Category Archives: amphibians

Elks Preserve – A crisp January hike!

Elks Preserve is located on Crusher Rd in Hopewell.

Link to the trail map.

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I rarely see the sky so brilliant blue as I do in the winter season. It was 25 degrees F when my friend and I met at the Elks Preserve in Hopewell, but the wind was still and the sun was strong, so it did not feel nearly as cold as it actually was. Even though it was freezing, the birds in the forest were raucous and exuberant in their singing. I don’t know why they had ants in their pants, but they were making such a fuss that it had us both excited to head out into the woods.

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The contrast between the dormant forest floor and vibrant blue sky was enticing. It was as if the forest was whispering to us to come in and explore.

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When I saw this plant covering one section of the forest floor, I was completely stumped! It seemed similar to an Eastern Red Cedar or an Arborvitae, but not quite so. I spent a lot of time reading online and searching through my plant ID books before I narrowed it down to a species in the Diphasiastrum/Lycopodium genus.

I am fortunate to know people with expertise in identifying the local flora. I reached out to a local expert, Gemma Milly of Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space. She informed me that it was Club Fanmoss/Running cedar, Lycopodium digitatum.

Gemma also said that “In the old days, they used to collect them to use the spores to fire photographic flashes– it’s highly volatile!”. When I touched the strobili (the candelabra like structures above the leaves) and the sporangia (the yellow candle part of the candelabra) a cloud of spores came floating out. I was in a trance kneeling on the side of the path, watching the clouds of spores drift around in the morning light.

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Can we all just take a moment to “oooh” and “aww” at this gorgeous plant?

The clustered, red drupes on the left are a type of Viburnum, Viburnum spp… The berries on the right are of Japanese Barberry, Berberis thunbergii, single drupes that are often paired along the stem.

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Evidence of a cambium eating insect. Since I don’t know what species of tree this is (there was no bark left to help me identify), then my ability to find clues as to what type of insect or larvae made these marks is limited. I love fallen logs, there are always goodies hiding on, in or under them!

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We spotted a frog frozen under the water. At first, I had thought it was a wood frog, but I was confused since I know that wood frogs could freeze during the winter but they usually did so on the land.

I reached out to two local herpetologists, Jeff Hogland of the Watershed Institute and Mark Manning of Hopewell Valley High School for their input. They both informed me that this was a Pickerel Frog, Lithobates palustris, not a Wood frog, Lithobates sylvaticus, and that unfortunately, my amphibian friend was most likely dead – not hibernating.

Jeff told me that “Several species of frogs can actually freeze, and survive – the spring peeper, wood frog, and gray tree frog included – but pickerel frogs are NOT among them”.

Mark said that “pickerel frogs in mountainous habitats like the Sourlands tend to move towards spring seeps and seepage areas during the winter, where the temps stay around 55 degrees F, the oxygen is high and the insect larvae provide food. If the main body of the stream remains moving during cold periods, it might duck under rocks but I’ve never seen one frozen on the top like that. The recent warm temps probably brought this frog into a mid-winter activity period, and it might not have moved fast enough to escape the cold blast today”.

I love that there are so many people in this area that are so knowledgeable and are willing to share information with others!

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My friend took this picture and said: “FOR SCIENCE!”.  Sometimes you have to get dirty to get the picture you need 🙂

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I love Pin Oak, Quercus palustris, acorns. They are really small but have such beautiful stripes!

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My friend observed the deer tracks at this little pool.  She was able to see that the deer had stepped into the slushy pool to take a sip (you can see the hoof print where her hand is). The deer put its face into the pond to take a deeper drink and then continued walking (see in the picture below).

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In this picture, you can see the “dribble” line from the water dripping off the deer and the hoof prints on both sides in the slush. If my friend hadn’t pointed it out, I honestly don’t think I would have noticed this at all!  One of the most fun things about hiking with others is that even though you both may be in the same place at the same time, you will each experience it differently.

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I have never seen anything like this before! I don’t know why the heartwood is creating these rays on the sapwood, but I wished that I could cut this log up into “cookies” and bring them home to make something with. What an absolutely beautiful treat in the forest!

If you look at this cross-section of a tree, you will see multiple layers. On the outside is the outer bark, which provides protection for the tree. It helps keep moisture in and the cold (and hopefully – but not always) insects out.

The next layer is the inner bark or phloem. The phloem moves sugars produced through photosynthesis in the leaves downwards to the rest of the tree. The phloem is short-lived and over time, dries up and becomes cork which works as a protective layer along with the outer bark. Sometimes the phloem layer is referred to as “inner bark”.

Next to the phloem is a powerhouse – the cambium layer. This is a thin layer of cells that will differentiate to create new phloem, xylem (the next layer) or new cambium cells. The cambium is the growing layer, causing the trunk, branches and stems to grow in diameter every year.

