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Monthly Archives: April 2011

keywords: amphibians, vernal pools, trees, sedges, flowers

A vernal pool in plena ver... err, I mean in full springtime glory - full of water and home to ample amphibian eggs.

A male Green Frog (note that the ear drum - that round area behind the eye - is bigger than the eye itself) hanging out by the pool. Green Frogs don't usually reproduce in vernal pools because they are tadpoles often need to overwinter, something they can't do in a pool that dries up. We didn't find any year-old Green Frog tadpoles in these waters.

The Red Efts were all about on this wet day. Their bright orange seems to be a warning for potential predators: they pack poisons in their skin. Probably not chemicals that would kill most predators, but enough to give them a distasteful mouthful.

This little American Toad was near the pond. Unfortunately, for some reason, it was blind in one eye.

Early Saxifrage is in full bloom amongst the rocks.

And Dutchman's Britches with their finely dissected leaves are in their glory.

Round-lobed Hepaticas are a spring flower of rocky hillsides.

Rue Anemone seems to favor drier slopes, rather than rich bottomlands.

The Purple Trillium are on the moister grounds.

and the Trout Lily has certainly arrived.

None of the spring flowers like wet feet as much as the Marsh Marigold.

Amongst the woody plants, the Ash are almost in flower. These are the soon-to-burst male flowers. Female flowers would not be be found on the same tree.

Blueberry are starting to flower. These buds are still somewhat tentative. I did find open flowers elsewhere, but the rain was so hard at that point that I didn't dig out the camera.

Musclewood (Carpinus) is one of the wind-pollinated plants that, suitably enough given our breezes, is now flowering. The catkins are the male, pollen-bearing flowers.

On the same tree, one can also find the female flowers with their hot-pink tips.

The Hop-Hornbeam (Ostraya) seems to follow some of the same schedule and approach - these are the male catkins.

The Hop Hornbeam female flower mirrors the shape of the Musclewood, but lacks the pink flair.Sweet Fern, an aromatic woody plant that is not truly a fern, repeats the catkin and pink pistels pattern.

White Birch catkins are getting ready to open.

And, if one turned away from the twig tips for a second, the Valley is laid out in its cloudy, but green springness.

Looking down might reveal that hot pink again, this time in the form of a sprouting Red Oak acorn. This is not a seed from this year - it is an acorn that fell last autumn and, as is apparently Red Oak's habit, overwintered before sprouting,

Pussy Willow is well on its way towards seed production.

And Elm is already there!

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Posted by on April 30, 2011 in Nature

 

A Smattering of Local Literati and Nature.

On Easter Sunday, we do a short bike loop –  21C east to Harlemville Road, south on Harlemville Road to Ten Broek, east on Ten Broek to Pheasant Lane, south on Pheasant Lane until Phudd Road, and then back west on Phudd Road to Harlemville Road.

A cloudy, rainy but relatively warm day. We continue our exploration of the landscape as seen (or at least written about) by John Cowper Powys. So, in this installment, we’ll try to mix seasonal excerpts from his diary with our own natural history observations and photographs. To call Powys’ writings “complex” is, from what little I understand, an understatement. And yet, much of his diaries are simply recountings of his walks and wanderings about the land. As such, they help us understand the evolution of our local landscape.

A few words of thanks: Jacqueline & Max Peltier for having first contacted us from France. Jacqueline runs the http://www.powys-lannion.net/index.htm web site which can link one to a world of people studying this English novelist who lived from 1872 to 1963, and who resided from 1930 to 1934 on the east side of Phudd Hill. Two of his most well-known works, Autobiography and Glastonbury Romance, were written while he lived at what he called Phudd Bottom. Jacqueline and Max have provided me with copies of Powys’ diaries, and those works provided the extracts given below: The Diary of John Cowper Powys 1930, edited by Frederick Davies and published by Greymitre books & The Diary of John Cowper Powys 1931, published by Jeffrey Kwintner. Via Jacqueline, Kate Kavanagh provided a very handy map, indicating the location of sites mentioned in Powys’ diaries. Thanks to all these folks for their generous sharing of information and resources.

John Cowper Powys and his long-time companion Phyllis Playter on the stoop of their Harlemville home in the early 1930s. The origin or exact year of the photograph is unknown.

Same house, Easter 2011.

