Fun with Fungi

Some seasons, the Summer Queen’s kingdom is brittle and dry. Not so this year. This year the Weather Gods have gifted her realm with copious moisture. It seems as if it’s rained since July. Trees, shrubs and herbs are thriving, and the forest is lush and green, just as the Her Highness would have it. No corner of the land has gone wanting for rain.

With worries cast aside, the Summer Queen has time for play. She has decorated the forest with dainty, whimsical and just plain weird creations. Continue reading

March Madness

The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another. The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month. – Henry Van Dyke

Sometimes the first spring day comes well before the first day of spring. One shouldn’t be too surprised when winter has more to say…

We were blessed with a number of really warm days during February. Sunny days in the 60s, and even the 70s. Daffodils bloomed; trees began to bud. An early taste of spring.

Eager to shake a bad case of cabin fever, I found myself supplementing my customary woodsy walks at a local park with frequent jaunts to Tyler Arboretum. One very warm day, I discovered that the frogs had come out to play. Spring peepers were secretive as always, impossible to see and impossible not to hear. And the wood frogs! Dozens of wood frogs. I’d never seen so many.

They were out of hibernation, looking for love, and finding it. Shortly thereafter, the pond was full of frogspawn.

My cell camera doesn’t zoom in very well; this is the best image I took of the army of wood frogs. (Yes, a group of frogs is called an “army!”)

And why do I only have cell phone images of the wood frogs?

I blame a lack of vision. Not the creative kind of vision. Literal vision – my eye sight.

I’ve been battling rapidly worsening cataracts in both eyes for some time. Cataracts are easily corrected by surgery, but the process has taken far longer than I expected. In the meantime, my impaired vision has dampened my enthusiasm for photography and limited my driving to a handful of nearby locales.

Most of the time, lacking all confidence, I haven’t even bothered to take my camera. Inevitably, I’ve found something neat that begged for a photograph, and I’ve had to resort to my cell phone. That’s been great for my Facebook page, not so much for the Wild Edge.

So the next very warm day, I went to Tyler, with a real camera, specifically looking for frogs. Of course, there were no frogs, but I found other subjects to shoot. The bridge across Dismal Run offered a unique view of a water strider skimming along the surface.

This is one of my favorite spots, a bench under eastern red cedar trees at the top of Pink Hill. After climbing the trail up from Dismal Run, a nice shady place to rest and cool off is welcome.

One warm Saturday, Robb, Don and I found ourselves in a bit of a hot spot. The day was sunny and blessedly free of other commitments. So we went to the Pine Barrens, in search of green trees.

We weren’t expecting to find our chosen trail flanked by the site of a recent controlled burn.

A very recent controlled burn. So recent, in fact, that there were quite a few plumes of smoke where the fire still smoldered.

Controlled burns are conducted in the Pinelands to clear the forest floor of deep layers of pine needles and other brush. If left in place, this duff could fuel disastrous wildfires.

Burns like this help the pine trees, too. Pitch pine cones are serotinous. They require fire with temperatures above 108° to open and release their seeds. This strange cone got the job half done.

One of my favorite views in the Pine Barrens. White sand, tea-colored water, green trees, blue sky. Serenity on the Oswego River.

The calendar turned from fevered February to March madness, and suddenly winter returned. Don’t let the deep blue sky fool you. It was COLD this day at Fort Mifflin. And very windy. We took a walk along the outer seawall, and Don was almost blown into the Delaware River.

After a winter in which we’d had only two light snowfalls, a true winter storm was a rude awakening. Snow and sleet, frozen hard overnight, left an impenetrable layer 6” deep, even deeper to the north.

When the roads cleared, I went in search of interesting snow photographs. With a real camera. Lake Nockamixon and Haycock Mountain, in Bucks County.

Mostly I was looking for red barns. Found one!

Winter grass and snow.

Found another barn!

This one came with a lovely farm pond, flanked by Canada Geese, and, as I learned later, a Great Blue Heron.

Back at the lake I found some of the plants encased in ice.

The snow and ice got me thinking about those wood frogs. Wood frogs can survive freezing. But on the warm days they laid thousands of eggs. The frogspawn was still there on my last visit, masses of strings of dark-centered gelatinous spheres. Will they survive? Will there be tadpoles? Or will the madness of winter following spring be the downfall of this new generation of frogs?

This topsy-turvy winter may not have been beneficial to the frogs. It certainly hasn’t been beneficial to my photography. I feel as if am simply killing time, enduring an endless maddening wait for something just over the horizon, like frogs waiting for a warm spring day.

Waiting can have its own benefits. The lessons I’ve learned from this period of my life? Never take good eyesight for granted. Don’t sit in the house and mope; time in nature heals the restless soul. Don’t overlook the wonders that abound at even the most familiar places.

And don’t leave the camera at home!

Frogger

140821_Bartrams Garden_8021acsOnce upon a time, there was a handsome frog. He sat upon the edge of a pond, waiting. But not for the kiss of a human lassie to change him into a human prince, for he was happy and proud to be a bullfrog. So proud that he soon burst into robust song. His skillful bellowing quickly drew a pretty female frog to him. All around him that spring, frogs and toads were staging similar little romantic dramas in ponds and bogs throughout the land.

140409_Tyler_8623 FrogspawnNot long after, little clumps of clear jelly filled with dark spots began to appear. Eggs! Thousands of them. This is the frogspawn of the wood frog, and the tadpoles-to-be are already visible.

140416_Tyler Toadspawn & Tadpoles_8961 acsToads lay their eggs not in round masses, but long strings. When the tadpoles emerge, they will consume the gelatinous casing for the nutrients it holds.

