Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Spring Pilgrimage

Although I do value spontaneity and new experiences, I can be a creature of habit at times. A long-standing spring tradition of mine is hiking to a breeding location for local amphibians in Ward Pound Ridge Reservation, the largest park in my home county. The particular location I visit is not a classic vernal pool (wouldn't Vernal Poole be a great name for a southern senator?) because it is a persistent feature of the landscape- but, being free from Teleost tyranny, it qualifies under the broad definition of a vernal pool, and harbors the typical fauna of Northeastern U.S. pools.

The trail to my particular spot passes through a low-lying area, where a profusion of skunk cabbages was growing. The plants can produce enough heat through metabolic processes to melt ice, though my hike took place on a warm day:

The purple-mottled "cowl" (a modified leaf called a spathe) shields the plant's tiny flowers:

The particular trail I hike passes by a large specimen of the Hercules' club (Zanthoxylum clava-herculis L.), a plant which is typically found in more southerly climes (but global warming is a myth, so ignore this plant, which, being named for a mythical demigod, must be a myth as well):

Another harbinger of spring is this tiny "Christmas Tree", I believe it's a rattlesnake fern, but am not 100% sure of this... CORRECTION, Sadlynaught Shakezula (who really needs to start blogging) identified this as a ground pine (Genus Lycopodium):

An uphill hike takes me to my favored spring destination:

Perhaps because of the abysmal weather we have had for much of the spring, the wood frogs were not out in force (I only saw one the entire time I was at the pond), but the spring peepers were in profusion. I am going to fall back on the use of professional-quality photographs, because I just don't have the know-how to take pictures of anything in a watery environment. For example, this picture could be a picture of an amphibian egg-mass in a pond, or a picture of a congeries of iridescent globes*:

The spring peeper is a handsome little frog with a big voice- they are not often seen, but their song heralds spring in much of North America. The wood frog is another common Northeastern amphibian which breeds in vernal pools in early spring.

During my visit, the wood frogs were not out in force, so I was able to spy, through the calm surface of an un-agitated pool, the elusive, enchanting fairy shrimp (a "sea monkey" on steroids), and the predacious backswimmer.

After a good, long spell at the pool, I wandered back to the car, turning over rotten logs on the way back in the hopes of spying salamanders... I did see two small red-backed salamanders, a lungless species of terrestrial salamanders which bypass the aquatic stage of life. I felt a little guilty, looming over these enchanting little creatures like some kind of kaiju (N.B. not a veiled reference to N__B and Mrs. __B), and I felt a little disappointed in not seeing a spotted salamander.

It was a glorious day, spent playing in the mud, and letting my inner eight-year-old go nuts.

*Hilarious bit about a Lady Gaga/H.P. Lovecraft connection.


Vonnie said...

Great post. I'm fond of ponds myself.
The gelatinous mass looks very scifi ish.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

Fond of the pond!

It's a pity the photo's not better-there were tadpoles visible in the eggs.

One of these days, I'll get a kickass camera... after I replace the windshield, that is...