Monday, June 9, 2008

Musk Turtle

Which native species continue to occur in Newton and other urban environments? How are they distributed and will they persist? Which species are thriving (e.g. American Robin), and which species are barely hanging on (Wood Thrush). I continue to explore Newton in an attempt to begin to answer these questions. For example, last year I documented a Flying Squirrel, and discussed the distribution of Wood Frogs and Red Squirrels. Yesterday, while fishing at Crystal Lake, I observed a Musk Turtle. While I knew that Crystal Lake supports Painted Turtles and Snappers, I was unaware of the presence of these more secretive turtles. Presumably the Musk Turtles of Crystal Lake are completely isolated from other Musk Turtle populations due to surrounding development and the risk of road mortality?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Tent Caterpillars

Here's a photo of tent caterpillars on a black cherry tree along the Charles River Path near Bridge Street. Other highlights of our walk included silver maple (a floodplain species associated with large rivers), and yellow warblers in abundance.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Don't Miss Vernal Pool Day!

Hope to see you tomorrow (Saturday) at Newton's Vernal Pool Day. See turtles, tadpoles, and more... For additional information click here.

For information on a Mother's Day bird walk, click here.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Mosquito Season

Those of us who have been out in the woods lately have been enjoying essentially mosquito-free conditions. This is about to change! These are some photos I took of mosquito larvae & pupae in a puddle in some woods in the area (4/26/08). The small woodland pools are absolutely teeming with mosquitoes. In the closeup shot below, you can see the larvae (longer, with a distinct head) and the pupae (black cylinders). The larvae are sometimes known as "wrigglers" because the swim by twisting sideways and spinning. The pupae swim by somersaulting. Mosquitoes are flies (Class Insecta, Order Diptera, Family Culicidae). I believe that these are spring mosquitoes in the genus Aedes or Ochlerotatus)? Mosquitoes are fascinating creatures on many fronts... For information about mosquitoes in Massachusetts, including a citizens quiz, click here.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers Mating

Source: Ken Thomas

Red-bellied Woodpeckers observed mating, south Newton, 4/26/08. This species has expanded its range north in recent decades. Global warming?


Flowering Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) is a sure sign of spring. As of last Saturday (April 19) it was blooming at Hammond Woods in Newton. For a closeup photo of flowers, click here. The plant has brilliant yellow foliage and bright red berries in fall. The leaves are fragrant, when crushed (hence the name). This is a wetland plant, but, as a garden plant, it adapts well to drier soils. It's a great native shrub to include in your garden!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Vernal Pool Day

Saturday, May 10
Join Newton Community Farm & The Newton Conservators as we celebrate spring and Newton's vernal pools. Vernal pools are incredibly diverse ecosystems, supporting a wide array of amphibians, reptiles, and invertebrates. Join us as we explore vernal pool life, and discuss conservation issues facing Newton Vernal Pools.

Schedule of Events
10 - 12 Vernal Pool Walk, meet at west end of Saw Mill Brook Parkway, at trailhead to Charles River Path. We will visit several vernal pools; for those of you who attended the walk last year, we will visit different pools. Flat terrain, fairly easy walk. Adults & children welcome.

12 - 1 Take a break, or picnic at the farm

1 - 4 Vernal Pool Extravaganza at Newton Community Farm
- Adults & children welcome.
Located at corner of Winchester & Nahanton

Life in the Pond Water - come and see vernal pool critters under the microscope
Frog calls - Learn to identify frog & toad calls by ear
Frog calling contest - imitate a frog and win a prize!
Animal Display - turtles and more
Maps of Newton vernal pools
Vernal pool clothing, posters, field guides for sale
And More!

Event canceled by heavy rain - to receive cancellation notice or for additional information, email

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Peepers Calling

Breeding male Spring Peepers call during evenings in April to attract mates. This tiny frog makes a loud noise! Peepers are at the peak of their activity right now. Good places to listen for them include Hammond Woods and Nahanton Park. I was at Nahanton Park on Thursday evening, and heard quite a peeper chorus. I caught a male American Toad on his way to the breeding pond. Soon the toads will be calling as well-if they haven't started yet.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Time to see the Woodcock!

The flight display of the American Woodcock is one of our most wonderful rites of spring. As woodcocks only display for about one month in late March and April, now is the time to head for Nahanton Park at dusk to see and hear the birds. Here is a link to a nice NPR commentary on the woodcock. I once found a disoriented migrating woodcock on a sidewalk in downtown Boston. The American Woodcock Initiative by MassWildlife is working to manage and protect habitat for this species in Massachusetts

Friday, March 28, 2008

Our Pheobe Returns!

For the past few years, we have had a pair of Pheobes in our neighborhood. Yesterday, I heard the male singing for the first time this year. The Pheobe is our earliest returning flycatcher, usually returning in the end of March-- a sure sign of spring as the Pheobe feeds mostly on flying insects. Pheobes often nest under bridges or in culverts, near water. Our Pheobes have nested in the rafters under my neighbor's back porch.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Favorite Spots

This is one of my favorite short hikes in Newton, MA. A forested peninsula juts out into the marsh at a bend in the Charles River. The trail can be accessed from the Solomon Schechter parking lot off of Wells Avenue or from the end of Sawmill Brook Parkway. You can follow the trail into the marsh and right out to the river (be careful, this section may be wet in early spring). This is a great spot to cross-country ski. Sometimes you can see Common Mergansers and other waterfowl on the river. I have also seen Leopard Frogs here. The Leopard Frog is relatively uncommon in Massachusetts and can be easily mistaken for the more common Pickerel Frog.
This is a side spur of the Charles River Path, which can be taken to Nahanton Park, Millenium Park in West Roxbury, and beyond. The trail system also links to the Cutler Park trail system in Needham. This large block of open space along the Charles is a real gem. Other noteworthy species which can be found here include the Spotted Turtle, Blue-spotted Salamander, Ribbon Snake, and American Woodcock. If you hike here in March you may hear Red-Winged Blackbirds singing. In May, you may hear Common Yellowthroats and Yellow Warblers, as well as Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. During winter, Golden-crowned Kinglets. I've also seen Bald Eagle and Rough-legged Hawk in winter.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Great Night for Spotted Salamanders!

Male Spotted Salamander swimming in vernal pool, Hammond Woods, night of 3/19/08

Thursday, March 13, 2008

More signs of spring

Turkey Vultures

Spotted Salamanders & Wood Frogs on the move

Migratory waterfowl on many of our ponds, including beautiful Common Mergansers & Hooded Mergansers

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Spring around the corner!

With the sun climbing higher in the sky, and days getting longer, spring is around the corner. In mid-late February, Red-tailed Hawks will nest and Red-winged Blackbirds will return and begin to sing. With the warmer weather, I intend to reactivate this blog with information about vernal pools, bird migration, spring wildflowers, tree and shrub identification and more.

Dip-netting a Newton Vernal Pool in early spring