Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Evidence is Everywhere!

Oh, yes, yes, YES! This weather is more like it! Clear blue sky, brilliant sun, temperature in the mid 60s. Spring is in the air, no doubt about it -- and in the woods and along the waterways, as well. I've been making the rounds of some of my favorite nature haunts, gathering evidence of spring's imminent arrival. Here are some of my finds.

In the Skidmore Woods:

Little purple spears mark the spot where Wood Betony will bloom sometime in May.

These purple Hepatica leaves are left from last fall, but they're shielding tiny shoots of new growth down close to the soil. I just love the color and shape of these leaves, especially against that bed of soft green moss. Despite the fact that both moss and leaves are winter's leftovers, they add a bright springlike color to the otherwise dull brown forest.

The Mourning Cloak Butterflies were wafting about the woods today, having wintered over hidden among bark and leaves. They manage to survive freezing temperatures by increasing the sugar content of their blood until it becomes anti-freeze. I was lucky to catch one resting with outspread wings, absorbing the energy from the warming sun.

At Orra Phelps Nature Preserve:

The spathe of Skunk Cabbage has opened to reveal the first flower of spring tucked inside. See the yellow spadix peeking out from the shadowy interior. I know, I know, it's not such a beautiful flower, but it sure is welcome to early awakening insects looking for food. And on second thought, it is beautiful!

Near the Sherman Island Boat Launch on the Hudson:

At first glance, it appeared that the ice was all gone from the river. But this super-thin transparent sheet was floating near shore, revealing its presence only by the odd ripples. I'll bet that it melted as soon as the noon sun reached it. Bye bye, winter!

At Mud Pond in Moreau Lake State Park:

The ice has begun to recede from the shore, where the sun warms the shallows to revive all kinds of new life.

Hundreds of Newts wriggled into the underwater muck as I stepped near the shore. Mostly, I just got a glimpse of them as they disappeared. But one hung suspended in the murky water.

Here's a clearer photo I took last year. Note the dark mating pads on the hind foot, which help the male better clasp his slippery sweetheart.

These tiny (1/3 inch) spiders were darting all over the surface, looking as if they were flying, hardly touching the water. I could only see them during their moves, since they promptly disappeared among the camouflaging grasses. But this one landed on a leaf long enough for me to take its photo. If you click on this photo, you'll discover several other, even tinier, critters.

Here's another, paler, color of spider, just a wee bit bigger, but also able to scoot about on the water. Can you see the little dimples under its feet where they press on the surface? Note, too, all the tiny white dots all over the water. They were some kind of flea-like creature, hopping constantly, almost too small to see, but making the sunlight glitter in little specks on the surface.

Hundreds of dark, oval bugs were darting around like crazy under the water. Except for this pair, who crawled out onto a log to engage in more romantic business. Ben Snyder, an environmental educator at Moreau Lake State Park, believes that these are Predaceous Diving Beetles, a species that manages to stay under water for long periods by storing air under their wing covers. Scuba bugs. And by the way, as their name suggests, they do bite.

After all these signs of returning life, I was startled to find this heap of dead minnows lying in the shallows, with many more scattered across the bottom, glinting like little shards of silver. I wonder how they all died. Could they have been caught in ice when the water suddenly froze? Even more puzzling is why they haven't been eaten.


squirrel said...

Nice fruitful trip and I love the photos and the informative information. It looks to me like the small critters on the leaf with the spider are spring tails. I am anxious to get back out this weekend.

Paul said...

What the heck, its warmer in Saratoga than it is in Sarasota. There are signs of spring here as well, the alligators are getting restless.

Allan Stellar said...


Ellen Rathbone said...

I was excited about the spiders I saw yesterday, but I see that as usual you have even more stuff out down there in the banana belt!

I love the hepatica leaves, too - they remind me of basic medieval illumination - acanthus and ivy leaves - these look like the ivy leaves.

And skunk cabbage! None up here - too cold even for a heat-generating plant. I've had people contact me to find them...have given your name as a source, for I knew you'd know where some was located. And voila! You do!

Kenton and Rebecca Whitman said...

The mystery of the minnows is so strange. What could have caused such a thing?

We ran into some hepatica this morning -- so beautiful! It was fun to come here and see it again, especially against that lovely background.

Genny said...

It was Spring in the wood with the sunlight (your post header reminded me of the game Clue. LOL) Beautiful pictures. Is it butterfly season already? Loved it.

Sébastien Barré said...

Nice photos. What's your camera?