140423_Tyler Frog Bog_0969 acsIn spring and early summer, tadpoles are everywhere, swimming above the leaves left behind the prior fall…

140503_Mt Cuba_6509Harassing a fish who has no interest in them as a snack…

140416_Tyler Tadpoles_9041 acsAnd just doing what tadpoles do, eating and growing. Tadpoles are exclusively aquatic, and breathe through gills like fish. Dinner is algae and water plants. The length of time frogs and toads spend in the tadpole stage varies according to the species; in bullfrogs it may be up to two years. Eventually tadpoles begin the amazing transformation from aquatic larvae to terrestrial adult. Legs appear, and then arms. Their bodies change shape, the tail shortens, and gills are replaced by lungs.

140809_Bartrams Garden_7524acsBehold the froglet. Not yet fully mature, but no longer a tadpole, this youngster can breathe air and move about on land. He’s still got that tail, though.

140821_Bartrams Garden_8078acsYoung bullfrog, finding shade from the hot August sun in the lily pads. The tail has been absorbed into his body, and he’s fully mature, but he will continue to grow in size. Adult bullfrogs rest during the day, and hunt at night. Anything they can catch becomes prey – insects, fish, birds, even small mammals.

140821_Bartrams Garden_7983acsThe small pond is home to a surprisingly tame group of young bullfrogs. The presence of humans with cameras doesn’t seem to bother them much. Bullfrogs will remain near water much of the time, as they must keep their skin moist.

140813_Tyler_7665aAnother pond finds a green frog amidst the cattails. Green frogs are also primarily aquatic. See the ridges running along the frog’s back? That’s the best way to tell green frogs from bullfrogs; the latter lack these dorsolateral ridges.

FUN FACT: The roundish circle behind the frog’s eye is the tympanum, an external “ear” of sorts. It transmits sound to the frog’s inner ear. In females, the tympanum is about the same size as the eye; in males it’s twice as big. An easy way to tell the boys from the girls!

140810_Mineral Hill_7643acsA wood frog sports a robber’s mask as he lingers on the leaves scattered across the forest floor. Wood frogs live in low moist woodlands and forested swamps. In the winter they migrate to nearby uplands, returning in the spring to the vernal pools, to search out a mate and begin the cycle anew.

Essence of Gold

Tyler Flowers_8591 a

Nature’s first green is gold,

Her hardest hue to hold.

Her early leaf’s a flower;

But only so an hour.

Then leaf subsides to leaf.

So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn goes down to day.

Nothing gold can stay.

-Robert Frost

HNWR Warbler Prothonotary_9247 acsProthonotary Warbler

HNWR Flicker_9449 acsNorthern Flicker, showing why it is known as “Yellow-shafted Flicker”

HNWR Warbler Palm_9707 aPalm Warbler

HNWR Bee Redbud_0162 aBumblebee on redbud blossoms

HNWR Sparrow Savannah_0343 aSavannah Sparrow

HNWR Warbler YeRu_5420 acsYellow-rumped Warbler

HNWR Warbler YeRu_5437 aYellow-rumped Warbler, showing the yellow rump

HNWR Warbler Yellow_5327 aYellow Warbler

Mt Cuba_6194 a

The golden days of Spring, soon to give way to the deep green of Summer

Mt Cuba_6557 acs

Waiting

HNWR_7534acs2 There is a moment during the approach of a summer thunderstorm when nature teeters on a razor’s edge. To the east, the sky is a brilliant blue; to the west, dark storm clouds boil. In between, just for an instant, everything stops. The wind dies, squirrels go still, birds cease their chattering. The air is thick with tension, quivering with electricity and the promise of the storm to come. Soon enough the wind will rise and the heavens open. But in this serene snippet of time, Nature is hushed, holding her breath… waiting.

Early spring is equally on the cusp, at the meeting place of seasons. The frantic weeks when the trees and plants explode with flowers and new greenery are the future. The winter coat of brown the land still wears is the past. But now the sky is blue, and the sun is warm. On days such as these, it seems that humans and wildlife alike are filled with anticipation. Waiting.

Buds Magnolia_7861acsYoung spring buds of the magnolia dream of being flowers. The first bee of the season dreams of the flowers to be. Waiting.

Tyler Flowers_7646acsTyler Frogspawn_7677a Promise in a jelly filling floats in vernal bogs and pools. These are the eggs of the wood frog. Each dark spot holds the potential of a tadpole, each tadpole the hope of a frog.

Tyler Frog Wood_7753acsMale wood frogs, having passed the winter in a state of frozen animation, are alive and looking for love. Waiting.

FUN FACT: Wood frogs make antifreeze! They survive the winter by freezing, their metabolism shutting down and their hearts stopping. A special antifreeze substance they manufacture limits the freezing of their cells, although ice does form in between the cells. When the weather warms up, they thaw out and go in search of mates.

Tyler Flowers_7620aTyler Flowers_7609a Early blooming flowers like snowdrops, crocus, and winter aconite bring a welcome splash of color to a drab landscape. For them, the wait is over; this is their time to shine.

Nest Box Day 1_7793acs A new home has been constructed, in hopes of attracting a feathered family. Waiting.

Flowers Scilla_7823aCali_7901acsA sleepy dog in the sunshine waits for nothing, content to be in the moment.

3 HNWR Tree Swallow_5543 ASCold winds and rain will interrupt our reverie soon enough. The fullness of spring is yet over the horizon. For now, it is enough to join other creatures in the sun, listen to the liquid trill of the northern cardinal and watch the tree swallows twitter on their nest boxes. For now, in this still, quiet moment, Nature holds her breath, dreaming, anticipating…

Waiting.Flowers Crocus_7814acs