Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Herding Kids

You think it's hard to herd cats? Try keeping a group of 20 or so 8-year-olds all together on a nature hike. Then do it twice in one morning. That's what my friend Sue and I did today at Moreau Lake State Park. Was it fun? Well, sure! But it was also kind of tiring from having to talk so loud. Usually, when Sue and I walk through the woods, we keep as quiet as can be, but that just wouldn't cut it with the kids.

We found all kinds of cool stuff: a big beaver lodge and beaver-gnawed stumps, tiny toads even smaller than crickets hopping all over the beach, fragments of turtle eggs dug from their nests in the sand, acorn caps to make shrill whistles with, patches of Poison Ivy to learn to avoid, an emerging dragonfly shedding its nymph skin, and lots of dead critters -- one frog, several fish, one wee baby Painted Turtle, and one dear little baby Deer Mouse -- which seemed to be the hit of the day with the kids. So where are my photos of all these exciting finds? Sorry, folks, but my job was to corral all the stragglers and keep the group moving in one general direction while answering hundreds of questions and showing appreciation for every pine cone and snail shell brought to my attention. So my camera stayed in my bag. Until all the kids went home. Then I could hike all around the back bay of the lake by myself and find some cool stuff on my own.

My first find was a Maleberry bush, just covered with clumps of small globular blooms. They resemble blueberry blossoms, but the fruit they produce is as dry and hard as wood and not fit to eat, which has earned them the somewhat derogatory nickname of He-Huckleberry.

Now here's a strange thing I had never seen before. This is a Common Fleabane plant, and it should be topped by sprays of pretty pink daisy-like blooms with petals as fine as eyelashes. But instead, it has these furry clumps, at the top as well as down the stalk in each of the leaf axils.

I'm guessing these growths are galls, caused by some kind of insect injecting its eggs into the plant tissue, but I have no idea which insect. I see a spider lurking among the growth, but I've never heard of spiders creating galls. It may be waiting to snag the emerging critters.

Here's another critter lurking among the grasses. Actually, I think it is resting, not lurking. For one thing, dragonflies don't hide to hunt, but catch their prey on the wing while zooming through the air.

I'm wondering if this dragonfly (I think it's a female Calico Pennant) has just emerged from its nymph stage, and its wings are still stuck closed. Dragonflies always spread their wings when they are at rest, unlike the damselflies, which close them up when they land.


Her wings popped open!

This is the flower I specifically set out to find today: Racemed Milkwort. It's closely related to another bright-pink milkwort called Fringed Polygala, and if you look at each little flower along the stem, they look like miniature versions of that much larger flower. Despite the name, milkworts do not have milky sap, but were once thought to increase milk production in cows that grazed on them.

Two-thirds of the way around the back bay, it started to rain, so I hurried my steps to get back to my car. But I had to pause to take one more photo of this Great Blue Heron enjoying the beach he had all to himself, since the rain drove all swimmers away.


suep said...

hello fellow cat-herder,
that was a fun time !
All I can say is God Bless All Teachers.
And wow the R. Milkwort was all closed up when I spotted it the other day, yes indeed it resembles its cousin F. polygala.

Carolyn H said...

I can relate! Starting on Thursday, I will be herding 6 groups of kids on a single day for the next 7 weeks. It's always a challenge, but usually fun.

Carolyn H