Wandering chimneys, disappearing shutters, stone steps to the back door, but, ‘awl ‘n all’, not too different. However, look too at the landscape. The hill behind the house is at least partially bare. In the 1930s, this landscape was much more in fields. With this in mind, reading the diaries can be a bit like visiting a house you know but in which they have moved the furniture about. He talks about fields and views which are now closed by forest.

Powys and Playter, and their dog (and frequent character in the diary) Black. Photo courtesy of Louise de Bruin.

Given the amount that gardening is mentioned in the diaries, it seems likely that, on a spring day such as this during Powys' time, the flowers also would have been 'popping' in the garden.

Looking north along Harlemville Road, back towards Powys' house. It seems likely that this would not have been a wood-lined way during his day.

The German Graveyard, with stones dating back into the 1800s, is still well-kept and was present in Powys' day. Many of the names whom he mentions as neighbors - such as, Steitz, Krick, Uzner - appear on graves here.

This 19th century stone is inscribed in German. Some of the German settlers around Harlemville may have descended from the 18th century Palatine Germans who were settled in Germantown with the idea that they would help the Livingston collect "navel stores", that is, tar and pitch. When that venture failed, many went elsewhere in the County and the region. Other immigrants arrived at a later date from other regions of Germany.

A mosaic of 1940s aerial photographs showing the land on and around Phudd Hill - regrowth had probably occurred in the 10 years since Powys' residence, however much of the landscape was still open field.

The same rectangle as illustrated for the 1940s but in the year 2009. Extensive reforestation is evident.

With that as an introduction, the remains of this posting are annotated/illustrated spring-time excerpts from Powys’ diaries for the years 1930 and 1931.

Monday 23rd March 1931

…do you know what I saw but I doubt if the Black [‘the Black’ was their dog; a spanialish sort that appears in the pictures] did – in the centre of Phudd Field – The first wood-chuck. It was rearing up so very high on its hind legs and snuffling the air by its hole. I wondered at first whether it were a post but when it dived down I knew it for certain…

[ “Phudd Field” may be what we now call Young’s Field – long the home of many Groundhogs]

The Woodchuck or Groundhog is actually a large member of the squirrel family (something that will seem more intuitive if you ever happen to see one in their occasional forays up trees). While best known for their presence in open fields, they are also found, albeit more rarely, in more wooded situations.

Thursday 26th March 1931

… I looked for long at the water as it rushed round a willow tree and foamed by a rock and whirled along. .. I looked too at the waterfall and red barn and white house with green shutters & old old manure heaps and old wall & posts & water-butt & I thought it is a Ruysdael picture such as … I used to stay and stay to see in Art Gallery in Chicago…

This photograph, while not taken where Powys was standing on the 26th, is from one of his favourite haunts: the Grotto; an area slightly upstream from his house. See more below.

The manure piles are still there, these being across the road from the stream flowing out of the Grotto. Yet, it is hard to know how long they will continue to be there. Farms like this one struggle with a changing market sitution influenced by factors from the local to the international. The high price (and hence high property taxes) of this scenic land so close to NYC, low and fluctuating milk prices, and the difficulties of farming in an increasinly non-farming society are amongst the challenges.

Ruysdael or Ruisdael was an 18th century Dutch illustrator. This work is from the Art Institute of Chicago.

Elsewhere in his diaries, Powys comments on the Red barns of the neighborhood; this one is near the Grotto.

Monday 30th of March 1931

I do so like that little school house… It is the best of all schools – with five children…

[This was probably the building that is now the Banjo Mountain Café.]


Monday April 14th 1930

The tapping beak of the bird woke me at 5:30 AM. Red dawn and white mist and a purple glow to the West. ..a heavy white dew was over all… We have seen the first butterfly! A Camberwell Beauty and heard the sound of the Pheobe Bird and also a bird who said ‘Come, come come and the other girls with you’…

[On Easter, as we made our rounds, a Pheobe was singing across the road from their house. The other bird which he refers to is probably a Song Sparrow. Both of these are native birds of brush and edge.]

"Camberwell Beauty" is the English name for what we call the Mourning Cloak butterfly. This species overwinters as a hibernating adult, and so can appear on just about any warm day of the year. We haven't seen any so far this Spring, this picture was taken during a past year. Because there are so few flowers available when these butterflies first become active, they often rely upon sap running from tree wounds for nutrients..

