Pretty in Pink

So, as it turns out, even slime can be pretty.

On two recent hikes, first at the Deerfield Trail and then at the Gateway Trail, my eye was drawn to something startlingly pink among the many shades of brown in the autumn forest floor.

Pink?!

And not just one, but two different organisms with two different pinks.

I’ve done some research online and in my handy-dandy Audubon field guide to mushrooms, and I think these are what I found.

Wolf’s Milk Slime (Lycogala epidendrum)

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I made no adjustments to the lighting or color of this photograph. Note that the “cushions” of this slime mold can be light peachy pink (center), more intense coral pink (leftmost), or beige with a pink undertone (upper right).

These pink “cushions” are the sporangia stage of a plasmodial slime mold.  Both the  Mushroom Expert website and Audubon field guide report that they are filled with a pink paste.  (I didn’t poke them or cut them open in the field and now I wish that I had!)  The species is also called “toothpaste slime” because of this filling’s resemblance to pink toothpaste.

The slime mold produces the sporangia (cushions) when the environmental conditions change (become sunnier, drier) and it’s no longer a nice, wet place for a fungus to munch.  The sporangia distribute the “baby” slime mold cells, called spores.

Wolf’s Milk cushions are fairly common, usually found on large fallen logs, exactly as I found this specimen, usually May through November (ditto).

Their other, “plasmodial” stage, is really cool!  Plasmodial slimes are flowing, protoplasmic organisms that move and eat whatever is in their path.  They are the original inspiration for creepy movie creatures like “The Blob.”

Super cool video of a yellow plasmodial slime mold moving.

Science meets art meets slime mold video.

 

Hemitrichia calyculata ?

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Again, I have made no alteration to the color or lighting in this photograph.  These sporangia are just exactly that hot pink, and each little ball is, at most, the size of a pin head.

Patience.  A naturalist needs patience.  And plenty of time to spend on patience.

I photographed these slime mold sporangia (not that I knew what they were at the time) as I began the hike up the Gateway Trail a few weeks ago.

I snapped the picture and kept moving because 1) It was already mid-afternoon and I had no idea how long it would take me to climb the mountain and 2) the hike was doing double duty as exercise for the body and nature time for the soul, so I had to keep my heart rate up.

If only I could have sat and watched these little pinkies evolve, I might be able to better identify exactly which species of slime mold they are.  The slime molds often complete an entire life cycle (protoplasmic plasmodial stage to sporangia stage to spore distribution and seeming disappearance) in just one or two days.  I could, quite literally, have watched it change phases over just a few hours.

Alas, I did not, and my research leads me to the possibility that they are Hemitrichia calyculata (though other photographers more often describe those sporangia as orange), but not the certainty of it.  All I can say is that they are most likely of the Trichiidae family and the Hemitrichia genus within that family.

I sense, however, that these two little pink puzzles are the beginning of a long and interesting relationship between myself and mycology.  Flowers don’t bloom in the winter, but several species of fungus will grow mushrooms as long as the temperature is above freezing.

Winter can get pretty gray and bleak around here, so the prospect of pretty pink (or purple, or blue, or orange, or yellow, or red. . .) in the next few months, even if it’s “slime”, will keep me out and adventuring, looking in the leaf litter for little miracles.

Wonderful Web Resources for Fungi, Mushrooms, and Molds:

Special Note:  I am no mycologist, but even I know that you never, ever eat a wild mushroom without having a certified expert on hand to identify the species and ensure that the fungus isn’t deadly poisonous, because many of them are!

Hanging Out at Hanging Rock

If you want to see golden eagles, bald eagles, broad-winged and red-tailed hawks practically at eye level, soaring on mountain winds to their southern, winter roosts, Hanging Rock Observatory in West Virginia is the place to go.

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The view from the western side of the observatory tower, looking north.

