up the odd "quack-quack-quack" of the Wood Frog! Eyeballs bulging and cameras out, we moved to the edge of the swamp... and there they were, almost two weeks early. Ripples in the water as they called gave away the usually camouflaged location of the floating frogs. They float on their bellies, legs spread behind them. Squinting helped combat the reflection of the sky in the water. We got several pictures and movies of the quacking calls. Two Eastern Bluebirds landed on the branches above us as we listened to the Wood Frogs. We walked over to see the structure that Nathan and Sebastian built, pausing for more pictures of the proud architects posing with their construction. We continued walking towards our cars, pausing only to watch the bees visit the flowers of the skunk cabbage. We are convinced spring is here. Happy St. Patrick's Day!