Monthly Archives: March 2014

Can You Find the Frog?

A recent post was about spring peepers… can you find the peeper in this photo?

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Joyful Herald of Spring

apeep-As I stood outside in the rain today, with the soft drops falling gently on my face, I admired the way the forest looked bathed  in fog, mysterious and quiet and for a second, wondered what animal I should feature in this week’s Creature Feature. It didn’t take long to realize the Spring Peeper is the perfect critter to feature, as on a day like today, they are sure to be emerging from their winter hideouts and steadily making their way to the nearest vernal pools where they will make their lovely music for the next few weeks.

I love the sound of spring peepers perhaps more than any other amphibian or insect song.

There is just something about it that brings a smile to my heart and makes me feel carefree and happy.

Like a song from the radio that instantly brings back a memory, the sound of peepers makes me think of days gone by and places imprinted on my spirit like invisible tattoos.

One of the happiest times in my life was when I worked as a Naturalist at a small nature center in eastern New York state called Ward Pound Ridge Reservation. Less than an hour from New York City, the park consisted of just under 5000 acres and in the time I worked there, I explored much of it, often venturing off trail to discover treasures unknown by many. I loved spring when I could visit one of many vernal pools on the property, often sitting alone until  the animals forgot about me and I could watch quietly to to see what creatures stirred. In the spring there is a particular order to things returning to the pond, a sequence that stays the same every year. First the wood frogs return, then the yellow-spotted salamanders and spring peepers followed by the American toads and gray tree frogs. All choose vernal or temporary bodies of water in which to lay their eggs, thus giving their offspring a better chance since these waters are devoid of fish that would quickly devour them. If the weather gets too warm too fast, the ponds might dry out completely but that is a risk these amphibians have been taking since the beginning of time.

One of my favorite places in the park was a place called Michigan Road. On spring evenings I often wandered there, deafened by the ringing bells of hundreds of spring peepers. I have never heard anything quite so loud! Sitting beside the pond was an amazing experience, one I wish I could share with everyone who knows me. There is a quote that says “Nature has music for those who listen.” … I know this is true and hope everyone can be blessed with the singing of spring peepers on warm spring nights.

To read more about Spring Peepers CLICK HERE to see my Weekly Creature Feature for this week.

 

10 Things You Didn’t Know about Spring Peepers

apeep-4You may have never seen a spring peeper but you have likely heard their loud, bell-like calls that echo through the forest on warm spring  evenings. Here are some things you may not know about these wonderful little amphibians:

1. It is the males who make the high-pitched, bell-like sounds from wetlands throughout eastern and central United States and Canada. They make their songs by filling a vocal sac in their throats with air, like a balloon, and then letting out the air to create a peep as the sac shrinks. apeep-

2 Their chirps can be heard up to a half mile away! They make these calls to attract the females. The faster they chirp, the more attractive they appear.

3. Spring peepers are tiny! Only about an inch and a half long, they can easily fit on the end of one’s finger. Shades of brown, tan and olive, with a distinctive X on their backs, they are nearly impossible to see on the forest floor where they spend most of their time. This explains why few people ever see them!

4. After mating, the females will lay from 750 to 1200 eggs. These will be attached to sticks or leaves in the pond. Depending on the water temperature they may hatch into tadpoles in as little as 4 days. In water with colder temperatures they may take as long as two weeks to hatch.

5. The tadpoles will reach full size in 2 to 3 months and will then leave the ponds to live in the surrounding forest and grassy lowlands. They are eaten by many animals including birds, snakes, skunks and larger frogs.

6. Like other tree frogs, spring peepers have enlarged toe pads for climbing. If you’ve ever watched one jump, you know they seem to “stick” to whatever surface they land on, including smooth surfaces that seem impossible to grip.

7. Adult peepers feed on a variety of invertebrates from spiders, to mites and ticks, ants, caterpillars and other small prey. Tadpoles feed on algae.

8. During the winter, these frogs hibernate beneath logs, in soft mud or under tree bark. They have an anti-freeze-like substance in their bodies which allows them to withstand freezing temperatures for long periods of time.

9. Their latin name is Pseudacris crucifer. Pseudacris means “false locust.” This comes from the fact that their high-pitched calls are often confused with sounds from insects. Crucifer is from the cross or X on their backs.

10 This is what they sound like!

From Lang Elliot of Nature Sound Studio.

Weekly Puzzler Answer #1

adad-8913Here is the answer to the very first Weekly Puzzler Challenge. Did you guess correctly? They are from an insect called a Caddisfly! Read below to learn about caddis flies and their amazing cases that they make from available materials.

If you have ever spent any time sitting beside a pond or stream and looking into the clear water, you may have noticed some tiny creatures moving around in the water. Some, though small, have recognizable legs and bodies and likely belong to macro invertebrates. Animals like dragonflies, damselflies, mosquitoes and many others begin their lives in water.

