Friday, July 4, 2014

Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud! And Toads and Snakes and Dragonflies, Too!

A glorious day to explore the shore of Mud Pond:  cool and cloudy, with barely a breeze to ruffle the lily pads floating on the still dark water.  My destination today was a mud flat along the far side of the pond where I expected to find a fine variety of mid-summer-blooming plants that love to have their roots wet.  In the photo above, you can see this mud flat as a thin ribbon of bright green just to the right of center on the far shore.

And as these next two photos of the mud flat itself reveal, that bright green was not an illusion. The photos also reveal how high the water has risen, thanks to recent heavy rains.  There is usually a flat area of open mud along the shore, but today the pond was all the way up into the grassy meadow, which was saturated and soggy underfoot.

This mudpile is quite likely the entrance to the home of a Star-nosed Mole, a creature who prefers to live underground where that ground is saturated and soggy.

By this time of summer, with the forest canopy now fully closed in, few flowers will be found blooming in the dark woods.  So this is the time to look for those sun-loving species that thrive under open sky or near to the edge of the woods.  That's certainly the case for this species of loosestrife called Swamp Candles (Lysimachia terrestris).  As its common name indicates, it also likes it wet.

Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata) is another showy flower that often blooms in wet meadows, although it can thrive in drier habitats as well.  Its vibrant blue-violet florets were starting to open and climb the clusters from bottom to top.

This pretty pink Water Smartweed plant (Persicaria amphibia) was well ashore, while others of its kind were happily floating in shallow water, as amphibious as its Latin name suggests.

Ditch Stonecrop (Penthorum sedoides) definitely likes it muddy.  I had never seen it at this stage of budding before, with the stamens arrayed in a circle outside of the opening pistillate parts.

The Ditch Stonecrop was abundant out on the muddy shoreline, but I found only two specimens of the pretty blue Monkey Flower (Mimulus ringens).

A number of blooming plants of Common Bladderwort (Utricularia vulgaris) were protruding from shallow pools well up from the shore.  I wonder if they had been stranded there when the water was even higher, for this is a species of bladderwort that is usually found floating freely.

Contrast the size of the Common Bladderwort in the photo above with the wee little Humped Bladderwort (Utricularia gibba) I'm grasping here in this photo below.  This, too, is a bladderwort species that can float free, but here on this mud flat it seemed to be firmly embedded in the wet mud among a thicket of tiny rushes.

I extracted one plant from its muddy matrix and washed the mud from its underwater structures.  I must have left some of its underwater parts behind, because I don't see see any of the minute sacs that all bladderworts use to trap and digest tiny organisms.

Here's another of the tiny flowers that thrive at the muddy edges of ponds.  This is Small Bedstraw (Galium trifidum), anomalous among bedstraws for having some flowers with three petals and sometimes others with four, all on the same plant.

And talk about TINY!  The almost invisible pale-green flowers of Water Pennywort (Hydrocotyle americana) would be hard to find even if they didn't hide out beneath the shelter of its scalloped round leaves.  This is a low plant that carpets the ground in wet places.

Red Admiral Butterflies also prefer moist areas like marshes and pondsides and well-watered gardens, so it was not surprising to see it wafting its lovely colors around the mud flats today.  How nice of it to land on a fallen log and array its beautiful wings for the picture-taking!  A close look reveals that its wings look a little worn, which is not surprising, considering that this is a migratory species of butterfly that had traveled far from warmer climes this past spring to grace us with its presence up here in the north.

Mud Pond must be considered heaven for dragonfly species, for there sure were a lot of them zipping about.  Thankfully, they also stop zipping at times and perch with their wings outspread so I can creep up quietly and capture a photo of them.  This is a male Widow Skimmer, distinguished by those broad dark patches close to the body, edged with white patches farther out.

Another Skimmer, a Twelve-spotted Skimmer.  It is also a male, as we can tell from its chalky white abdomen.  Females have brown abdomens with yellow stripes down the sides, and their black-spotted wings lack the white patches the male displays.

A pair of damselflies, one of the Bluet species.  They are demonstrating the typical mating posture of both dragonflies and damselflies, whereby the male uses claspers at the end of his abdomen to grasp the female by the back of her head, and she then curls her abdomen forward to receive sperm from the male at a location high on his abdomen.  She will then dip her abdomen into the water to deposit her fertilized eggs, which will develop underwater.

I thought this was one handsome grasshopper, looking so snazzy with his shiny brown eyes and herringbone legs.  The plump ripening fruits of a sedge set him off quite nicely, too.

Hundreds of tiny toads were hopping all over the place today.  At first I thought they were crickets scurrying and hopping through the leaf litter, but a closer look revealed their true  (adorable!) identity.

Oops!  Here's somebody else on the lookout for toads.  I almost stepped on this big Hognose Snake, and then it led me quite a chase through the woods as I tried to take its picture.  At one point it curled into strike position and flattened its head and hissed quite loudly, so that I backed off a little.  I know it doesn't have fangs that could bite me (they're way in the back of its throat for grasping toads as it swallows them), but it still unnerved me a bit when it darted its head at me.  I'd hoped for a better photo, but my camera hand shook a little.

And there he goes, making his quick escape from me.  (Or is he a she?  How would I tell?)  Look what blue eyes he has!  I never noticed that before.  (Update:  Rebecca Mullins, nature educator at Moreau Lake State Park, has informed me that those blue eyes are a sign that this snake is preparing to molt, rendering the snake nearly blind.  No wonder the snake was behaving a bit testy toward me.  Now I wish I had left it alone, poor thing.)


threecollie said...

That is some hog nose! I wonder if the eyes are blue because it is getting ready to molt. Great many interesting plants. I will think of you when we go to camp week after next and see so many new and different kinds.

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Threecollie, you guessed right about those blue eyes. I heard from a herpetologist who told me exactly that. I also learned that the poor snake can hardly see when it approaches a molt, so that might explain how grouchy this one seemed. I've never experienced one attempt to strike, as this one did.

Have a wonderful stay at camp. I so look forward to your most descriptive accounts.

Sharkbytes said...

Nice outing. The only one I didn't know was the small bladderwort!