Birders from all over the region make pilgrimages there every fall (migratory bird numbers peak in late September and October) to get their fill of raptors (birds of prey).  The bird spotters who volunteer at the tower identifying and counting birds record huge numbers; check out their season totals and maximum daily counts for 2015:

I’m kicking myself for not making it out to Hanging Rock before this last weekend.  Migration peak has definitely passed.

Then again, migrating raptors may be the headliner, but they aren’t the only story in this clear, crisp autumn day.

The Drive

It takes about an hour and fifteen minutes to get from Blacksburg, VA to the trail head.  The directions consist of three roads:

  1. Take Route 460 past Pembroke.
  2. Turn right onto Route 635 (Big Stony Creek Road), enjoy excellent winding country drive for almost an hour, when you’ll reach Waiteville, WV.
  3. Turn left onto Limestone Hill Road and drive four switchback miles up the mountain till you reach the gravel parking lot with the Hanging Rock sign.

The scenery on the drive is heaven for a mountain-lover like me, and the curves on the road are pure exhilaration.  (This is why there are no pictures of the journey; I was having too much fun driving.)

Fair warning, though, there aren’t places to stop for liquid intake or, um, output, so take provisions and make sure everybody hits the head before you leave.

Second fair warning:  as you may have guessed from the name of Rt. 635, it follows Big Stony Creek for miles and miles.  There are places to pull off and park, and any kid (or middle aged nature nerd, come to think of it) will want to climb down and play in the creek for a while.  Plan some extra time for it; that’s easier than finding child-sized blinders.

The Mountain

Once you’ve arrived in the parking lot, you’re a little more than half way there.

No, seriously.

The .9 mile hike is no joke.  Remember how I described the Gateway Trail in Blacksburg as “a lot of up“?  Yeah, this one may be worse.  The website claims that the hike takes 20 to 40 minutes depending on ability.  Let me translate:  20 minutes for extremely fit mountain goats, at least 40 minutes for the rest of us, who end up feeling like mountain cows.

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You can see that someone has scratched out the .9 distance to the lookout.  I have no doubt that this was done by a bitter, exhausted hiker who wanted the signpost to reflect the “feels like” miles trail, which would be more in the neighborhood of 2.5.

This trail is actually a section of the Allegheny Trail.  It rises about 350 feet to the ridge where the tower sits at 3,800 feet.  Unfortunately, it’s not a steady climb like the Gateway trail.  The first 100 yards are straight-up murder.  Then they throw a fairly flat stretch in.

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A chipmunk I spotted on the trail is sitting smack dab in the center of this photo.  Can you see it?  Try blowing the photo up to full size by clicking on it.  The chipmunk’s brown fur with black stripes provides excellent camouflage in the dead leaves on the forest floor.

Then some more murder.  Then a flat stretch to give you hope.  At the end of that stretch you see the sign “Hanging Rock Observatory .5 miles” and your hope dies like an ingenue in a soap opera.

 

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This is a huge sandstone outcrop that you’ll pass on the trail.  Taking a photo of it is a great excuse to stop for a minute and catch your breath.

Then the trail gets really rocky, so you can use the (completely valid) excuse of watching your step in order to survive the next murderous incline, which seems to go on forever.  Finally, oh, joy, you see the sign that says turn left for the observatory.  And then you look left and see one last insane incline.  You stifle tears, really creative curses, and maniacal laughter and head up.

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Joy of joys, I’m almost there!  Just one more quadricep-killing uphill.

 

You reach the sandstone ridge of massive, overhanging boulders, for which Hanging Rock was named (but, more importantly, which are excellent for leaning against as you attempt to catch the breath that left you a quarter mile ago) then walk the last 30 flat-ish yards to the clearing.  You can see promising blue sky and the observatory building and they inspire you to pick up your pace.  You reach the building, and see at last:  you have another two flights of steps to climb to get to the observation platform.  You briefly consider burning the whole damn thing down, but you’ve come this far, so you make the climb.

And it is so, so, so worth it!