This Pheobe (photographed a few days after Easter) was perched near the remains of the barn that used to stand on the corner of the main Philmont to Spencertown/Austerlitz road and Harlemville Road, just up the way from the Powys House. The barn was torn down a couple of years ago.

Pheobes are named after their song, a harsh, raspy “Phee-bzee….. Phee-bzee”. Click here for a recording of the above bird’s vocalizations. It was by a busy somewhat busy corner, hence the background noise and the fact that I had to cheat a bit on the sound editing (I was able to record only one good call, so I’ve repeated it three times in this track).

Wednesday 16th April 1930

Got up at 5:30 woken by the tapping of the bird. It is very cold and quite grey today and a north wind with a feel of snow in it. ..There appeared Mr. Steuerwald in his great truck with all our goods. .. And one by one all the things were brought in save the couch and the wicker-chairs which were left on the lawn. Mr. S. is of Herculean proportions. I detected a funny chuckling smile on his face as he drove away like a keeper of a zoo who has just given straw to absurd new beasts from far away.

[The rural/city dichotomy is not new; as Powys’ diary pages amply illustrate there was a regular flow of people between this area and New York City during his time.]

Thursday 16th April 1931

… how sweet the grass smelt! Why do such lovely damp scents rise from the earth at sunset?… the little frogs were very loud in that marshy place beyond the hedge…How green the new grass by that little streamlet…

The bright green of the grass along this "streamlet" near Powys' house is all the more evident for the cloudy weather. Actually, judging by its straightness, this water flow may be an old drainage ditch or, at the least, the recipient of some ardent straightening.

Friday 17th April 1931

Took Black to top of Phudd & saw the Red Sun setting like a great purple plum that you couldn’t eat. Watched as it melted slowly away like a purple heart in the vapour, a plum, a dying heart, a mystery, it faded away.

Saturday 18th April 1931

… Passed the three Ashes and looked for long at the Red blooming Maple near them. Red blossoms are nice to see. There is a little bush with real green leaves [probably Honeysuckle, which, like many other non-native plants, tends to green-up early] coming out there in that mountain glen with swathes of snow-resurrected grass under foot and the silvery river…. I decided to take an extra long walk & I passed the wall-fence of stone & wooden bars…

Male Red Maple flowers. Fireworks.

This illustration, from the 1878 history of Columbia County, shows a solid 'rail-over-rock' fence (together with some other models of fencing). Many of our low stonewalls were surmounted by wooden rails that have now rotted away.

This picture, taken in or near Columbia County, by botanist Rogers McVaugh in 1935, shows a rock wall with decaying rails atop it.

Sunday 19th April 1931

… today near New Bridge I saw the first Blood Root wild… there is one we planted in the Rock garden coming up where those Pansies are out. This morn we saw a White Butterfly [in all likelihood, an early-season Cabbage White – an introduced species that was common by that time and is still common in Harlemville today]….

These Bloodroots were in full bloom on the stone steps of Powys' former house. The current owner says she doesn't think they were planted during her time. During this same Easter walk, we saw many more Bloodroots blooming in their natural, stream-side habitat.

The Cabbage White is an introduced European pest of brassicas (e.g., the cabbage family). It arrived en force during the second half of the 19th century. We haven't seen any yet this year, but they could be about.

Sunday 20th April 1930

…I have begun my Glastonbury Book. May I be inspired by all the spirits of all hills and of all stones upon all hill-sides and upon all plains raised up above sea-level. … Went to the Nymphs Grotto and sat above the waterfall in the twilight….

Pictures from the Grotto; the last perhaps from more or less Powys' above-the-falls perspective.

Monday 20th April 1931

Found the Blood Roots out in our little park. … Two red stalks – one the flower-one the leaf wrapped round in a big grey shawl of the leafy texture & out of this flower comes & a round flower it’s all white and covered up like a white club. As we had breakfast we saw a Phoebe Bird sitting on an old nest on the pillar of our porch… Took Black up Phudd… heard the Hermit Thrush the most beautiful song.

[The Hermit Thrushes, with their haunting songs, still sing from atop Phudd Hill, especially during the last little bit of daylight.]

Wednesday 22nd April

… in the Spinney. Today, however, I found the first Adder Tongue there hence I shall call that wood Adder Tongue Copse… The Willows are out in leaf & on top of Phudd Shad Blow is now out in flower. Red Maples are, here and there, and the Apple Tree (near the pump) is out in green leaf.

