Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Northeast Natural History Conference over in Springfield, Mass. I attended with Blue Lion Training; I was supposed to assist in teaching some high school students about vernal pool ecology during a field trip, but apparently high school students aren’t very good at remembering those pesky permission slips, but we still went out with various professionals that were interested in learning more about the subject.
It was a bit cool and early in the season but we did find several batches of tree frog eggs, some of which were very recently deposited. Apparently the major distinction between frog eggs and salamander eggs, both generally, though not always, being found in water, is that frog eggs look like they are just eggs clumped together whereas salamander eggs look like they are in clumped together in clear jelly. We also found two deceased frogs and a dead salamander that at first appeared quite bizarre, wrapped up on some sort of algae as it was. We were unable to extract it in order to identify what, exactly, it was under there.
While out on our little hike I got to see some cool things. You see, most everyone likes seeing animals, but they can hear us long before we can see them and in many cases they high tail it right out of there. But the thing is, they often leave things behind, evidence as to who was there.
I’ve talked about scat and scatology before and I was easily able to identify white-tailed deer and rabbit presence. A bit more interesting than poop, at least for me, was the several pieces of deer vertebrae we found as well. We also found hairy woodpecker feathers, although you could hear them announcing themselves loud and clear anyway.
If you’re a consistent reader of this blog you may have noticed my interest in animal tracks. In the past I’ve enjoyed finding these foot prints around and trying to identify them. Well, in that regard I was not disappointed either! As we were walking from one pool to another I happened to look down and see the most perfect little track in the mud. There were others around it but that one was perfectly clear and I immediately snapped a picture (I never go hiking without my camera!).
Four toes, extracted claws, pad similar to a canine but the toes weren’t right and it was much too small, maybe about an inch. Clearly a mammal but I wasn’t entirely sure what was in that area. So, the next day during some down time at the Blue Lion table I took to the net and some books to identify my little friend. This is one of the things I enjoy about tracks and similar is the mystery and the process of solving the puzzle and learning in the process.
Who’s territory were we trampling through? A weasel! There are two weasels in that area: the long and the short-tailed weasel. I don’t know if an expert would be able to tell who it was, specifically, from that track. Maybe they could, maybe they couldn’t, but it was fun narrowing it down!
Since I was there with Blue Lion Training I sat at the company table in order to let anyone interested know what we’re about. We have various online and field courses for students and professionals that want to expand their natural resource education. And at our table were some feathers and skulls. This is practically wildlifer bait, I’ll have you know. So many people came over because they wanted to know, who is that from? Yup, we geek out over bones.
I wasn’t given the low-down on the identifications so I was able to talk with people and put our minds together to figure things out. Our conclusions? Red-tailed hawk and wild turkey feathers, white-tailed deer skull and antlers, bobcat, coyote, and snapping turtle skulls, and a spider crab exoskeleton!
While at the conference I got to sit in on some very interesting lectures as well! Wolves between the Canadian and northeastern U.S. border, released pets or wild? Apparently you can get a pretty good estimation of this by identifying what they’d eaten over the long term based on differing isotopes. Guess what? There be wild wolves up yonder!
And apparently there are several species of ant known as slaving-making ants that attack other ants’ nests, steal their eggs, and then hatch those eggs in order to use those ants as foragers, since the “slave-makers” do not forage themselves. They’ll also, on occasion, completely take over another ant colony’s nest just to move closer to new potential targets.
There is a such thing as a snail wrangler. Not just a snail wrangler but The Snail Wrangler. Seriously, I met her! She’s wrangled snails for magazine photographs! She also uses her interest in these little creatures to educate people on their importance. And they are important. They have a role in their environments and we need to let them do it. But no invasives, please.
I also sat in on a discussion about Big Nights. Never heard of them? They’re common in the herp world because these nights are when spring-breeding salamanders and frogs venture from their hibernating homes to their breeding pools. Now a days this often requires crossing roads, and with roads comes danger. A salamander is no match for a car, a driver may not see a creature weighing less than a half ounce making his/her way across the road, and unfortunately, some people wouldn’t care. But preserves and similar organizations have been getting volunteers to help out, and it’s a great way to get the community involved in saving lives and learning about the world they live in, right there, in their communities. You see, frogs and salamanders don’t bite, at least not usually! You can scoop them right up with your hands and safely deposit them on the other side of the road! It’s much faster than their own mode of locomotion, and it saves them from vehicles. Interested? Contact your local preserve to see if they have volunteer sign ups to help on these Big Nights! They usually occur on the first wet, warmish night, but these animals don’t consult a calendar or clock first.
The conference was very cool and I’m glad I went. I was able to meet some really cool people, learn some interesting things, AND I got away from my desk for a few days. A win, win!