The View

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The view from the observatory building facing northeast.  The setting November sun cast the shadow of the tower over the ridge line. Pictures can’t do it justice.

You are now standing atop Peters Mountain, the longest continuous mountain in the Appalachians, stretching over 50 miles between river gaps.

Facing northeast, you have Spring Creek valley on your left and Potts Mill Creek valley on your right.

 

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Potts Mill Creek Valley and the valley and ridge stretching out to the east/southeast into Virginia.

This is the geographic and geologic transition point from the Valley and Ridge area of Virginia to the Appalachian Plateau of West Virginia.  The roller coaster of ridge and valley stretches out past Potts Mill valley to the east and the high peaks of the plateau make the land to the west look like the bumpy skin of a mountainous gourd.

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Spring Creek Valley and the bumpy Appalachian plateau stretching out to the north and west.

It looks exactly like one of those plastic raised relief maps come to life.  Which it exactly what it is, of course, but seeing it in person sooooo cool.

The Birds

And then, once the little lights stop swimming in front of your eyes from the hike, you see them:  the raptors are soaring on mountain updrafts, headed south, and coming straight toward you!

In my short time in the tower (about an hour, I think), I saw four red-tailed hawks making the trip south.  One of the volunteer birders (and Allegheny Highlands Chapter Virginia Master Naturalist) loaned me his binoculars (I’ve stopped taking my set hiking; they’re old and really heavy) so that I could witness the hawks “kiting” for the first time.

I’m used to seeing hawks waiting patiently on a tree branch or fence post next to an open field, as still as statues until they spot prey, then making a quick swoop in for the kill.  Kiting is very different.

Migrating hawks don’t have the leisure of landing and waiting for the chance of a meal.  It takes too much energy, which they’re trying to conserve.  They hunt on the wing by acting like a kite.  When kiting, a hawk faces into the wind (in this case, the wind moving up the mountain) and makes tiny adjustments in its wing posture to keep its position steady while the wind holds it up – no energetic wing flapping required.  Holding still in mid-air, like a kite tethered to the ground, the hawk is able to get a good view of the open valley and spot prey from the air .  (Their vision is 8 times better than ours – think 20/160; they can see something 160 feet away as well as we see it at 20 feet away.)  It only swoops down, then, when the meal is guaranteed, and the energy from the food in its belly will pay for the energy it takes to flap back up and into the steady winds aloft that will allow it to soar south.

Between red-winged hawk sightings, the ravens kept my eyes and brain plenty busy.  They flitted and frisked all over the mountaintop, seemingly playing in the turbulent winds at the top of the ridge.  I got to watch one making its low, gravelly babble call while it flewTwice.

Though next year I’ll try to get to one of these migration funnel points – places where the geography tends to gather migrating birds in big numbers, such as long mountain ridges they can soar or bits of land between open waters – earlier in the season to see more birds, I’m delighted with what I saw from Hanging Rock even this late in November.  And, had I been able to stay longer, I might have seen even more.  The total counts my birder/Master Naturalist friend made that day were:

  • 1 Bald Eagle
  • 5 Golden Eagles
  • 29 Red-tailed Hawks
  • 2 Sharp-shinned Hawks

My bird count for the day may have been just 4 red-taileds, but I also count 70 minutes of good hiking exercise (yes, the trail back took me 30 minutes – my legs felt like leaden rubber bands), innumerable lungfuls of fresh, cold mountain air, two pretty pink cheeks from the brisk wind, and one mind as empty of stress as the bright blue autumn sky.

 

 

PS – I also spotted a cairn on the trail.  Another stop-for-breath photo opportunity.

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These stacked rocks are called a cairn;  a bit of nature art/architecture left by a previous hiker.  They’re cool to look at and fun to build, but naturalists will tell you that they’re not so good for wildlife.  Animals need those rocks to hide under to escape predators in the summer and escape killing cold winds in the winter.  There’s nowhere to hide in a cairn.  If  you feel inspired to build one, do, but then put the rocks back where you found them before you leave.  Take only pictures, leave only footprints.

