Observing Adkins’ Habitats in Silence

The Stream (the Little Sally)
by Tony Pascal

The frogs have awakened from their winter slumber. Every 20 feet or so, I see a frog sailing into the water. It looks like a Northern Green Frog that frequents shallow streams and wetlands of the Eastern Shore. Some launch from a height of 24 inches. The frog is about 3 inches long, so it would be like me jumping off a 40-foot bridge. No problem for the acrobatic frog.

The stream now has more fish (fathead minnows) and water striders in residence. The water temperature is approaching 60 degrees, so the fish spawning has begun. It is a little windy today, sun warming up the woods. I see the black gnats, hatching in the stream. Flitting about the surface, the fathead minnows, in feeding position below me, slurp in the careless insects who hesitate too long on their fleeting moves across the water.

Dancing Mayflies in the air. Next to the butterfly, I think the Mayfly is one of the most beautiful flying insects in the woods. My two pairs of Mayflies dancing above my head unfortunately share the heritage of being one of the most short-lived animals in the world. An adult lifespan is 30 minutes to one day! Their immature days are spent in streams and rivers, in the larval stage. They can be in this stage for a year or so, and they feed on algae or diatoms. Before they emerge, oftentimes in the late afternoon, as today, they will float along the surface, test their wings, and take off. This is the most vulnerable time for them, in more ways than one; the fish downstream come up to take the fly in the surface film, and the fish’s telltale dimple is known as “the rise.”

The wind has stopped; the late afternoon sun feels great on my face. I lie back on a cushion of soft dead bracken, the tulip poplars rising 100 feet above me, their buds itching to pop. The sound of quiet. What could be better than this?

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Wetlands
by Anna Harding

The mandala welcomes me this month, like an old friend for whom a place has been laid at the table. A mandala is the still center in a turning world, where one finds tranquility and peace. Today is bright sunshine, 51 degrees, breezy, vague high cloud cover. Algae scum creep across the vernal pool, feeding on this new, strong sun. Skunk cabbage continue to burst up from the leaf litter and march like an army across the wetlands. Small buzzing gnats hover around my face and bite my ears. They flit over the low watery pond that saturates this section of the Arboretum.

The buds on saplings and mature trees that were just beginning to show intention last month are beginning to plump out. A strawberry bush sends up a small vine, and a rainbow spider web shimmers in the bright sun. Green and vigorous plants, unknown to me, are pushing up, up, and beginning to display flower heads: purple, white, pink. The anemic grass clumps of February are bright and vigorous now. Even ‘the fallen’ have their place in this order: rotting stumps, broken branches, toppled trees, leaf litter, and boggish water….all belong here just as they are. What potential lives within these wetlands..besides lots of mosquito larvae!?

The bigger, more prolific skunk cabbage emits a soft, putrid fragrance. Simplocarpus foetidus: native to eastern North America, also known as polecat weed, skunk cabbage (or swamp cabbage) is a low growing plant that favors wetlands. While it emits a foul odor, it is not poisonous, and the odor serves to attract its pollinators—flies, stoneflies, and bees. It may also discourage animal foragers from destroying or damaging it. The speckled purple flowers I photographed in February were at the end of their yearly cycle, and now the leaves, which follow flowering, are emerging in lush, showy greenery. The roots are contractile, meaning they contract after growing into the earth. As the stem grows deeper and deeper into the soil, the plant is actually growing downward, not upward, making it nearly impossible to dig it up. The seeds are dropped into the mud and carried away by water or animals. The skunk cabbage can generate temperatures of 50 to 95 degrees, thawing surrounding ground so it can emerge in the winter (thermogenesis). Skunk cabbage was used in past centuries medicinally for dropsy, rheumatism, and nervous and respiratory disorders.

Elsewhere, the greenbrier is greener, and tiny mosses reach up with fragile hairy arms as if asking the sun to fill them with life!

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Meadow
by Cindy Beemiller

With much anticipation, I head to the meadow. The chill of winter has loosened its grip, and I am looking forward to the changes of spring. I settle in to find not much has changed. The grass is greener, new flowers have appeared, and more birds are discussing the morning news. The long trailing Vs of geese are gone. I remove a layer of clothing and lie down. I close my eyes and enjoy the bird chatter. Woodpeckers hammer looking for breakfast, redwings “conkereee,” and I breathe in fresh cool air. Spring is so near. I open my eyes, sit up, and look around. I notice the path that has been there all along, but yet I paid no mind to it. I look around more, farther, and notice more paths…a network of roads outlining a small town of huts made of grass domes or, I imagine, apartment flats for deer to curl up in at night. Although the meadow’s lack of greenery disappointed me, the meadow never completely disappoints. There is always something to discover, to imagine about. Imagine wildlife with their own ways of life and personalities moving about foraging, interacting, and carving out their own lifestyles in the meadow.

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Upland Forest
by Wendy Jacobs

It’s April 4 and a sunny 50 degrees in the early afternoon. The ridge is slowly awakening, with a subtle greening of vines and of the bare canes near the forest floor. This greenish mist blurs the understory, making the trees look less green than they did in February. Buds are not visible on the giant oaks, but there are soft golden brushes at the top of the beech trees, and a bright red mohawk on a tall tree down below by the stream. There is a brown spider with two stripes down his back, cutting a wide circle around me on the leaf litter.

Behind me and visible across the trail is a younger forest, dominated by tall conifers. Some of them still bear a multitude of seed cones, reminders of the 2012 mast year (super-productive). There are over two dozen large trees down on the ground in a small area of about a half acre. They have fallen in all directions. A hurricane? Some have snapped off at the trunk, having already been dead and rotting when downed. Others have probably been killed by the wind, being broken mid-trunk. One long trunk has sprouted a hedge! Another has side-by-side holes in its upended root ball, indicating mammal dens. Are all these downed trees a sign of the slow ending of conifer domination as this area of the forest matures? Or just a fluke of nature?

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“Experiencing Adkins’ Habitats in Silence” is a project conducted by a team of students in the Maryland Master Naturalist program currently underway at the Arboretum. The team will observe each of these four ecosystems monthly and record what they experience.

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