Xylem, the next layer, moves water up from the roots to the leaves of the trees. Sometimes the xylem layer is called “sapwood”.

The strongest layer of the tree is the heartwood. The heartwood is comprised of “dead” xylem and it forms the structural component of the tree. The heartwood of a tree is often a different color than the rest of the tree because it contains extractives that can have antifungal properties, decrease desiccation and promote stability.

At the very center of the trunk is the pith, which is made up of spongy cells called parenchyma. Different types of trees can have different types of pith. Some piths are star-shaped (stellate) such as in Oaks.  Alders have a triangular pith and Ash trees, Elms and most other trees have round (terete) piths. Piths can also be solid or chambered, hollow, spongy and come in a multitude of colors such as pink, yellow, brown, green, black or white.

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A bluebird, Sialia sialis! I am not very proficient at bird IDs, but there is no mistaking this bird! It has such a vibrant blue back and a big, round rust-colored chest and belly. Until now, I had only seen this bird in meadows and I was so excited to see it here in the woods.

Dry Creek Run – On the hunt for frogs!

Dry Creek Run is located on Brunswick Pike in Lambertville.

Link to trail map!

IMG_5007I love the smell of the forest after a rain, the commingling of fresh and musky. I was on the trail before 8 am, and the forest was bursting with bird songs and the rustling sounds of unseen animals. A morning hike is a wonderful way to start the day. It always refreshes me and renews my connection with the Earth.

The feeling I have when I enter the woods is similar to the excitement my children have when I tell them they can have a boo-bop (My Littlest can’t say “ice pops”).

My kids anticipate the crinkling sound of the boo-bops wrapper, the sweet taste of sugar, and the icy-cold pop cooling the hot summer heat.

In the forest, I love the sound of the birds, the pungent scent of wet earth, the cacophony of woodland animals alternating with stillness… the most perfect summer treat.

IMG_5008The magenta flowers of Smartweed, Persicaria spp., stood out beautifully against the green backdrop.IMG_5011Even though the idea of trying to identify Sedges to species level gives me agita, I always love to see them in flower.IMG_5012Jewelweed, Impatiens capensis, studded with water droplets that look like crystals.IMG_5016Peek-a-boo! No berries are safe from me!IMG_5018 These wiggly squiggly lines are from a leaf minor, Liriomyza eupatoriella, who uses White Snake root, Eupatorium rugosum, as its host for its larva.IMG_5023Sassafrass, Sassafras albidum, looking picture perfect this morning.IMG_5025I think this is American Jumpseed, Persicaria virginianaIMG_5027This white tailed deer, Odocoileus virginianus, looked pretty annoyed that I startled them out of the bed.IMG_5036Stickseed, Hacklia virginiana. I love that the fruits look like little ornaments hanging off the branches. I don’t love how they stick to just about everything!IMG_5043When I first saw this I thought it was a fruit until I picked it up and realized it was hollow. This is a gall, which is an abnormal growth on a plant that is triggered by a pest or a disease.IMG_5045A sea of Hogpeanuts, Amphicarpaea bracteata. Have you ever seen someone and totally blanked on their name even though you knew them? Well, that happened to me when I saw the Hogpeanuts.  I knew I knew the name but I just stared at it blankly and couldn’t retrieve it from my mental rolodex.IMG_5048White Avens, Geum canadense. The young leaves of this plant sort of look like strawberry leaves.IMG_5049When I saw this bench tucked in the woods, I imagined a person sitting there, deeply in thought while writing beautiful poetry.IMG_5058This Jewelweed, Impatiens capensis, came up through the boardwalk. It is a common plant but I always feel happy when I see the brilliant orange flowers.IMG_5068I am pretty sure this is Heal-all, Prunella vulgaris. There aren’t any flowers on it, but based upon the leaves and the flowering stalk I am pretty sure that is what it is. I really love the purple flowers of this little plant!IMG_5073Black-and-gold Flat Millipede Apheloria virginiensis. Apparently these little critters produce a cyanide substance that can cause skin irritation so please look but do not touch!IMG_5079The trail was littered with fruit! Pignut hickory (Carya glabra), Bitternut (Carya cordiformis), Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata), Pin Oak (Quercus pallustris), Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida).

While walking along the trail, I heard a chorus of frogs. I knew that if there were that many frogs, there needed to be a body of water. I was watching the clock because I had to get back to the office by 9am for a meeting but I HAD TO FIND THE FROGS! I did make it back to the office on time, but I had to run all the way back to my car.

IMG_5052Isn’t this little pond gorgeous?! Hearing the frogs and finding this pond was the highlight of my morning.IMG_5057What a perfect place to come and just be with nature. It was so loud and so quiet at the same time.