[The Adder Tongue are now out. The Shad Blow – aka Shad Bush, Juneberry, Serviceberry – was not in flower on Easter, but made its appearance today.]

The Trout Lilies or, as Powys called them, the "Adders Tongues", are now blooming. Look for groves of their speckled leaves. This one was out along the Agawamuck.

There are several species of native "Shad-Blows" (Amelanchier is the genus), but apparently only one that is tree-sized in our area. Spending most of the year as inconspicuous small trees or bushes, it can be startling to see the white flowers pop out along a fence row. This one sits above a rock ledge near the Banjo Mountain Cafe (and former school house).

Saturday 26th April 1930

…’Twas a perfect day – windless and with heavenly sun – and old rain – drops on every blade, very iridescent. The yellow-brown leaf buds on the distant Maples make a beautiful earth-rainbow under which are green fields and over which distant hills. The calf is grazing happily. The black and white cow is moving about like a prehistoric animal in the dawn of the world… I saw the bowed form of Mrs. Krick gathering medicinal weeds of some kind, perhaps Dandelion leaves, in the meadow. Her form as she bent down was a statue of all women working in early morning under the sun – stoical and in contact with the great old woman and eternal maid the earth.

[Powys was seeing the end of certain traditions, such as medicinal plant collecting – which has returned/continued to some degree – and the middle of others like Holstein-based dairy as a core of the County’s agriculture.]

Not Dandelion but a frequently-confused member of the same plant family. Coltsfoot, like Dandelion, is a European import. One sees it early in the season in disturbed areas such as stream banks and road edges. This cluster was in Easter bloom near the Agawamuck.

Sunday 27th April 1930

… In the afternoon I persuaded the T.T. to visit some hypaticas I had found in the wood in the hill. She got up a blue one, there were also white ones and pinkish ones… Then we went down to the edge of the river for the 1st time but it was cold there but there were Blood roots growing there wrapped up in funnel-like swaddling bands….We saw an extraordinary bird – like a strange waterbird. It was blue and white with a black crest and it flew with the sound of a wooden rattle [Almost certainly a Kingfisher; a bird still to be seen and heard around our waterways].

A particularly purple Hepatica. Although this photograph was taken during a previous year, we have seen Hepatica in bloom this Spring.

Thursday 1st May 1930

…A thunderstorm came and it was followed by warm rain. I walked by the road to Harlemville and got bread.

[Good thing the Farm Store was open…]

For those of you interested in what is perhaps now literature trivia, amongst Powys' nearby friends was the poet Arthur Ficke. He was well-known in his day, but has since faded in renown. This is his former house along Phudd Road. Nearby we heard the deep, thump....thump....thump...thump..thump.thump. thumpthumpthump of a male Ruffed Grouse advertising himself.

It seems appropriate to end this posting with a look back at Phudd Hill on Easter.

 
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Posted by on April 27, 2011 in Nature

 

Click here for sketch map of outing.

(Pictures relating to the text appear at the end of the notes.)

keywords: spring flowers, bloodroot, hazel, leatherwood, newt, salamander

Leatherwoods (Dirca palustris is their scientific name) are usually small bushes with relatively few, stocky branches. The twigs are, as the name implies, leathery and one can wrap them around a finger. We dont see them very often in Columbia County, mainly in small, scattered clumps in the floodplains of streams.

Leatherwood flowers have both male and female parts: the anthers (or pollen-producing part of the flower) are the narrow stalks tipped by orange-yellow blobs; the pistels (or pollen- receiving, seed-making part of the flower) are the adjacent stalks without the markedly swollen tips.

Leatherwood flowers produce nectar and so attract insect pollinators despite the fact that this is a cold time of year for such an endeavour. Both bees and butterflies are reported to visit these flowers. If we get some sunny, warm weather before these flowers whither, it would be worth doing some flower watching to see who comes by.

It wont be long before these inconspicuous knobs develop into the large, showing leaves of American Hellebore.

A Bloodroot flower thinking about opening. Both basal leaf and flower petals are still shut. This is another insect-pollinated plant awaiting sunny weather. Their seeds are ant-dispersed, but thats another story.

Spotted Salamander eggs along the edge of the Fire Pond. The jelly-like mass that surrounds the eggs is sometimes clear, sometimes cloudy - this seems to just reflect variation in the jelly-making of the salamander mothers.

