Out walking this afternoon and heard two barred owls hooting. Very distinctive call. So exciting! Thrilling to actually spot one of them during the day, and get a few shots.
Even before the wildflowers get going, the peepers and wood frogs announce spring. (Wood frogs sound like ducks, or a bunch of loose banjo strings.) Usually I just listen… but this year I went on a vernal pool walk with a naturalist in Dover (organized by the Dover Open Space Committee).
I just loved having things pointed out to me that I have never noticed before, like gelatinous floating egg masses shimmering there on top of the water (eggs of wood frogs) and silvery translucent submerged masses (eggs of spotted salamanders).
So today I went looking in Needham for some egg clusters and I tell you, I did a lot of tromping with no luck, but did find this one and it’s pretty good. Before I would have thought it was just some algae/vegetation caught on that branch, but in the closeup you can see it’s a bunch of gelatinous ova containing black embryos, and some have turned into tiny tadpoles. (I’m pretty sure these are wood frog eggs, but let me know if not.) The egg mass is green with symbiotic algae; the babies stay with the egg mass feeding on the algae for a few days before dispersing into the pool.
Below is a phone shot I took on the vernal pools walk — wood frog eggs earlier in the cycle than my green shots above — newly laid, no one has hatched, and it hasn’t been colonized by algae. Vernal pools are temporary shallow pools that dry up after a couple of months– because of that, fish can’t live in them, and because of THAT, all kind of amphibians can lay their eggs in them without them being eaten by fish.
Wood frog (Rana sylvatica)
The only wildflower I’ve seen this spring is skunk cabbage, but a morning walk at Rocky Narrows (Sherborn MA) was so full of birdsong, it really felt like spring. Saw this little sparrow on its penthouse roof deck and also a few gartersnakes out catching rays.
Bonus video: The peepers are out and loud at Ridge Hill Reservation in Needham. Peepers are “chorus frogs,” and can live in breeding groups of several hundred. Their bodies can be less than an inch long or up to about 1.5 inches. It’s only the males that make the sound (to attract their women). They hibernate under logs and leaves, and can survive being mostly frozen. Then in spring, you hear them especially in vernal ponds and other temporary wetlands. They lay their eggs in the water, and then live on land the rest of the year, feeding on insects. You can also hear wood frogs in this video — they’re the ones that sound like ducks quacking, or loose banjo strings getting plucked.
I haven’t posted in a long time because I hadn’t seen anything that I hadn’t already photographed, here in my narrow stomping grounds; I really covered a lot of wildflowers in my original fury of documentation. But today I saw two new wildflowers and this beautiful frog! The pickerel frog has front toes that are not webbed, making it more able to live on land apparently (and you can see the toes in this pic).
In winter they hibernate under debris in the water and come out for action from April to October. To catch their chow (insects, spiders, larvae), they will search grassy areas near their watery homes — like this frog, which was right on the trail, near the Charles River.
This is the only poisonous frog native to the U.S.! If attacked, it emits toxic skin secretions! However this does not deter its main predators: other kinds of frogs and snakes.
Pickerel frog (Lithobates palustris)
Velvety leaves in a gradation of purple to green, with orchid-like little blossoms. Called deadnettle because even though it looks like a nettle, it doesn’t sting like a nettle. Apparently the flowers, leaves and stems are edible, raw, cooked or dried. Mint family. Native to Europe and Asia.
Purple Deadnettle, Red Deadnettle, Purple Archangel (Lamium purpureum)
This is a wildflower I admired in the garden of Dr. Wesley Whiteside, and he gave it to me. What a generous plantlover, sowing his spectacular garden into other people’s modest yards… (Shot April 23.)
It looks like a perfect little lotus or water lily. More common: the single version, below. A “spring ephemeral.” Has only basal leaves which wrap around the flower stalk as it begins to bloom. Then the leaves open fully as the flower withers. The flowers bloom only one or two days each, with a fragrant scent. The foliage contains a red juice (which was used by native people to make dye). It’s toxic and usually avoided by herbivores. Native to eastern North America. Poppy family.
Double-flowered Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis ‘multiplex’)
The first showy spring flower was Lesser Celandine. (Shot April 20.) There is an occasional brook at Centennial Park in Wellesley, MA, that is enough moisture in this bit of dry valley that a big field of yellow erupts there in spring.
The blossoms follow the sun during the day and close in cloudy or cold weather. The name Celandine is derived from the Greek word for swallow (chelidon), because the early flowering time was also when the swallows arrived (and the flowers faded when they left). It is not native, found throughout Europe and west Asia. Eight petals and leaves that resemble wild ginger. Don’t eat it: “Unsafe in any quantity.” Buttercup family.
Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria)
It was a mild winter. The skunk cabbage seemed to just survive the snow, with frost-blackened tips. In early April, creatures were waking up. Here, a skunk cabbage hood (spathe) showing the spadix inside (the flower head).
Also a garter snake adventuring, and best of all, there were a glorious few days of peepers. When I recorded this, they were so loud, and there were so many layers of sound, and individual voices. Wonderful. Not long after this, we had a spate of severe cold and snow and the peepers were noticeably quiet.
We had a snowstorm that took out power in our neighborhood, so suddenly we had to quit working and also couldn’t do all our various other projects that require computer-staring. So we hunkered down, made a fire, (cheated by going out for dinner)…. but after the storm was over, the sun came out for an orange sunset on the sticky snow. We drove to the South Street bridge and it was so gorgeous…
This last scene had a glassy surface, but my boot slipped into the river and made this rad ripple! A day of stunning sights. These are all of the Charles River as it divides Needham and Dover, MA… and all within five minutes of our house, which is so GREAT! And now, grateful for heat, light, and a way to upload my photos! Time to make some hot chocolate.
And if you’re wondering about the wildflower report: yes, skunk cabbage is up, blackened tops showing through the snow in some places, and plump and green in the swampy spring at Ridge Hill.
Still discovering wildflowers in my familiar haunts that I haven’t identified. This one has tiny, snapdragon-like blossoms. The most distinctive thing is the dense spiky whorls of blossoms growing in the axils– between the leaves, all up and down the stem. This is an annual, dependent on seed production to flourish, native to Europe and Asia. In the Mint family.
Hemp Nettle (Galeopsis tetrahit)
Bonus picture: There is a gentleman in our neighborhood who has transformed his suburban property into a delightful farm, with fruit trees and bees and all kinds of berries and vegetables. We stopped and bought some peaches off his front porch, and he gave us a short tour, including these elderberries. Describing how he cooked with the white flowers, and all the delicious things you could make with the berries. He has a passion for his plants.