 

 

The Best Birthday Gifts Ever

Yesterday was bittersweet.  I have to drive out to Claytor Lake and deflate my kayaks.

That’s right, I said “deflate” and “kayaks”.

This August, on my 38th and best birthday ever, I was given two inflatable kayaks!  I have wanted a kayak for at least two decades.  On this birthday, not only did I receive a one person kayak from my parents, but my hubby also gave me a two person kayak.

This is the bow of the Green Darner as I paddled into Claytor Lake's Twin Hollow on my birthday. No more than five minutes after this shot, I was video chatting with my parents and got to share with them the scene of a mink swimming up to and around my kayak. As I said: Best. Birthday. Ever!

This is the bow of the Green Darner as I paddled into Claytor Lake’s Twin Hollow on my birthday. No more than five minutes after this shot, I was video chatting with my parents and got to share with them the scene of a mink swimming up to and around my kayak. As I said: Best. Birthday. Ever!

I was so happy that I could barely keep my feet on the ground.  I walked around all day saying “Hey, you know what? . . . I have two kayaks!” to the family I was with, who a) knew that already, because they watched me open and inflate them, and b) couldn’t yell at me for bragging because it was my birthday.

Besides, if they did get sick of me, I’d just paddle away . . . in one of my two new kayaks!

My nine year old daughter and her friend adventuring in the two person kayak, the

My nine year old daughter and her friend adventuring in the two person kayak, the “Goldfinch”.

The Intex brand heavy-duty inflatable kayaks came with their own pumps, carrying cases, and easy-assembly paddles.  They were a third or less the cost of a traditional kayak.

I was able to easily inflate and assemble the kayaks.  I think the single person took 15 minutes, and the double (which I did second, and therefore more easily) took maybe 12.

I was on the water in my new kayak (well, one of two, did I mention I have two?) in less than 30 minutes!

The bow of the Green Darner pointed out to the main body of Claytor Lake. I

The bow of the Green Darner pointed out to the main body of Claytor Lake. (I “waterproofed” my phone by putting it in a ziptop plastic bag with a few of those inflated packaging cushions.)

Kayaking is awesome.

Not that I’m really great at it; I like kayaking on slow, flat water (hello, Claytor Lake).  I’m not interested in rapids, nor would I take my precious inflatables where there are mean, sharp rocks that might damage them.  I like the peacefulness of a one-person boat.  The ability to choose my own speed and direction.  The secret coves I can get into because of the boat’s tiny, inch-deep draft.

I’m in it for the freedom, for the quiet, and, of course, for the wildlife!  From my kayak, I’ve gotten closer to turtles, dragonflies, damselflies, great blue heron, schools of shiners, and even mink, than I thought possible.

And the half dozen trips I’ve made did not disappoint.  Check out these photos of lake critters:

What's that, attached to that log? Is it frog eggs? Is it fish eggs? Nope. This is a freshwater bryozoan colony. It's an amazing community of microscopic creatures.

What’s that, attached to that log? Is it frog eggs? Is it fish eggs? Nope. This is a freshwater bryozoan colony. It’s an amazing community of microscopic creatures.

From the middle of summer to the first freeze, the lake air is filled with dragonflies and damselflies fulfilling their biological duties. They'll land just about anywhere, including the arms of a swimmer, in order to have a stable platform for their love nest. Here we see two future parents who have alighted on my kayak's bow.

From the middle of summer to the first freeze, the lake air is filled with dragonflies and damselflies fulfilling their biological duties. They’ll land just about anywhere, including the arms of a swimmer, in order to have a stable platform for their love nest. Here we see two future damselfly parents who have alighted on my kayak’s bow.

If you blow this photo up to full size, you'll see that the rock in the center of this little lake-edge grotto is covered with future damselfly parents.