A Red-Spotted Newt hovers in the water. These are the aquatic adults of the more showy Red Efts that one often finds wandering about moist woods. This salamander-egg and larva predator lives mainly in pools that retain water year around. It is not usually found in vernal (or seasonal) pools.

A tadpole lies in the water by the shore; judging by size and spottiness, this may be a Bullfrog tadpole. Both tadpoles and adults of this species will probably prey upon salamander eggs and young. These tadpoles overwinter at least once, and so need permanent pools for survival.

An ant mound on the shores of the Fire Pond. These ants seem to need openlands that are not regularly mowed. There are several species of mound-building ants in our area, some of which are slave-makers (that is, they will raid the mounds of other species, carry off the eggs, and raise the young as workers in their own nests).

This hot-pink whirl is the female flower of Beaked Hazel, one of our two native Hazels.

One would think that such color would make these flowers pop out of the woodlands, but their tiny size means finding them is something of a hunt.

The catkins found dangling below the female flower house the male flowers which produce the pollen. Hazels are apparently wind-pollinated meaning that the pollen is carried from male to female flowers by the breezes. Why the female Hazel flower is so colorful is an open question (colorful flowers are usually thought to attract insect pollinators), perhaps it was just a whim of time.

I'll close with an installment in our on-going series on cow patty ecology, this picture from my homeward walk: young seedlings springing out of last year's patty. Were these in the dung or did they arrive to the dung in the wind? Perhaps seeing which plants they grow into will give a hint.

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2011 in Nature

 

Click here for sketch map of outing.

(Pictures relating to the text appear at the end of the notes.)

keywords: peepers

Many of our trees bloom before our herbaceous spring flowers. This in elm bud and flower.

A Killdeer in the wheat. Killdeer are related to sandpipers and similar shorebirds and, like those birds, nest in open areas. In the case of the killdeer, agricultural fields seem to be close enough to "shore" to feel like home.

A plowed vegetable field. A sure sign of Spring.

Sunset behind West Hill. Many of the trees silhouetted here are White Pine, evidence that the hill top was once a field (with a view).

The Red Maple are also in flower... it was getting dark.

The air was alive with cheeping Peepers. Many were in this pond on West Hill, but they were also scattered throughout the wetlands all along the base of the hill. If you want to hear what we heard while walking through this area, then click the link below...

Click here for a recording of the Peepers we were hearing during our walk.

This is not a sterling picture of a Peeper, however it gives you an idea of what we saw in the dusk: little, dark, jumping blips amongst the grass. Peepers are not always so dark; many are lighter with more pattern on their back (see Claudia's earlier post).

The moon was sitting over Harlemville as we walked home. This is the same Elm whose flowers we photographed earlier in our walk.

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2011 in Nature

 

Spring ephemerals are beginning to emerge…

11 April 2011

The spring flora is responding to the warm weather and things are beginning to stir in the floodplain forest behind the school. This is a great time of the year to walk the same path several times over a couple of weeks and to witness the changes underfoot. Allow yourself to be surprised!

On a quiet walk today, along the trail near the firepond, I came upon two garter snakes, each a bit more than a foot long.

Two garter snakes on their honeymoon? These snakes are not very agressive and not poisonous. If one keeps still, one has a good chance to observe their graceful movements.

In the forest below the firepond, 3-leaved seedlings were poking here and there out of the ground between trout lily leaves.

The pea-like seedlings between the blotched trout lily leaves belong to a rare annual spring ephemeral, the false mermaid weed (Floerkea proserpinacoides). Craig Holdrege introduced me to this plant on a springflower walk many years ago.

On a gravelbar of the Agawamuck, false mermaid weed grows in dense patches. Seen in such abundance, it is hard to believe that this is a regionally rare plant found exclusively along streams. Other than most spring flowers, who overwinter with bulbs or tubers, this little plant sprouts from seed early in spring. In a few weeks it will present its tiny, 3-parted green flowers, go to seed, and by mid-summer you wont see a trace of it any more...

Along the path towards the swimpond, these finely dissected leaves begin to push up.

This plant is a wild relative of bleeding heart, which you might have seen in gardens. In a few weeks, look for its curiously shaped white flowers that remind people of a pair of pantaloons, hence the name Dutchmans breeches. Dutchmans breeches is another regionally rare plant species that occurs in our valley in a nice big patch, extending from the floodplain forest up a steep rocky slope.

