Seasonal Activities At the BFEC
1. As the ice leaves the surface of ponds and the days become warmer amphibians leave their winter homes under logs or in the soil and migrate to pools where they will mate and lay eggs. One of the first to emerge is the spring peeper, whose high pitched call is designed to attract females from a distance. Their eggs can be found in pools as early as mid-march. If the weather is warm the tadpoles can develop into miniature frogs very quickly. A bit later the eggs of spotted salamanders may be found in jelly masses attached to the undersides of leaves or floating free. In late march or early April American toads begin moving toward the ponds and the low trill of the male's call can be heard. Strings of toad eggs can be found on the surface of ponds in mid-April.
Try to locate males by following their call (this is not easy). Observe quietly and you may be able to see the toads mate and begin to lay eggs. DO NOT DISTURB mating animals.
2. The first signs of spring begin with the emergence of skunk cabbage in February or March along the banks of Wolf Run. The inconspicuous flowers appear before the leaves and are covered by a green and red mottled sheath, that appears to arrise directly from the ground. The large leaves of this plant arise later and are what give it it's name. When crushed they emit a rank odor. You should also watch for the red and green capsules that form above moss plants. These capsules make spores (seedlike structures) that are released when the top of the capsule pops open. Examine the mosses covering the rocks and logs on the forest floor. Are all mosses the same? Take a magnifying glass and see how many different types of moss you can find.
3. Many of the trees begin to flower in late April and by mid-May the leaves begin to open. Corresponding with the opening of the leaves is the emergence of many insects. These provide food for the many species of birds that migrate through the preserve in route to northern breeding grounds. The most spectacular of these are the warblers. They are small insect eating birds with lovely songs. Over 25 species of warblers migrate through the preserve. The first two weeks of May are probably the best times to see these birds. You will see them flitting about at all levels of the canopy as they search for insects to eat. Which birds are found in tree tops and which ones are more common in the understory?
4. At the same time you are watching the birds you may also find yourself distracted by the chipmunks that have become active on the forest floor. What is the primary activity of the chipmunks?
5. The fish in the stream begin breeding. Males of many species will become brightly colored to attract females. Sit quietly above a riffle or pool and watch the behavior of the fish.
6. A variety of spring wildflowers
emerge from mid-march through may. One of the more showy spring flowers is
bloodroot. It has a white flower with 10-12 petals. If you damage the leaf
it "bleeds" an orange-red sap. It's root also contains this sap
and that is how it got it's name. Bloodroot like many spring flowers provide
food for ants. The seeds of this plant contain special fat bodies that attract
ants. The ants collect the seeds and carry them back to their nests. They
remove the fat bodies to feed to their larvae and discard the seeds near the
nest. In this way the ants help the plant by dispersing and planting its seeds.
Look for the pods of bloodroot late in may. They will be ripe the first or
second week in June.
1. Thetoad eggs that were laid in April have developed into tadpoles. By early June these tadpoles are beginning to develop legs and change into small toads. Look for tadpoles with their legs in various stages. By July these tadpoles will have turned into small toads that you may find sitting on the lily pads in the pool.
2. A variety of plants will begin blooming in the field. As the summer progresses you will note that there is a gradual change in the types of plants that are blooming. How do the flowers of the various types of plants differ. Differences in flowers are often used to help classify plants. Use a field guide and try to identify the various plants.
3. Try ant tracking - place the crumbs of a chocolate chip cookie on the forest floor and wait for ants to come. See how long before the ant returns with helpers. Try to follow the ants back to their nest. Where is it? In the ground, in a log? Ants lay chemical trails that help them find their way back to the nest. What happens if you move an ant off the trail?
4. Many plants depend on insects for pollination. Try sitting near a plant and watch to see what types of animals come to it. How many insects are at the flower at one time? Where does a bee go when it leaves your flower? Where does the bee carry the pollen? How long does an insect remain at a flower?
