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.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Orchid Surprise!

On our walk today, we came across something completely unexpected, a rare and wonderful surprise. Scattered across the forest floor in a secret shady wood, nineteen pink lady's slippers were in bloom. This was so special an event we took several trips out to show them to our Nature Strollers. Several people commented that they had never seen these beautiful orchids before. This specimen was at least a foot tall and impressed these two Nature Strollers with its unusual design. This young lady declared that being the first to spot one entitled the sharp-eyed child to a wish. With so many in bloom, there were plenty of wishes to go around.

Not all of the twin leaves produce a blossom (see the leaves on the left hand side of the photo). Lady's slipper can take four or more years to flower, and then they may not produce a flower every year.
"Graceful and tall the slender, drooping stem,
With two broad leaves below,
Shapely the flower so lightly poised between,
And warm her rosy glow."
---Elaine Goodale

The puffy lady's slipper flowers have an intricate pattern of dark pink veins. Honeybees, bumblebees, andrednid and halictid bees enter the flower, only to find they can progress in only one direction. This one-way street ensures that the bees will pass by the anthers and collect pollen.

Acadia is thrilled with our find. Her very favorite color is, of course, pink!

This is the dried seed capsule from one of last year's lady's slippers. The orchid produces over 100,000 miniscule seeds which are dispersed by the wind. However, they can only grow in spots with the perfect combination of soils, moisture, and particular species of symbiotic fungi. The presence of standing seed capsules will clue you in about where to look for flowers in the spring.
Our eyes dazzled by the beauty of orchids, there is still no way we could miss this startlingly orange creature. Lily inspects the red eft, in high contrast against the green moss of a fallen log. The red eft is a juvenile red spotted newt. It represents the terrestrial phase of an aquatic salamander. Red efts have the ability to survive out of water, cross great (considering their size) distances, and colonize new ponds and swamps.

Here is a close-up of our fine fellow. Look at those spots!

Okay, I haven't taken the time to page through the 400+ photos and descriptions in my caterpillar book to identify this one. He was happily munching on an oak seedling. Doesn't he sport lovely chevrons? I wonder what he will turn into, moth or butterfly?

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Fuller Mountain Brook

We subscribe to the immersion method of nature study here at Nature Strollers. Rule number one: never visit a stream without getting your feet wet! Fuller Mountain Brook was running fast and clear this Saturday afternoon, its babble pleasant accompanyment to our stroll. Five families joined us on this pre-mother's day hike to take in the native flora of this relatively untouched river corredor. I particularly love this land trust preserve because of its relatively unknown status. The trail is fading, one must step carefully for all the wildflowers coming up in the middle of it, so few feet trod its length. It is a hidden gem.

The promethea moths must find it satisfactory as well. This cocoon, spun from silk and a spicebush leaf, is extremely well camouflaged. It sure kept its secret from the strollers who were looking hard to spot something "different" on this spicebush tree. Eventually, I had to give it up. The children admired its clever design and felt its weight. The pupa is still inside.
The streambanks are lined with ferns and skunk cabbage. The colors still springlike in their cool intensity. It is an invitation to follow the twists and turns of the riverbend deeper into the forest.
Exquisite Jack-in-the-pulpit were flowering in profusion. The flowers can be male or female depending on the amount of energy stored by the corm (similar to a bulb).

I don't think this is exactly what I was talking about when I said we should get kids back into the woods! But the virtually impenetrable tangle of fallen tree branches made for an all natural (and inexpensive) jungle gym.

Along the streamside, the corregated leaves of the hellebore lend a striking glossy green to the foliage of the preserve. These have not flowered yet. I am told the blooms resemble orchids.

Renew all hope, ye who enter here!
The grapevine arch acts as a portal to the marshy wetland.

I guess it's water strider mating season. Shhhhhhhh...

Fuller Mountain Brook is known for its beautiful violets. Most of these lovely five petalled flowers go unpollinated, but that is okay. The violet has small flowers at the base that never open and self-fertilize. The seeds of the violet are transported to fertile sites by ants.

Dwarf ginsing--not the kind sold in health food stores--makes a lovely floral accent to this mossy tree root. This is a wildflower I seldom see elsewhere. Whether on account of its habitat being relatively undisturbed for two hundred years or its particular preferences for soil types or moisture regimes, I do not know.

The pileated woodpecker Polly heard early on in our walk has been hard at work looking for insects under the bark of this dead tree. Our walk included many such finds including frogs, red velvet mites, and a flat millipede. A leisurely pace and lovely surroundings made for a wonderful success, I hope all the mothers that followed our lead were pleased and found renewed strength and refreshment from this outing.