If you blow this photo up to full size, you’ll see that the rock just to the right of center of this little lake-edge grotto is covered with future damselfly parents.

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This turtle was basking in Crawfish Hollow. Based on my research at the Virginia Herpetological Society website, I think this is an Eastern river cooter (Pseudemys concinna concinna), but I must admit that my turtle identification skills are just beginner level. The thing with turtles is that every time you approach one in the wild to get a better look at it, they slide right into the water to avoid the big, scary predator stalking toward them. I have great hopes, though, because I’ve gotten closer to turtles on the kayak (well, both kayaks – did I tell you that I have two?) than I ever could on foot.

Another turtle basking on a log in the gathered flotsam at the back of Twin Hollow. There were many turtles there but, unfortunately, they were far outnumbered by pieces of litter.

Another two turtles basking on a logs in the gathered flotsam at the back of Twin Hollow.  I’m glad that I already gave the disclaimer about my beginner turtle identification skills, because these have me stumped.  They’re far more domed than the Eastern river cooter and the closer one has an awful lot of red on its neck.   More frustrating than that, though, is that there were many turtles there but, unfortunately, they were far outnumbered by pieces of litter.

Now this turtle I know! It's a hatchling (baby) snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina). This turtle is easily identified even at a distance by its long, long tail. I was luckily enough to be able to gently lift it out of the water with my paddle.

Now this turtle I know! It’s a hatchling (baby) snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina). This turtle is easily identified even at a distance by its long, long tail. I was luckily enough to be able to gently lift it out of the water with my paddle.

This is the largest size snapping turtle you're likely to ever see me handling. Its name is apt, and these turtles at adult size (8-14

This is the largest size snapping turtle you’re likely to ever see me handling. Its name is apt, and these turtles at adult size (8-14″) would easily snap off a misplaced human finger. But this little one is just too cute!

If you, too, would like to see lake critters close up, I highly recommend a kayak.  Or two.

All the Way Up – The Gateway Trail in Fall

I did it!

I hiked nearly 700 vertical feet over 1.4 miles to where the Gateway Trail ends at the crest of Brush Mountain.  (Plus a fairly flat .5 miles each way from the Heritage Park lower parking lot to the trail head, not that I’m counting.)

It was a lot of up.  It took me 51 minutes to get to the top.  I might have made it a few minutes faster but, as always, there were too many cool things to stop and see.

The very coolest was a 2-3″ burnt orange and brown butterfly that, despite the few soft freezes we’ve already had, was fluttering around the top third of the mountain.  It flew too fast for me to identify on the way up, but blessed me on the way down by landing on the side of a large pine tree where it was silhouetted against the sun.  No color was visible, but I didn’t need it – the curled and fluted edges of its wings were highlighted by the setting sun.  There are only two butterflies in this area with such elaborately shaped wings:  the Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis) and the Eastern Comma (Polygonia comma).  Both are found in open woods (which the forests on Brush Mountain really are, now that the undergrowth has died down and most of the leaves have fallen), both have a season that lasts through November, and both are shades of orange and brown.  Honestly, it could have been either one; and though I’d like to have a definite, positive ID, either way I’m overjoyed to have seen one (only my second since living here in the NRV).

That was the only moving wildlife I saw on the whole hike, though I’m not shocked that my big, clomping feet and my heavy breathing scared all of the other critters away.

I did hear a few things up on the mountain, though, the alarm calls of a songbird, letting all of its friends know that there was a dangerous, heavy-footed human about (as if they hadn’t heard all of that heavy breathing anyway); the chirping of crickets from up in the trees (snowy tree crickets?) and, best of all, the low, gravelly calls of ravens.

I have a thing for ravens.  I first noticed them and became aware that they lived in this area my first year out of college.  My husband and I rented a little country house off of Ironto Road.  My parents visited us there a few times and my mom and I used to watch the sunrise.  (This was well before I had my kiddo – when sunrise was still a non-offensive hour to awaken.)  She and I spotted “the biggest crows ever” feeding in the fields behind the house one sunrise.  I’ve been enchanted ever since.

