House Sparrow Fledgling

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.

Pickerel Frog

pickerel frog, Massachusetts frogI 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)

Spring arrived in April

skunk cabbageIt 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).

garter snakeAlso 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.

Pink water lilies

DSC_0118I photographed this lily, but look closely at who else is in this shot!

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That’s right, a little frog has its nose stuck up there. And when we started looking for them, we saw loads of little frogs, still wearing their tadpole tails, enjoying their new ability to breath air, sunning themselves on the lily pads. (I can’t help but think, heron snacks.) I think these might be juvenile bullfrogs. There was a bullfrog at this pond with a call like a great foghorn.

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Water Lily (Nymphaea sp.)

Bonus photo: Lucy investigating the beaver lodge, which is about twice as big as last year.

beaver lodge

Young herons

I wondered how this heron nest could possibly weather the severe winter we had, but I was glad to see it still there and occupied this spring. I believe these are the young ones, looking a bit like bowling pins til they turned their heads…

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Herons lay 2-6 eggs in a clutch, in March and April. The eggs incubate about a month. Then they fledge when they’re about two months old. They still come back to visit for a few weeks.

Snapping turtle action

Snapping TurtleI was sitting at my desk when my attention was drawn by sudden movement outside. This turtle had just walked through the yard and when it came to the edge, where there’s a wall and a two-foot drop, it just took a flying leap tumble down to the driveway. Turtle parkour! At first I thought it might be injured, but it straightened its tunic and kept going. They’re surprisingly leggy and fast when in motion. Reminded me of this:

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/0/0f/All_Terrain_Armored_Transport_in_Star_Wars.JPG

Presumably it was on an egg-laying mission.

Snapper on the move

Snapper1Snapper2I was visiting my mom in Charleston, Illinois and looked out the window to see this snapping turtle motoring down the driveway at high turtle speed. Presumably it had laid eggs (somewhere in the yard? in the plowed field behind the house?) and was on its way back to the creek across the street. The neighbors came out to see what I was photographing. One of them was mowing his yard with a small end-loader. He came over, scraped the leeches off the turtle, picked it up by the tail and hauled it off to the creek. The turtle was pretty mad about this change in plans and got in some good snaps, but this way she didn’t have to cross the street. (I have since read that you shouldn’t pick them up by the tail because it can damage the spine and tail. Safest way for turtle and person is to grab the carapace above the back legs.)

Snapper3Snapper4Snappers are known for their angry attitude, biting jaws and the fact that their heads can really extend and snake around for snapping you! They snap to defend themselves because they are too big to hide in their shells. In the north, they mature at 15-20 years and apparently can live over 100 years. Adults have few predators (besides humans) but almost everything likes to eat the eggs and hatchlings. Incubation time is 9-18 weeks, depending on how warm the weather is… so Mom’s neighborhood should be watching for hatchlings starting in early July.

Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina)

Robin splash

The only actual wildflower I’ve seen blooming is the skunk cabbage, but there are other signs of spring. The herons are back on their nest. And this robin had a bit of a bath! It looked so happy, dunking itself and flittering its wings. A blue jay shouldered its way in and this little one hopped out, but as soon as the jay had its drink and left, the robin popped back in.

Robin-bathing

Pupping season

The nice thing about a hilly backyard is, you can be lying in bed considering waking up, and still see a coyote trot by.

coyotes in Needham, MA

It went out of sight, and then came back and surveyed the prospects from the front yard, but it was morning rush hour so that road was not crossable. It wisely turned and went to the backyard again and disappeared.

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They have their pups in mid-April so this is a time when they’re territorial about their dens, and apparently they are often show themselves more at the this time, just to make it clear to you. However, I think this one was just passing through. I wonder why. Glad to see it looking so healthy. Sorry the woods are less and less and it has to concern itself with things like crossing Central Avenue at rush hour.

Peeper time at last!

Heard the peepers first on the night of April 10, coming from the Charles River, only a week later than last year, even though spring feels so late this year. Then today went for a good listen. It was silent at a pond that still had snow on it, but frog party-town at the adjacent one that gets more sun… It’s peepers and wood frogs — wood frogs are the ones that make a clacking sound. So good to hear some spring!