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.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Glenmere Lake, 26 April 2009

The 95 degree weather kept most creatures out-of-sight, but we couldn't pass up a quick (but HOT) trip to Glenmere for a picnic in the pavilion. We did see the resident Bald Eagle soaring in the sky as we pulled in, but that's about all we had energy to chase. Who would have thought it would have snowed and been almost 100 degrees in the very same month?
Fuzzy shot because it was soaring so high, but you can clearly see the distinct "straight-out" wingspan of a Bald Eagle.


Friday, April 24, 2009

Fitzgerald Falls, 24 April 2009

Ferrying toddlers across the stream proved much easier than we thought.
Olivia enjoys her sandwich with the falls as a backdrop.

What a picnic spot!

The big kids stopped by for a snack, taking a break from their sloppy slurching.

Are these dangle earrings or the work of the Caddisfly larvae?

This fern was growing in a tiny crevasse right next to the falls.

Bees galore pollinating the Trout Lily, which takes seven years to bloom.

Whether Acadia said something hysterically funny or it was just the fresh waterfall air, Lily couldn't contain her gut-busting laughter.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Goosepond Mountain Created Wetlands, 19 April 2009

Haven't gotten to Goosepond yet to see them? Listen to the American Toad here!

Toadally Terrific!

A Male and Female American Toad in Amplexus
Well, we have proof that American toads do not read the local newspaper. Despite our advertising a Toad Walk for Saturday, the featured amphibians did not show up at Goose Pond Mountain State Park until Sunday. The two day stretch of high sixties weather drew them out for quite a party. I heard a few males singing between ten and eleven am. Between eleven and my return to the pond at one-thirty pm, thirty to forty toads had joined them and all the females were busy laying their long necklaces of eggs (see the lines of black dots in photo).
Toad Couple Surfacing Under Strands of Eggs
April brings more than just showers!
Alex checks out the newly emerged painted turtle.
Our April rambles bring sightings of toads, turtles, early butterflies, salamanders, and wildflowers. It is an exciting month of change, and you'd better get outdoors every day or you might miss something.
This darling reptile is the size of a quarter. The underside is a brilliant orangey-red, especially around the shell margins. This individual was travelling over the ground, probably from the underground nest where he or she spent the winter.

At another Goose Pond Mountain location (the Fire Hydrant Trail) we found pink-tinted dutchman's breeches blooming (if you turn them upside-down they'd look like pants). Their nectaries are so deep that only bumblebees have tongues long enough to reach the nectar.

This fabulous bloodroot (named, obviously, after the color of its root) is not yet open. The flowers last only a day or two before dropping their petals. Like many spring ephemerals, the seeds are dispersed by ants.

Trout-lily is also abloom. These nodding yellow flowers are also partially closed. The trout-lily has speckled leaves that are said to resemble the sides of trout.

Acadia says goodbye to the turtle and the toads.
Is three hours long enough to spend beside the pond on such a bountiful day? Alas, all good things must come to an end. With the turtle safely ensconced in the water and the toads carrying on with their egg laying, we left them in Mother Nature's capable hands and headed home.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Goosepond Mountain Created Wetlands, 18 April 2009

Last week's cold weather didn't stop us from coming out to see if we could witness the American Toads mating. This week proved a bit warmer, and 33 people came out to see if the toads had arrived. The three strands of eggs we saw last week had hatched, and we could see tiny wiggling tadpoles on the edge of the water. While we longed to see the toads and were slightly disappointed that they hadn't made their appearance yet, this meant that we could get our nets and wade into the water without worrying about disturbing those seemingly delicate strands or the loving toad couples. Our net wielders today must have had quite a bit of experience... within minutes, Crayfish, Newts, Predaceous Water Beetles, and Caddisfly larvae filled Laurel's collection tank. Suddenly we heard a shout from the middle of the pond, and Laurel splashed over and deposited the largest water insect we have ever seen into a bucket! This true bug, the Giant Water Bug, was probably just over three inches long. It had terrifying-looking front arms that were clearly the inspiration for its common name - the Toe-Biter. The crowd around the bucket jockeying to get a look at this creature watched it in awe.
We spotted a single Spring Peeper desperately hopping to the safety of the reeds and the water. I captured it and we took turns peeking at it as it clung to the sides of the container. We then said goodbye to our catch, making sure Laurel released the Giant Water Bug deep into the middle of the pond, and walked along the boardwalk to the second and third ponds. We spotted some first-of-season Cabbage White butterflies and children took off trying to catch them. Queen and Ebony captured a toad, helping to ensure that we weren't lying about their presence here at Goosepond. Laurel showed it to children and parents alike. You could clearly see that Acadia was looking at it and wondering why anyone would ever want to kiss a toad, even if it meant you would marry a prince!