Crows are noticeably huge-er than crows.  They’re incredibly intelligent. They act as excellent wild area janitors by cleaning up all of that troublesome dead meat leftover when an animal dies.  Not to mention that my favorite scary storyteller, Edgar Allan Poe, wrote a mind-melting poem about a raven.  I highly recommend both the poem and the bird.

I made it back to the car just as golden hour turned to dusk.  I left my stress and, truthfully, most of the thoughts in my brain, up on the mountain.  It’s big, it can handle the extra weight.

I came away lighter, carrying only a feeling of accomplishment and the following pictures on my phone.

Cows grazing leisurely greet me as I turn left from Meadowbrook Road to continue on to the trail head.

Cows grazing leisurely greet me as I turn left from Meadowbrook Road to continue on to the trail head.

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I love this little barn. It’s barn-colored, a rusty, brick red that seems welcoming and warm against the clear, chill blue of the autumn sky.

Though most of the deciduous trees are already bare, a few crimson leaved specimens highlight the mountain trails. Here is a young maple, showing off it's cranberry foliage. The red pigments in leaves (unlike the orange and yellow pigments) are manufactured only in the autumn as light decreases and temperatures turn cooler.

Though most of the deciduous trees are already bare, a few crimson leaved specimens highlight the mountain trails. Here is a young maple, showing off it’s cranberry foliage. The anthocyanins are the red pigments in leaves (unlike the orange and yellow pigments) that are are manufactured only in the autumn as light decreases and temperatures turn cooler.

I also love polkadots.  This maple leaf seems to have made its own cherry dots to decorate the background of orangey-yellow made by carotene and xanthophyll pigments that are there all year, hiding under the green of chlorophyll.

I also love polka dots. This maple leaf seems to have made its own cherry dots to decorate the background of orangey-yellow made by carotene and xanthophyll pigments that are there all year, hiding under the green of chlorophyll.

I much prefer the view from the top of Brush Mountain to any I've seen from a tall building.

I much prefer the view from the top of Brush Mountain to any I’ve seen from a tall building.

As I made my way from the trailhead back to the gravel parking lot, one more maple leaf found a way to stun me.  The reds, oranges, and yellows leap out from the dull gray gravel.  This was a better gift than receiving a medal for the hike.  Though, if anyone's offering, I wouldn't say no to a medal!

As I made my way from the trail head back to the gravel parking lot, one more maple leaf found a way to stun me. The reds, oranges, and yellows leap out from the dull gray gravel. This was a better gift than receiving a medal for the hike. Though, if anyone’s offering, I wouldn’t say no to a medal!

Hunting Salamanders at Glen Alton with my Peeps

I am not cool enough to use the word “peeps”.

I know this because I worry about the grammar and spelling of this slang word for “people”.  Still, I’m going to use it anyway, brazenly, because when I hang with my peeps they make me feel cool enough.

My peeps are not my family.  I love hanging with my family, but it’s a whole different wonderful feeling.  My peeps are my fellow Virgnia Master Naturalists.  (New River Valley Chapter, of course.)  These are the nicest, most knowledgeable-but-not-haughty-about-it, most enthusiastic nature nerds you’d ever want to meet.  My peeps.

I took the certification course in 2012-2013, and have kept up my certification with the required 40 hours of volunteer service (I do mine at the local nature center) and eight hours of continuing education every year.

As a part of that continuing education, I helped take the new trainees on their amphibians field trip to Glen Alton Farm.  There was a new teacher who taught us about and helped us search for salamanders in the woods just outside of the farm.

Another view from the main house.  The pond that you see is where we caught the Eastern Newt (Notophthalmus viridescens).

Another view from the main house. The pond that you see is where we caught the Eastern Newt (Notophthalmus viridescens).