I went off trail and carefully traversed the floodplain forest to see who else might be “up and about”. I was thrilled to find the first bloodroot of the year.

Its flower still closed, the characteristic leaf tightly wrapped around itself, like a cloak, this bloodroot is waiting for one more warm and sunny day to open its short-lived flower. Bloodroot provides early season pollen to many native insects, and, as Martin Holdrege showed in his senior thesis, some of these species appear on the farm fields to pollinate our veggies later in the season.

Near the bloodroot, these pale-looking leaves emerged from bulbs.

Wild leek (Allium tricoccum) is edible, but should not be harvested in great numbers in our floodplain forest. Wild populations are easily decimated by over-harvesting, especially if the bulbs are taken. Break off just a corner of a leaf to get a good whiff and taste of onion.

Speaking of onions: at this time of the year, two other members of the genus Allium (which includes our cultivated chives and onions) here in the floodplain forest.

The dark green leaves, that are round in cross-section, belong to the non-native field garlic (Allium vineale) or garlic grass. It grows not only in the floodplain but in upland forest and on pastures, where it can give the milk a garlicky taste. The lighter green leaves, which are flat in cross-section, belong to the native floodplain forest specialist wild onion (Allium canadense). Come back later in spring to see the difference in flowers!

A prominent element of the floodplain forest at this time of the year are these clusters of unrolling, heart-shaped leaves that belong to a violet.

Wild violets flower in white, yellow, and shades of blue/violet. This is likely a common blue violet. The leaves of all violets are food for the caterpillars of frittilary butterflies.

Finally, the mystery of the common grass that grows so gregariously right along and sometimes even in the Agawamuck.

Reed canary grass is a wetland grass that used to be native in our region. Agricultural varieties have been introduced and now seem to make up most reed canary grass populations, which have a tendency to do a bit too well and to out-compete native plants in unmanaged environments.

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2011 in Nature

 

Click here for sketch map of outing.

(Pictures relating to the text appear at the end of the notes.)

 

Keywords: vernal pools, frogs, salamanders

Speckled Trout Lily leaves poking up through the leaf litter. These are one of our earliest spring flowers; they'll be done and gone before you know it.

 

The little white dots are not leftovers of my lunch or dust on my lense - those are the spermatophores of male salamanders. These small pebbles rest on the bottom of the pool and are capped with sperm packets. The female, reportedly after some male courtship, picks up the packets with her cloaca and uses the sperm to fertilize the eggs that she soon releases.

 

These are clusters of Wood Frog eggs; the masses will soon swell to the size of grapefruits. Each black dot is an egg, and the jelly coating helps protect the eggs from predators.

 

Wood Frog eggs - the close up.

 

A vernal pool on Phudd Hill. Many pools look like little more than puddles. They are easily overlooked during land development. However their very transience, the fact that they dry up and so exclude fish, Newts and Bull Frogs, is what has allowed them to develop a unique set of amphibian visitors.

 

Hawthorne Valley Farm from Phudd Hill on a cloudy day.

 

The ice is just leaving the upper pond. Anna visited this site on the past weekend and reported Wood Frogs hopping awkwardly across the ice.

 

A male Wood Frog just hanging out. The day was too cold for any calling, but during warmer weather the males attract the females by clucking somewhat like ducks.

 

A pair of clasping Wood Frogs resting underwater. The male (darker, smaller, on top) will fertilize the eggs as the female releases them into small clusters.

 

A look down towards my favorite vernal pool - a wide but shallow pond at the base of the first ledge below the top of Phudd Hill.

 

More spermatophores, these in the pond pictured above, poised on the lawn-green algal mat.

 

An aside: when trees tip like this they lift up a section of the soil, viewing the root ball from the side gives you a soil profile....

 

This soil cross-section comes from a root ball; I've rotated the picture so that the orginal soil surface is again upwards. This section gives one a decent impression of the profile of what is probably an unplowed forest soil. The darkness near the upper surface is from organic matter that arrived via leaf fall and other debris. These surface-applied nutrients percolate down through the soil, migrating at different rates and eventually causing a color gradation to progressively lighter soils deeper down. The profile seen here is about 10" deep.

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2011 in Nature