Building in the Wetlands has Begun!

by Barbara Walvoord

(from Lathrop Lamp Post of March 16, 2017)

At Lathrop, we human residents are mapping and flagging our wetlands so as NOT to build on them.  If our plans involve wetlands, our town Conservation Commissions, backed by state and local laws, will require us to submit descriptions and diagrams, notify abutters, post a notice in the newspaper, and appear at a hearing.

Meanwhile, ignoring the flags and the paperwork, Lathrop’s red-winged blackbirds, early harbingers of spring, newly returned from wintering in the south, are busy building their homes in our wetlands.

red-winged blackbird. By Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren – Red-winged Blackbird, CC BY 2.0,

The nest is what Habitat for Humanity would call a “woman build.”  The nest site is low to the ground or water surface, among clustered stems of plants like cattails, alder, goldenrod, or blackberry.  Our builder weaves stringy plant material around several close, upright stems to make a platform.  Around and over this, she adds more wet Continue reading Building in the Wetlands has Begun!

Critters on the Snow

by Barbara Walvoord

(From Lathrop Lamp Post, Feb. 16,  2017)

Lots of creatures are moving on top of Lathrop snow–squirrels,  rabbits, raccoons, foxes, and bobcats.

But some tiny black specks you see on the snow might be seeds or dust–until they jump.

enlarged snow flea from Wikipedia.
Close-up of snow flea.

These are so-called snow fleas (Hypergastrura nivicola), though they are not fleas.  They belong to group of primitive insects called “springtails” (collembola) so named because two small latches hold their tails under their bodies, and when the latches are released, the tails spring out and catapult the snow fleas up to 100 times their own length–like one of us jumping the length of two football fields. Continue reading Critters on the Snow

“I’m Freezing!”–Literally

by Barbara Walvoord

(From Lathrop Lamp Post Feb. 9, 2017)

Sharon and I found this wood frog on November 16, on the east campus wide woods path. near two of Lathrop’s vernal pools (see trail maps of both campuses at .

Yikes!  What is this tender little creature doing now that its world is all frozen?

It’s hunkered down in the leaf litter–frozen.  Its heartbeat and breathing have stopped. A special antifreeze keeps its cells from freezing, but  ice has formed between its cells.

In early spring,  our wood frog will thaw out, emerge from the leaf litter, start eating slugs, worms, bugs, and snails, and, if it’s not picked off by some snake, turtle, raccoon, coyote, fox, or bird, go find the vernal pool it was born in.  Though a vernal pool, by definition, has no streams running into and out of it, it fills up in spring with snow melt, rain, and ground water, just in time for frogs to mate. Continue reading “I’m Freezing!”–Literally

Lathrop’s Hard-Headed Residents

By Barbara Walvoord

(From Lathrop Lamp Post Feb. 9, 2017)

Some of Lathrop’s human residents may be a bit hard-headed, truth to tell, but if you walk on our land these days you may hear our most hard-headed resident–the pileated wood pecker, whose loud drumming or whinnying cry rings through the woods.  Crow-size, it’s America’s largest woodpecker.  Sharon and I were lucky to see one the other day, energetically pounding away at a dead tree behind our house, it’s red-crested head whamming back and forth, and wood chips flying all around.

Pileated woodpecker holes on east campus
Pileated woodpecker holes on east campus

Many residents are drawn to Lathrop because of our beautiful forests, and the same is true for our pileated woodpeckers. However, to a woodpecker, the most beautiful tree is a dead one with lots of carpenter ants and other insects burrowed into it. Continue reading Lathrop’s Hard-Headed Residents

Lathrop’s Vernal Pools

by Barbara Walvoord

(from Lathrop Lamp Post, Feb. 2, 2017)

Vernal pools are a unique and threatened habitat.  Lathrop’s east campus is very fortunate to have two just off the wide woods path, and one just off the southwest corner of the mid-woods meadow (map, see

A vernal pool, by definition, has no permanent above-ground outlet. It fills with seasonal rains, and it dries up in late summer, at least every few years.  That drying eliminates fish, who otherwise would gobble down small critters like fairy shrimp, wood frogs, and mole salamanders who can survive only in a vernal pool. Many other creatures use vernal pools for food or habitat.  

Jefferson salamander. . Photo by Virginia State Parks staff (SH Jefferson Salamander Uploaded by AlbertHerring) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Jefferson salamander. . Photo by Virginia State Parks staff (SH Jefferson Salamander Uploaded by AlbertHerring) [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
Some creatures spend their whole life in the vernal pool, laying eggs in the bottom that can survive both drying and freezing.  Others spend part of their life cycle in the surrounding forest. Marching to the pool to breed, many are crushed crossing roads. Continue reading Lathrop’s Vernal Pools

Birth Announcement–We Hope

by Barbara Walvoord

(From Lathrop Lamp Post, Jan. 26, 2017)

Our  black bears are mostly sleeping away the winter  in their dens, but mama does wake up in January or February for one important event–giving birth.  She’ll have 1-4 cubs, though 2 are most common.

The newborns, less than a pound, are blind and hairless.  Mama stays sufficiently awake to avoid lying on them and make it easy for them to nurse.  Her milk must get them up to 4-6 pounds by spring.  Nursing, with no food for herself, she may lose up to 1/3 of her body weight, while non-nursing bears lose only 15-25%. Continue reading Birth Announcement–We Hope

It’s a Mini-tree! It’s a Wildflower! It’s a Moss! It’s a Fern!

by Barbara Walvoord

(Originally printed in Lathrop Lamp Post Jan. 19, 2017)

Walking in our woods in winter, I often see these strange plants that look like miniature evergreen trees. Wondering about their name, I looked in my tree book. Nope.  Hmm.  My wildflower book.  Nope.  So I asked north campus resident Helen Armstrong, who knows a heap about native plants, and she said, it’s Lycopodium obscurum, commonly called tree club moss, though my web sources classify it as a fern or “fern ally.”

The ancestors of our tree club moss were100 feet tall, growing 300 million years ago in the swamps of the Carboniferous geological period, rising among the early amphibians, spiders, and 800 types of cockroaches, and then falling, eventually to form coal. Continue reading It’s a Mini-tree! It’s a Wildflower! It’s a Moss! It’s a Fern!