Category Archives: Observing Our Land

Lathrop’s Quiet Vernal Pools

by Barbara Walvoord

First Printed in Lathrop Lamp Post, Nov.  18-24, 2017

Last spring, our vernal pools were jumping with visible life.  Mating wood frogs quacked in a loud chorus.   On rainy nights, salamanders paraded en masse to the pools from their woodland borrows and rockpiles. New-hatched fairy shrimp darted about in the water. Later, tadpoles and baby salamanders popped out feet and developed lungs. Predators circled–turtles, snakes, owls.

All that springtime life and movement is a race against time, because, at least every few years, vernal pools, by definition, dry up in summer, creating an environment free of the fish that would otherwise eat the eggs of vernal pool creatures.  Fish-free is good, BUT–the creatures have to adapt to the summertime drying and wintertime freezing of the pool.  Fairy shrimp lay eggs that stay in Continue reading Lathrop’s Quiet Vernal Pools

Advertisements

Berries at Lathrop: Good and Bad

by Barbara Walvoord

First published in Lathrop Lamp Post Oct. 7 – 13, 2017

Imagine you’re a bluebird, say, or a chickadee. You’ve lived happily at Lathrop all summer long, eating lots of insects and feeding them to your nestlings.

Unfortunately, with cold weather, insects are getting scarcer.  But nature has provided lots of nutritious berries on shrubs and trees, hanging conveniently above the snow cover, out of the reach of bobcats and housecats.

As a bird, at Lathrop you’ll find good berries and bad berries.  The good berries hang on native plants.  You’ve co-evolved with these Continue reading Berries at Lathrop: Good and Bad

Indian Pipes: Visible Signs of Invisible Connections

by Barbara Walvoord

Originally published in Lathrop Lamp Post Sept. 9-15, 2017

Indian pipes (sometimes called ghost plants) bloom on both campuses–on the north campus along the path in the forest, and on the east campus not only in the forest but also along Bassett Brook Drive, across from the Inn, under a group of large white pine trees.  You can see them from the sidewalk.

Indian pipe is white, so people sometimes think it’s a fungus, but it’s actually a plant related to the blueberry family.  Unlike most plants, Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora)  don’t use sunlight to produce their own chlorophyll–hence they’re not green,  and they can grow in a sunless forest understory.

But they still need the sugar from chlorophyll.  They get that sugar from the trees under which they grow.  The relationship is a Continue reading Indian Pipes: Visible Signs of Invisible Connections

Lathrop’s Deer: A Complex Society

by Barbara Walvoord

First published in Lathrop Lamp Post August 17, 2017

This fawn, recently photographed by resident Doris Atkinson on the east campus, is moving about with its mother, still nursing, but learning, among other things, the communication skills it will need as an adult.

Communication began at birth in May.  A loud bleat meant “Mom, where are you?” and a soft nursing murmur meant, “Mmm, this is good.”  By lying perfectly still, and having almost no body odor, our spotted fawn communicated to our coyotes and bobcats, “Fawn? What fawn?  There’s nobody here–just dappled shade.”

But now that our fawn is up and about, it must learn to communicate within a complex social unit consisting of related females, their fawns and yearlings, and adult males, all of which have contiguous or Continue reading Lathrop’s Deer: A Complex Society

A Banquet of Goldenrod at Lathrop

by Barbara Walvoord

Originally publish in Lathrop Lamp Post August 10, 2017

We have banquets for humans at Lathrop–the 4th of July picnic, the lobster feast, the Thanksgiving day meal.  But we also have banquets for our non-human residents.  Right now, goldenrod is on the menu.  The most numerous native wild flower in Lathrop east campus meadows, goldenrod is turning our land into a rich yellow banquet for our wild residents.

ACHOO! you may be saying.  However, goldenrod is not the culprit; instead, it’s ragweed, which blooms at the same time. Resident Alice Richardson, a landscape architect who knows a TON about native plants, explained the general rule to me in an e-mail: “As a general rule, most pollen allergens are produced by visually insignificant flowers which are typically wind pollinated – e.g. some trees, most grasses, ragweed.  Showy flowers have evolved to attract pollinators Continue reading A Banquet of Goldenrod at Lathrop

Picky Eaters at Lathrop

by Barbara Walvoord

(Originally printed in Lathrop Lamp Post July 20, 2017)

Butterflies are not as numerous as we remember from our childhoods, but numbers of them still visit our Lathrop gardens and meadows.  This eastern black swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes) was sipping nectar from a native blazing star (Liatris spicata) in Sharon’s and my front cottage garden.

Black swallowtail butterfly on blazing star in Sharon’s and my garden, July, 2017

Butterflies may sip nectar from a variety of flowers, both native and alien.  This eastern black swallowtail,  says my butterfly  book, will even sip from purple loosestrife, a horrible invasive that has made thousands of acres of wetland inhospitable to most wildlife. Continue reading Picky Eaters at Lathrop

Hosts at Lathrop

by Barbara Walvoord

(Originally printed in Lathrop Lamp Post July 27, 2017)

If you walk our meadows these days, it might look as though a host of different butterflies–fritillaries, monarchs, swallowtails, blues, crescents–are flitting around a host of different flowers–black-eyed susans, Joe Pye weed, goldenrod, purple coneflower, blue vervain, and daisy fleabane–all in a whirling riot of color and flight.

But these butterflies and plants will pair up when it comes time for the butterflies to lay the eggs that will hatch into caterpillars. Then “host” will have a very specific meaning.

A plant is said to “host” a butterfly not merely when the butterfly sips its nectar, but when the butterfly can lay its eggs on the plant, and the hatching larvae (caterpillars) can eat the plant.  Plants develop chemicals that repel eaters, and co-evolving caterpillars develop ways to overcome the defenses, usually only the defenses of Continue reading Hosts at Lathrop