As we all walked back to our cars, one mother (and first-time participant in a Nature Strollers outing) glanced back and the tiny shrinking pond we visited first, wondering out loud, "Who would ever have thought there would have been so many things to find in there?"

Friday, April 17, 2009

Waterfalls and Wildflowers

Happy Hepatica!
This little wildflower is so lovely it should have its own holiday! The Nature Strollers sure were delighted by the color and texture of this plant. Hepaticas open their flowers only on sunny days when pollinating insects are active. They protect themselves from cold April temperatures with fuzzy stems. Their seeds also sport an interesting adaptation. The tip contains a tasty packet of nutrition, beloved by ants, who carry it to their nests, eat the tip and discard the rest of the seed in their trash heap, where the seed happily germinates. In fact, ants are excellent dispersers of many of our spring wildflower seeds.
As you can see hepatica also come in white, and I think they come in pink too. You can really see the fuzzy stems on this one.
Hepaticas sport unusually shaped leaves, said to resemble the shape of the human liver. Other wildflowers we encountered on this trip were trout-lily and bloodroot.
Of course there's also the waterfall.

From the tiny to the tall, nature on the Appalachian Trail takes many gracious forms. These falls are a ten to fifteen minute walk (you will have to complete a number of stream crossings to get there) from the parking area. I'd estimate they are twenty-five feet tall. This is a fabulous place to take older children. The sound and excitement of falling water as well as the stony streambed make for hours of entertainment.

The Streambottom Boys

Walking over slippery rocks. Tossing pebbles. Turning over stones. Launching sticks. All in a days work for these boys. Among the interesting finds: mayfly larva and netspinning caddisfly larva clinging to the bottom of rocks in the streambed, a rock chock-full of mollusk fossils, a quartz crystal; and stones with holes all over that look like moonrocks. Rest assured, everyone went home soaked from head to toe.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Fine Spring Jaunt

Twenty Nature Strollers head out on the Old Road Trail (also known as Lazy Hill Trail, for good reason) at Goose Pond Mountain State Park. Perfect temperatures and good spirits kept everyone trotting along as we enjoyed good company on this glorious spring day.

Peek-a-Boo at the Pooh Bear Tree

How many kids can you fit into a hollow tree? Actually more than three, but Acadia, Maya and friend stayed in longer than most. The pooh bear tree is still alive and leafing out, even though its center rotted away, the living tissues in the outer portion that remains provide the water and nutrient transport it needs.

Mystery Creature?

Clearly this mystery creature is of the spineless variety as evidenced by its contortions and squishy body. I've been seeing a lot of these under stone and log lately. Perhaps a worm species of some kind. Just a reminder that just when you think you know what's in the woods, a new creature shows its face (does this thing have a face?) to put you back in your place.
UPDATE: The identity of our mystery creature has been provided by Jay Westerveld. It is an invasive terrestrial planaria!

Farewell Forest Friends!

These three girls are all friends of the forest after their many, many Nature Stroller hikes, and it looks like they've become friends with each other as well. That's my favorite part making new animal, plant and human pals on every hike we take.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Whooo Cooks for You?

Nature Strollers Introduced to Local Owls

Giselle Smenko, a wildlife rehabilitator from the Avian Wildlife Center in New Jersey visited the Orange County Audubon Society with several of her feathered friends. Here she holds a barred owl, perhaps familiar to you by its haunting call "Who cooks for you? Whoo cooks for you, all?" While it looks large, Giselle mentioned that barred owls like this one weigh around a single pound. She demonstrated that this guy's size is mostly feathers by showing us how deep her finger could penetrate before she touched his neck and by showing us an owl's skull, which is narrow and shaped nothing like the dish-shaped arrangement of feathers on their faces.

A Shy Fellow
This saw-whet owl is smaller than he looks in the photo. This pint-sized predator is easily camouflaged in fir trees and often perches quite close to the ground, but is seldom seen. Saw-whets have an unusual beeping call that sounds nothing like the stereotypical hoot. Though this one did not leave his enclosure, he was my kids personal favorite.

Does this look like a dangerous owl to you?

This screech owl may not look like a tiny terror, but he was hand-raised by people not trained in the art of wildlife rehabilitation. This means he can be a bit unpredictable in his behavior and more likely to act agressively than the other owls in Giselle's care. Screech owls have two calls, one like a horse's whinny and another low beep-hoot. These owls are often found in suburban areas. The clumps of feathers atop their heads are not ears, but do help the owl in its effort to resemble a dead branch when it is resting.