Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Memorial Day

It's been a while since I got a chance to wander around Great Meadows and see what is new. So Memorial Day, I got up early and headed over. There was so much to see. I thought I would limit this post to three themes and one pleasant surprise.

As I wandered up the Dike Path I encountered a sizable snapping turtle on the bank. Observing it for a while, I realized that it was a female laying eggs and burying them in the sandy soil. Turtles nesting is the first theme for the day. Later I encountered another Snapping Turtle and a Painted Turtle each digging nests along the banks of the impoundments. Unfortunately, each chose a nesting location near plants, that made it impossible to get unobstructed views of the turtle and their nest.

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110530 &emdash;

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110530 &emdash;

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110530 &emdash;
Backfilling the Nest

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110530 &emdash;
Mom's job is done, The babies will fend for themselves

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110530 &emdash;
Painted Turtle

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110530 &emdash;


Also prevalent around the refuge is the Swamp Iris. This pretty yellow plant, is not native to North America, and is an invasive plant to the refuge. It can be found in clumps ranging from the water in the impoundments to the swamping banks of the river. While photographing the Swamp Iris, I noticed my first Damselflies of the year. Unfortunately, after waiting a while, the two Damselfiles still had not found each other, so I moved on.

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110530 &emdash;

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110530 &emdash;

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110530 &emdash;

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110530 &emdash;

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110530 &emdash;

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110530 &emdash;


At the far side of the refuge, I checked up on the Tree Swallows I had seen earlier. They have started to started to nest, but I can not tell if they've laid eggs yet. While I wait for the appearance of young, I will have to amuse myself with photographing them visiting the nest hole.

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110530 &emdash;

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110530 &emdash;

The pleasant surprise is this following photograph. I stopped to photograph this pretty yellow plant (I'll have to find the name when I have a little more time). As I was reviewing my photos at home, I noticed the tiny red spider on the petal!

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110530 &emdash;

Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Quick Visit

Saturday morning I needed to stop by Great Meadows to catch the "herps" about an upcoming activity. To entertain myself while I waited, I brought a camera.

Early on a holiday weekend, it seemed that most people were sleeping in. The few people there had the refuge to themselves. This family had a budding naturalist in its midst. Many birds he knew by name, and he would us his bird book to identify new ones. The boys identified this frog that stopped to pose for a photo.

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110528 &emdash;

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110528 &emdash;


At the boat ramp by the river a father was teaching his son the joys of fishing.

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110528 &emdash;


Heading back towards the tower I passed this robin that was just posing in the tree. He had been in the same tree on my way up the path. That is not common, so I took a moment to look around. Soon I found why he was hanging in the neighborhood. (Why is it that animals so rarely nest in areas with reasonable camera angles?)

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110528 &emdash;

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110528 &emdash;


Back on the dike I passed a very limber Canada Goose, with a great sense of balance. Besides standing on one leg, while preening its back, it was doing this on a down slope too! I'll have to keep an eye out to see if yoga for geese catches on.

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110528 &emdash;

Thursday, May 26, 2011

School Days

It was early on a quiet Wednesday morning when I arrived at Great Meadows. The weather had started to turn warm. Wandering around the refuge I encountered my first dragonfly and butterfly of the year.

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110525 &emdash;

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110525 &emdash;


With the warm weather the Bullfrogs have started to appear. I've also noticed the Great Blue Herons fishing closer to the edge. Perhaps these facts are related.

<Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110525 &emdash;

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110525 &emdash;

Soon the quiet of the morning was shattered as three school buses of children descended upon the refuge like a cloud of locusts. The majority of the students were from the seventh grade science class at Curtis Middle School in Sudbury. They were participants in the head start program for Blanding's Turtles. Since last fall they were caring for two newly hatched turtles (Kip and Flip-Flop). Today was going to be the day the turtles were going to be released into the wild.

Prior to the release, the students participated in several different activities at the refuge. Here they are seen analyzing the aquatic life in water samples from the refuge to understand the food chain that supports the turtles.
Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110525 &emdash;

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110525 &emdash;


Groups rotated through a station located at the base of the tower, where Bryan Windmiller of the US F&WS Blanding's Turtle project shared more information with them about how the turtles are marked and tracked using a radio transmitter.

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110525 &emdash;
Each turtle tracked is outfitted with a radio transmitter tuned to a particular frequency. The transmitter and antenna is attached using a putty-like epoxy glue. The epoxy allows a solid bond that is not easily dislodged as the turtle traverse the marsh and woods. Thankfully when it is time to replace the transmitter, it is easily pried off. On young turtles, the transmitter is affixed to the middle of their back to help keep them balanced. The total weight of the transmitter and epoxy is kept to less than 5% of their body weight, so that it won't be a burden.

