Signs of spring evident in nature walk

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Hampton - posted Tue., Apr. 19, 2011
Visitors listen as Juan Sanchez (with stick) describes the residents of a man-made pond at Goodwin State Forest. Photos by Melanie Savage.
Visitors listen as Juan Sanchez (with stick) describes the residents of a man-made pond at Goodwin State Forest. Photos by Melanie Savage.

Wood frogs can freeze solid over the winter, reanimate in the spring, and head out to find a mate. Spotted salamanders survive the cold by burrowing underground and entering a state of hibernation. Both species are busy procreating at this time of year, and their egg masses were found in abundance during an April 16 walk at Goodwin State Forest.

Hosted by seasonal naturalist Juan Sanchez, the program, entitled “Spring Awakening,” led visitors on a walk along some of the paths of the 2,000 acres that make up the park.

Despite unseasonably cold temperatures, signs that spring is here were visible everywhere. “This is a sure sign of spring,” said Sanchez, taking hold of a slender branch of a hazel tree. Sanchez pointed to the long, green, tail-like growths hanging from the branch. “These hold the male flowers,” he said, “and these are the females.” The female flowers of the tree, found at the ends of the branches, are tiny, delicate, single magenta blooms. “If you were just walking in the woods you wouldn’t even notice them,” said Sanchez.

Nearby grew the pungent leaves of the skunk cabbage, shielding the plant’s unassuming flower. The skunk cabbage produces its own heat, and the water around it can be 20 to 27 degrees higher than the surrounding air. “We think it allows it to come up earlier through the ice,” said Sanchez. The combination of the heat and the odor is highly attractive to the season’s first flies, which head to the shelter of the flower’s spathe and mate there, concurrently pollinating the flower. “It’s one of those interesting symbiotic relationships of nature,” said Sanchez.

Sanchez pointed out fungi that looked like charcoal and rust. He pointed out bacteria that produce a flammable methane by-product. He pointed to an area where there were eight or nine trees toppled onto their sides. “This is probably the result of a single event,” he said. At a vernal pool along the side of the road, Sanchez picked up a mass of spotted salamander eggs so that visitors could get a closer look. The key characteristic of a vernal pool for breeding amphibians is the lack of fish, he said. Spotted salamanders produce a mass of 50 to 75 eggs. “If there were any fish in there,” said Sanchez, “they would be eaten right away.”

Back at the Goodwin Forest Education Center, Sanchez had live representatives of some of the local amphibians on display, including a tiny peeper, a wood frog and a spotted salamander. “You have to be really careful when handling them,” he said. “You don’t want to transmit harmful fungus from one to another.”

Goodwin State Forest will be hosting a Trails Day on June 4. The event will feature a variety of activities, including a bike ride, a garden walk and a fishing program. The park is located on Potter Road in Hampton.

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