Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Fire in the Woods! And Other Surprises

Despite yesterday's unseasonable heat, I didn't expect to find many surprises today in the Skidmore woods, since I'd walked there just the day before. But you never know.

My first surprise was this group of "bee hills" right in the middle of a sandy path. I had never seen such a thing before. At first I thought they were anthills, but then, the holes seemed too big. So I got down on my knees to examine them more closely.

And look who popped up from out of the depths! This bee just sat there for the longest time, completely ignoring my nose (and my camera lens), just a few inches from hers. I wonder if she was laying eggs.

I wonder, too, if this is a different species of ground bee than the ones I found the other day at Mud Pond, whose nests were built in a more vertical sandy surface. I would have to grab individuals of both populations to examine them very closely. But I'm not about to do that.

Continuing my walk, I saw the first Mourning Cloak butterfly of the season, flitting maddeningly out of focal length until, lucky for me, it settled down in a patch of sunlight almost at my feet. What a rich velvety brown those wings are, the better for absorbing energy from the sun in the chilly spring woods. (The temperature barely made it out of the 50s today.)

The edges of this butterfly's wings often look quite ragged, which is not surprising, considering that Mourning Cloaks overwinter as adults, sheltering under bark or leaf litter, protected from freezing in subzero temperatures by high glucose levels in their blood.

I did not expect to see these spears of False Hellebore today, since just yesterday I checked this site and there was not a sign of them. They must shoot up as fast as the rockets they resemble. Some of them had even pierced the leaves they shot through as they reached for the sky.

Yesterday, these fuzzy buds of Leatherwood were closed tight, but today just a little bit of the yellow trumpets was pushing through.

Now, this little Spotted Newt was a total surprise! I had dipped a plastic cup into a vernal pool, hoping to find some frogs' eggs or insect larvae in the murky water, and I captured this little critter instead. I let him go as soon as I snapped his photo.

As for surprises, though, this forest fire takes the prize. Just a few days ago, these leaves were still covered in snow, so one would hardly expect them to ignite. Walking along, I began to smell smoke but assumed it was coming from a woodstove in a nearby home until a fellow hiker alerted me to the flames that were spreading across a valley. The college was notified and fire fighters were called, although they had great difficulty maneuvering their vehicles along the rutted old carriage roads to reach the site. Luckily, only ground leaves were burning and no standing timber caught fire.

Looks like the fire must have started from this illegal hidden campsite. Was this a party spot for kids or shelter for a homeless person? When I spied the structure through the smoke, I ran down to make sure nobody was still inside. I'm happy to report it was empty. I'd had enough surprises for one day.


June said...

How I admire your getting down on your knees to see these things so closely . . . and I think if I knew the names of some of the things I see I would enjoy easier memorizing of the sights, so I admire your knowledge too.
Mostly I admire that mourning cloak butterfly! The ragged wing edges are lacy-pretty and her hair is so soft-looking.

threecollie said...

Wow, you had a serious adventure there! I love newts, the first salamanders of my childhood. How sweetly serendipitous that you scooped one up like that!

Anonymous said...

What an amazing day! Full of discoveries - although I'll pass on finding a fire! Given the amount of snow it's curious how dry the woods are here - although, at the moment... I am thrilled to have seen a mourning cloak - one of the creatures I *can* identify - a friend point out the cocoon of a promethea moth - I plan to visit often to see if I can 'catch' it hatching! Happy hiking!

Louise said...

Oh my gosh, you must have been very worried, as you ran towards that shelter. I'm glad that no one was hurt. There was a big brush fire here yesterday, also, on the other side of Rochester from me. No one hurt, and no property destroyed. I wish it was nearer. It would be interesting to see how things regenerate.

Those little bee hills are so cute. I noticed the ground bees in my yard yesterday and spent some time watching them. Unfortunately, they spent their time flitting around, and I didn't see any settle down to dig.

Ellen Rathbone said...

Quite an adventure! Are "they" going to pursue an arson charge, or just let it go as accidental?