A melody drifts over the meadows, to the accompaniment of cicadas and crickets and birdsong. The tune is deep purple and golden, and it calls to the small creatures of the air with a silken voice: “Come to me! Feed on my rich nectar while you may!” The little aerialists are happy to oblige, raising their voices in sweet harmony to the music of the wildflowers until all the world is ablaze with the Song of September.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Once 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.
And 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.
Young 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.
The 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.
Another 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!
A 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.
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.
The golden days of Spring, soon to give way to the deep green of Summer
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.
Young spring buds of the magnolia dream of being flowers. The first bee of the season dreams of the flowers to be. Waiting.
Male 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.
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.
A sleepy dog in the sunshine waits for nothing, content to be in the moment.
Cold 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…