I had searched these same woods for salamanders when I trained, but that field trip was in the spring, and this one was in late October.  My main educational take-away was this:  in the spring you can find a wide variety of salamanders hiding under logs on the forest floor (slimeys and duskies and red-backeds and more); after it’s gotten cold in the autumn, the only species hardy enough to still be found are the red-backeds.  All of the others have wisely burrowed into nooks and crannies in the soil to sleep off the winter.  This is a good move for a tasty morsel such as a salamander; the red-backeds we found on that 34 degree morning were ridiculously easy to catch.  If you could find one under whatever log you’d rolled over to check, the salamander was so cold (they’re ectotherms, so their body is the temperature of the surrounding environment) that it barely moved and you could just reach down and gingerly pick it up.  In spring’s warmer weather, they’re quick as lightning, diving under leaf litter and racing in a new direction in a flash.

Two red-backed salamanders (Plethodon cinereus) that we captured, sitting quite still in a plastic storage container, with my hand beneath to provide a solid background.  Under a log, these little guys look at first like a wriggling red  worm.

Two red-backed salamanders (Plethodon cinereus) that we captured, sitting quite still in a plastic storage container, with my hand beneath to provide a solid background. Under a log, these little guys look at first like a wriggling red worm.

So that explains another difference in the two salamander hunts – in spring we found a variety of species, but were only able to catch about a half-dozen of the quick little suckers.  In fall, we only found red-backeds, but were able to catch and observe about 25 of them.

This is the Eastern Newt (Notophthalmus viridescens) that our teacher was able to pluck out of the farm's pond.  Newts don't sleep for the winter because ponds only freezes on top; they're still swimming around (albeit slowly) and probably not thinking about how grateful they should be that ice floats.

This is the Eastern Newt (Notophthalmus viridescens) that our teacher was able to pluck out of the farm’s pond. Newts don’t sleep for the winter because ponds only freezes on top; they’re still swimming around (albeit slowly) and probably not thinking about how grateful they should be that ice floats.

If you haven’t caught a salamander yet, I highly recommend you go on a hunt next spring or summer.  Salamanders are so cool (both literally and figuratively) – check out these salamander facts:

  • Salamanders are amphibians, not reptiles.  Most are born from eggs in laid in fresh water and have gills when they’re young.  They lose the gills as they mature and go ashore to live the rest of their lives on land.  (Exceptions:  the Eastern Newt, which lives on land as a Red Eft for a short period, then returns to the water as an adult and the Hellbender, which is completely aquatic.)
  • Their skin is moist and must stay moist so that they can breathe through it; most species have no lungs.  (Exception:  the family of mole salamanders, which have lungs.)
  • Salamanders are adorably small, usually less than ten inches from tip of their blunt little noses to end of their tails, and the tail may make up more than half of that length.  (Exception:  the Hellbender, which can grow up to 16 inches.)
  • They have cute faces, with huge eyes that help them hunt for insects and arthropods in the low light of the forest floor’s leaf litter and decaying logs.
  • Their mouths are too small to worry about a bite.
  • They must be handled gently and placed back under the leaf litter after a few minutes so their skin doesn’t dry out.

After our salamanders were placed back under their logs and tucked in for the winter (any log rolled over must always be put back, or you’ve just destroyed a habitat), we continued our walk down the trail, chatting about nature and life and all manner of good things on a bright and crisp fall morning.

Getting to walk this trail with like-minded people who also stop every few yards to look at something interesting was just plain awesome.

Getting to walk this trail with like-minded people who also stop every few yards to look at something interesting was just plain awesome.

Time with my nature peeps is the best.

The trail continues beyond this beautiful old farm building, but we nature nerds walk so slow that we had to turn around and head back toward our cars at this point.  Someday, though, I'll bring my family peeps and we'll keep on walking.

The trail continues beyond this beautiful old farm building, but we nature nerds walk so slow that we had to turn around and head back toward our cars at this point. Someday, though, I’ll bring my family peeps and we’ll keep on walking.