Pond Critters

At this time of year, we do a lot of dipping.  Not skinny dipping.  Not ice cream dipping.  Pond dipping!  We like to show the kids what kinds of critters live in the ponds.  In the spirit of Tom’s Collective Naturalist posts (1, 2, 3), I won’t tell you what these are…  Instead… You tell me!!  (Common names are close enough! And for some – a generic name is close enough…)

There are only five, this time…






Good luck!  Look for the answers after 8pm EST on May 25th.


Wobbly Goose is Back

Wobbly Goose

I guess you could say that Wobbly is our pet goose.  She (he?) showed up a couple of years ago as a gosling that could not stand or walk very well.  Her original name was less charitable:  Turtle Bait.  But Sarah took over care of the poor crippled gosling and taught it to stand upright, instead of lying on her back with feet in the air.  She stays with us each winter, eating bird seed – sometimes right out of a cup.  She’s very bow-legged and even steps on her own feet when walking, sometimes…  So I came up with the name “Wobbly Goose”.

Goose Family

When the breeding geese come back to town, they chase Wobbly away from the backyard.  Sometimes we know where she goes, other times, it’s a mystery.  A few days ago, she showed up again, and for the most part the breeding geese seem to be leaving her alone.

Why this goose is still alive, I really don’t know.  But she is a joy to have.  The kids can get very close to her and she doesn’t seem to mind, though she does have her limits.  She will hiss if you get TOO, TOO close.

Other posts that mention Wobbly Goose:


Wildflower Identification – ONLINE!

Update 5/10/09:  I guess it’s working again.  Yay!

Update 7/14/08Before you get too excited, several readers have tried the link below and it hasn’t been working.  Sorry about that folks!  It was working when I posted this!

My friend Barbara told me about an on-line Wildflower Identification website for the Northeast.  (The site has links to keys for other parts of the country, too.)  I tried it out on a flower that I already knew, just to test how it worked.  All you do is check boxes and click the Identify button.  My screen looked like this (except there were boxes with checkmarks, rather than an ‘x’ in front of my choices:

Check the characteristics that you see (you can always hit “Back” and change these later).

Petal-like Parts
   3 petals
   4 petals
x 5 petals
   6 petals
   in a head (7 or more petals): cluster of stalkless (or nearly stalkless) flowers
   tubular petals
   irregular petals: lipped, lopsided, not symmetrical

Flower Arrangement
   single flower on stem
x several flowers on stem
   cluster or spike of flowers (a spike is a long cluster, with the flowers along the stem)
   in an umbel (flowers in an umbrella-like cluster, with stalks radiating from one point)

Flower Width
   1/8 of an inch or less flower width
x 1/8 to 3/8 inches flower width
   3/8 to 5/8 inches flower width
   5/8 to 1 inch flower width
   1 to 2 inches flower width
   2 inches or more flower width

Flower Color
   whitish flower color
   pink to red flower color
   yellow to orange flower color
   brownish or greenish flower color
x blue to purple flower color

When in Bloom
   blooms in April or earlier
   blooms in May
   blooms in June
   blooms in July
   blooms in August
   blooms in September or later

Plant Height
   plant height one foot or less
x plant height one foot to two feet
   plant height two feet or more

Leaf Petiole
x leaf petiole present (has a leafstalk)
   leaf petiole absent (has no leafstalk)

Leaf Arrangement
x alternate leaf arrangement on the stem
   opposite one another leaf arrangement on the stem
   arrangement of leaves on stem is whorled (three or more from a point)

Leaf Edges
x smooth leaf edges
   leaf edge has at least 4 teeth per inch
   irregular leaf edge
   deeply cut leaf edge

Leaf Veins Appear
   parallel leaf veins
x branched leaf veins

Simple Leaves (one per stem)
   simple leaves about as long as wide
x simple leaves about 1 1/2 to 5 times as long as wide
   simple leaves over 5 times as long as wide

Compound Leaves (many per stem)
   compound leaves are trifoliate – three leaflets radiating from a point
   compound leaves are pinnate – leaflets arranged along a midrib
   compound leaves are palmate – leaflets or lobes fan from one point

   stem creeps or twines
x stem is hairy or spiny
   stem is square

When I clicked the “Identify” button, I was given two possible flowers…  Before you click on “The rest of this entry…” (or scroll any further) to reveal the answers, do you have a guess?

Continue reading


FoamflowerHow odd to think that this flower is listed as endangered in New Jersey and Wisconsin.  It grows in great profusion around here!

Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia), also known as Heartleaf Foamflower, is a flower of rich woods in the eastern part of North America.  I have been seeing it in bloom in several of my favorite hiking places over the last week or so.

Native Americans made a leaf tea from Foamflower to treat mouth sores and eye ailments, as the leaves contain tannins – a natural astringent. (source)

Foamflower PatchFoamflowers produce seeds, of course.  They can also spread by rhizomes, so it is not unusual to find large colonies.

foamflower range map

Foamflowers are in the Saxifrage family which contains over 700 species. Sometimes their leaves persist through the winter. Here’s a photo from last January:

Foamflower Leaves

How about you?  Have you seen Foamflower blooming where you live? Apparently this plant is a favorite groundcover for shade gardens… Do you have any tucked away in one of your gardens?