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110525 &emdash;

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110525 &emdash;


Each turtle is tagged with a unique number composed of notches in their shell. (Sort of like cutting a notch in your finger nail.) Scientists have developed an ingenious system using the panels on turtle's shell, it's position near the head / tail, left and right of the head / tail to develop a permanent numbering system. Other vital statistics are logged to later be added to the tracking database.

Blanding's turtles can grow quite old. They don't mature until they are 15 years old. mature females, have their transmitters mounted on the side, so the males may mate with them. By this time the weight of the transmitter is a negligible portion of their total body weight. This turtle was first caught as a mature adult in 1975. That makes the turtle about 50 years old!


Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110525 &emdash;

The class got a chance to handle a mature Blanding's Turtle and a Northern Water Snake. Who believes the stereotype that girls are squeamish? Here are the photos that prove they were leading the way in handling these animals.


Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110525 &emdash;

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110525 &emdash;


Soon it was time for Kip and Flip-flop to be released into their new home. They were released into the reeds near the tower to find their own way. The students pressed around to get a last glimpse as the turtles started to explore their unbounded new world.

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110525 &emdash;

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110525 &emdash;

Elsewhere in the refuge the second grade from the Pompositticut Schol in Stow was investigating the life in the marsh. You cold hear their conversations about frogs, snakes, birds and fish. Hopefully, between these two schools a few children will be infected with the curiosity of nature and a fascination with science to join the next generation of biologists and naturalists to help others appreciate the world

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110525 &emdash;

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110525 &emdash;


As the school children left and quiet descended once again on the refuge, I wandered back out to see what else I could encounter. I happened upon a pair of Northern Water Snakes that were mating. The differences in size didn't seem to matter to them.


Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110525 &emdash;

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110525 &emdash;


All morning long I had been bombarded by the samara ("helicopter") seed pods blowing off of the maple trees. I had tried to capture them in flight, but just couldn't take a photo that captured what I was experiencing. It turns out my favorite photo was these that missed the mark and were floating upon the dark water.

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110525 &emdash;

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Work Day

My mission for this project is to capture the spirit of Great Meadows. That often focuses on the flora and fuana found there. However, Great Meadows would not be as welcoming a place to observe nature if it weren't for the efforts of volunteers that help with some of the maintenance required.

So Monday morning I joined the work crew of Alan Bragg, Frank Lak, and Rick Spofford down by the maintenance barn. Our objective for the day was to fill in as many of the washed out areas and holes caused by sunken muskrat holes on the Dike Trail as possible

I should have known better than to question whether the grey rainy conditions were going to disrupt their plans. Stephen "Ziggy" Zadroga from US Fish & Wildlife Service was there with the front end loader which greatly assisted our efforts.

Ziggy would fill the back of the pickup with a dirt and gravel mix, which we would then shovel into the holes and low spots. After throwing many shovels full of dirt, you start to think about how hard a muskrat had to work to dig that hole; especially when you realize that the muskrat didn't have a shovel.

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110523 &emdash;

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110523 &emdash;

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110523 &emdash;
Alan delivers a shovelful on target

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110523 &emdash;
Frank filling a muskrat hole along the path

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110523 &emdash;
Frank (left) and Rick (right) rake the fill level


Sometimes we would have to compact the dirt with our feet. A couple of places closer to the path we could use the "golf cart". The back end of the pickup truck was quite effective with its double wheels and the truck bed full of dirt and gravel.

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110523 &emdash;
Manually Compression Method

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110523 &emdash;
Automated

While we busy filling in individual holes, Ziggy filled in some of the low areas in the path that were washed away by this spring's flooding. He did have it much easier able to dump bucket loads of dirt and then smooth it down with the bucket. (That's probably why he's smiling.) When he finished, it was smoother than the surface of route 128! Finally the filled in parts of the path were covered with with stone dust to make a packed down surface.

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110523 &emdash;
Front End Loader is great for large washout areas

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110523 &emdash;
Ziggy happy not to have to shovel


Alan, Frank and Rick all started to volunteer from their interest in bird watching. I wondered to myself, if there are many photographers who volunteer to help maintain the refuges. It was obvious from our conversations that they get personal enjoyment from their giving back. Volunteering also allows you to see a side of the refuge that you don't see every day.

Before my critics start to abuse me for writing in the first person plural, using the royal "we", I must thank Alan for taking this photo to prove that I seen the shovel from both ends. In fact I was told that I had pretty good aim shoveling dirt out of the truck bed. So good that they offered to double my pay and keep me around for the afternoon.

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20110523 &emdash;


However, I had committed to Amy that I would also mow the lawn today (more accurately - cut the hay). So wanting to live to see the end of this project, I headed home to ensure marital harmony.

Finally, I want to say thanks to Alan, Frank, Rick and Ziggy. Having had to watch my step while wandering around looking for my next photograph, I personally appreciate your time and efforts. Hope to work with you again.