5. Look for signs of insect damage on the leaves of plants. Can you find the insect responsible for the damage?
6. How do plants invade new
areas? Some plants spread by sending out underground roots that develop into
new stems. Typically plants that spread in this way grow in clumps. Look for
clumps as you explore the pasture. Other plants invade new areas by having
their seeds dispersed by the wind, animals, or erupting (jewel weed). Look
for the white downy parachutes of the Canada thistle. This type of seed is
designed to be carried to new sites on the wind. In the fall you can look
for a variety of plants that have sticky seeds that will attach to animal
coats. Burdock is a good example. This plant has seed pods with Velcro like
spines (In fact the idea for Velcro came from the seed pods of this plant).
The seeds of jewel weed are dispersed ballistically. If you touch a ripe pod
it will explode, sending the seeds in all directions.
1. As the nights become cooler the chlorophyll that gives leaves their green color begins to break down and the red and yellow pigments in the leaves become visible. If the night are cool and the days are sunny the maples will produce brilliant red leaves.
2. Birds will start gathering into flocks. Flocks of blackbirds will migrate south for the winter but flocks of birds such as goldfinches, nuthatches or chickadees will remain all winter. What might the advantages of flocking be? How many birds are in a flock? Note how the shape of the flocks change as the birds pass overhead.
3. Acorns will mature and drop. Watch for squirrels collecting these for winter. You might also want to examine the seed under an oak tree. You may notice that some of these have small holes. These are exit holes of beetles. Collect 20 seeds. How many have holes? How many are normal. Why does the tree make so many seeds?
4. Pennsylvania flower beetles can be seen mating on wingstem and goldenrod. You might spend some time watching them and see if you can determine how they select a mate.
5. Look for goldenrod with swollen stems. What caused this? With a knife carefully cut the swollen stem in half----What did you find? How many of the stems in a cluster have swollen stems?
1. This is a good time to learn trees by their bark characteristics; beech, sycamore, white ash and black cherry are especially distinctive. Take the self-guided walking tour. Pamphlets are available at the visitor center. With a little practice and a keen eye you will soon start to see some differences.
2. If there is snow on the ground you can explore the tracks left by the many mammals still active. Tracks of rabbits, deer, and dogs are large and easy to find. Those of mice are small and easily filled in by blowing snow. Follow the tracks and you may learn something about thebehavior of the animal.
3. The dried seed pods of burdock, goldenrod, milkweed, curly dock, beggars ticks, velvet leaf etc. can be observed in fields and along road edges. How many different types of seeds can you find? How are these seeds specialized for dispersal? What are their characteristics? Are any birds visiting the seed pods?
4. On a cold day you can sit and watch as birds come to the feeders. Chickadees, nuthatches, cardinals, goldfinches, and house finches are fairly common. At the garden we have feeders set at different heights and they are supplied with a variety of foods such as black sunflower seeds, corn, millet and thistle. By watching where the different types of birds feed you can learn a lot about their feeding behavior. Which birds are ground feeders? Do some birds prefer sunflower seeds and others thistle? Do some species behave in an aggressive manner and chase other species away from the feeder. Do the birds arrive individually or as flocks? Are large or small birds more apt to flock? What is the advangtage to flocking?
5. Although most insects are not active in winter you can look for signs of their past activity. A variety of moths, wasps, and flies lay their eggs inside the stems of goldenrods or oaks. The plant responds by producing thick walled areas or galls that wall the insect off from the rest of the plant. These galls can be oval, round, or look like a bunch of leaves crowded at the tip of the stem. See if you can find insect galls on trees and dried stems. If you find a gall examine it to see if there is an exit hole. Cut the gall open to see what is inside. If there isn't a hole, you have found the insect responsible for stimulating the plant to make the gall. If there is a hole and you find an insect, it probably ate or parasitized the original inhabitant.
Look for other signs of insects. Wasp nests are common under the eaves of houses. If you look at the undersides of an old log, you might find the tunnels of carpenter ants. Look for barkless trees with starlike tunnels on their surface. These are caused by bark beetles.
6. Not all plants lose their leaves in winter. Evergreen trees such as pine and spruce keep many of their needles through the entire winter and herbs such as hepatica and garlic mustard do not die back to the ground but remain green. As you walk through the forest look for green plants on the forest floor and try to identify them. These plants are some of the first to become active in the spring.
Comments to: David Heithaus, BFEC,