Bird Banding 101

Date:  Saturday, May 17, 2008
Time:  6:30am – 11:30am
Weather: Mixed clouds, sun, some rain, quite cool
Banders and Assistants:  Scott Stoleson, Don Watts, Emily Thomas, Amy Morrison

I showed up at Audubon at 6:30am expecting a rather long day of observing and MAYBE recording data for the bird banders.  Lincoln's SparrowWas I ever in for a surprise – and a great first day of training.  Sure, I got to observe and record data, but I got so much more!  The time flew by and we did so much that I can’t remember the details exactly…  I tried to record as much as possible with my camera, but it’s hard to work and shoot at the same time!

The very first bird out of the net was a new one to me.  Turns out it was just passing through on its way to more northern breeding areas.  Lincoln’s Sparrows (Melospiza lincolnii) spend their winters in the southern US down to Central America.  Lincoln's Sparrow Range MapThey breed in Canada, Alaska and the Western US mountains.  We recorded a “2” under the fat column for this little migrant.  It’ll be cool if someone north of here re-captures our little bird and wonders where Jamestown is…

The rest of the birds we caught were typical birds of our area:  Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Common Grackle, Gray Catbird, Swamp Sparrow, House Wren, Blue Jay…  I recorded a lot of data and started to feel pretty comfortable with the data sheet and some of the codes.  I watched how Emily handled the birds during processing.  I tagged along on net checks and watched how Scott and the others carefully extracted the birds and placed them in little bags for transport.

Scott Removes Bird from Net

And that was all I expected.  I would have counted it a great first day of training even if that’s all I did!  So imagine my surprise when I heard Scott instruct Emily to let Jennifer band one!

Hadn't Quite Mastered the Hold YetMy first bird turned out to be a re-capture.  I was actually pretty happy about that.  A chance to learn to handle a bird without having to actually put the band on.  I was pretty clumsy with the holds on this first little Yellow Warbler.  Another recapture, a Gray Catbird, proved to me that I really need to get new glasses.  Had to take mine off to be able to read the band number!

Remove the Glasses to See the Band

Eventually, I got the hang of handling the smaller birds.  I was particularly proud of this female American Goldfinch, because I did everything from retrieve her from the net, to banding, right through to release.  Well… not everything… Amy recorded the data!

Goldfinch Pair

My first day was very rewarding.  I helped set up a mist net, recorded data, retrieved a bird from a net, banded a couple, processed a couple of re-captures, and even took down one of the mist nets.  I’m so looking forward to my next lesson!

Many thanks to the scientists and assistants from PA who are doing this banding project at Audubon and were so patient with a clumsy student such as myself:  Scott Stoleson, Don Watts, Emily Thomas, and Amy Morrison.  Also thanks to Bill Colter who took over my camera and snapped some shots of me in action!

There are a few more pictures of the day at my Flickr site:



Starflower is Blooming!

The leaves have been up for a while.  And now, so are the blossoms.


Starflower (Trientalis borealis) is an unusual star… a seven-pointed star.  Well, technically, it could be anywhere from five- to nine-pointed.  But most often seven.  Seven leaves in a whorl.  Seven petals.  Seven sepals.

Starflower Range MapStarflower is a plant of cool woods or high slopes where the soil is peaty, acidic.  It also goes by the common names May Star and Star of Bethlehem and was formerly referred to by the Latin name Trientalis americana.  It produces seeds, but can also spread by underground rhizomes, which is why if you find one, you often find many.

These sentences from a website piqued my curiosity:

Trientalis borealis is also subject to Smut fungus (Urocystis trientalis) which negatively affects all life stages of the herb (Piqueras 1999). The fungus is a species-specific pathogen that first appears as white spores on the underside of leaves followed in the late summer as black pustules on the leaves and stalks (Whigham and Chapa 1999). It is believed that systematic infection of the offspring may occur through stolons (Piqueras 1999). Infected shoots are preferred vegetation of voles (Clethrionomys glareolus) and scale insects (Arctothezia cataphracta). Their consumption greatly reduces the occurrence of infection*, which develops in autumn (Piqueras 1999), and could potentially select for higher disease resistance in Trientalis borealis (Whigham and Chapa 1999). (source)

*The emphasis is mine.  Curious that consumption of the plant (when it is infected) can actually strengthen the species, isn’t it?  Nature is wicked cool.

Learn more:


The Best Part of My Job

It’s That Time of Year.  The time when every school group needs a field trip, and every scout troop wants an outing to earn one more badge, and the after school nature programs are in full swing.  It’s hectic.  And it’s my favorite time of year.

Here are some examples of what kids should be doing after school… with or without an organized After School Program!

Carson, Luke, Travis, and Cameron dip for Wood Frog Eggs
Searching for Wood Frog Eggs

Counting Bird Eggs
Counting Bird Eggs

Holding a Baby House Sparrow
Holding Baby Birds  (They’re just House Sparrows!)

My job involves quite a bit of administration.  But at this time of year, I squeeze that in between the school and scout and after school groups.  I love bringing a bunch of kids back to the center covered in mud!