Sometimes you may notice what appears to be moving teeny tiny pieces of leaves. If you pick one of these up and set it on your hand, you will soon see that there is a creature inside this miniature tunnel. It is called a Caddisfly larva and like many of the other creatures that start their lives in the water it has fascinating adaptations that allow it to be successful.

I love finding these when I am with a group of children because it is such a cool experience for them to put one on their hand and then watch it to see what happens. Usually the kids are skeptical that anything at all will happen but if they are patient, sure enough, the tiny creature inside will eventually pop its head out and start to pull along its tiny tunnel.caddis-2951

Some children laugh delightedly with pleasure, being tickled by the mini legs. Others are frightened when what appears to be a tiny nothing suddenly starts moving.

Caddisflies live in freshwater around the world, with over 7000 species. Some of these are omnivorous (plants and animals, some herbivorous (plants) and some carnivorous (meat-eating). Many make cases to protect themselves and depending on the species, these can be made of many different materials from tiny pebbles, to leaves and sticks. Some build their cases under rocks, anchoring themselves to the bottom so that when you pick up the rock and look closely, you can see these cases cemented there.

Caddisfly adults are delicate looking with folded wings over their bodies. They live several weeks. As adults they are incapable of eating solid matter so instead feed on flower nectar.

Next time you’re at a pond or stream, try to find one of these amazing critters moving along the bottom.

Weekly Puzzler #2

Here is the mystery object for week number 2. What is this? Have you ever seen it? Add your guess to the comment box. I’ll publish the answer next Saturday.

Click HERE for the answer.

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What is Beauty?

amid-3496I recently spent a week in Charleston, South Carolina, making my temporary home in what I now consider one of the most beautiful places I have ever stayed– a national historic landmark called Middleton Place. Everyday from the moment I woke up and looked out the wall of windows into the treetops of the towering live oaks dripping with Spanish moss, I felt awed by the beauty surrounding me. In my mind, the live oak is the epitome of beauty but it got me wondering about beauty and especially, of other people’s definitions of beauty.

What is beauty? What is it that makes someone or something beautiful?

sc--6If I asked 100 people I feel pretty sure the answers were vary greatly. Does our perception of beauty involve our senses? Is it affected by the collection of our experiences? sc-3362

Everyone knows what a shell collector is… what about a beauty collector? This is what I consider myself, when I’m outside with my camera and looking at the world around me, regardless of my specific location on Earth.  I could be in my own backyard or hundreds of miles away from my home in a place I’ve never been, or one I’ve been to hundreds of times.

I relish the challenge of looking around and finding what I consider the “gems” –that is, those large or tiny pieces that when removed from the whole can stand alone and inspire the majority of people who look at them to recognize the beauty.

sc--2There was a special beach I visited twice during my week in Charleston, a beach only crowded with dead and forgotten trees and washed up seashells. The trees had long since lost their bark and most were lying like discarded bones on the white sand. Amazingly, some were still standing, their limbs outstretched in a way that made me think of children dancing. When the sun rose behind them, bathing the sky in a fiery orange light, I imagined that they never looked more beautiful. Would others look at those same trees in the light of a regular day and see beauty? Would the trees evoke a joyful or somber mood?

angell-Another day I visited what I would have considered a magical place had I been there alone. Called the Angel Oak, it is a magnificent live oak that is just a stone’s throw from the edge of a small country road on John’s Island. From tip to tip its gnarled branches stretch 187 feet across and its fern and moss-covered trunk reaches 66 feet into the sky. The canopy of this 500+ year old tree provides 17,200 square feet of shade! Wow. I thought it was absolutely beautiful. Did others visiting it see it the same way? As something beautiful? Or were they simply inspired by its old age?angell--2

What is beauty to you? Have you “collected” any beautiful moments lately?

What I Learned about Barred Owls

angel-3138I spent a good part of today watching a barred owl hunting from just a few feet off of a boardwalk at an Audubon Society property called Francis Beidler Forest near Charleston, South Carolina. Being an overcast day with rain threatening at every minute, the place was amazingly deserted.

The owl was perfectly quiet and though very aware of me, not bothered by my presence. It would look at me from time to time, checking me out and noticing me, but doing nothing to change its behavior. There were moments when I was less than twenty feet away, too close to use my 300mm lens.

What I learned about the owl is 1. That it obviously is not completely nocturnal. It was the middle of the afternoon and the owl was awake and aware. 2. Barred owls eat crayfish. In the twenty or so minutes I was watching, he dove down into the shallow water twice, catching crayfish. Both times he pulled up a beak-full of leaves and other things and both times a crayfish was there among the clutter. The owl discarded the leaves and ate the crayfish. angel-3236

I hope wherever you were today you got to see something amazing…. Nature gives us great gifts everyday–we just need to be outside and watching in order to notice them!

Read my Creature Feature page about Barred Owls here.