“Beautiful comical things..”

(Another non-frog blog for the adults. My title comes from F. W. Harvey’s poem Ducks, written in 1919 just after World War I. It fits my mood.)

“From troubles of the world
I turn to ducks,
Beautiful comical things..”

In the spring the ducks and geese fly back north.

Some stop in Maine to breed, but some keep going. En route, they rest, so we see species for a short time that we don’t see in the summer or the winter. This bar chart tells me when each species is typically seen where I live, and you can see that some ducks stick around, and some come and go:


They will rest on small ponds, like my secluded beaver pond:DSC04759


The transients include Common Goldeneye, and Ring-necked Ducks. I am not often here at this time of year, so I have been delighted to see these ducks on my pond. I can’t get close, they are skittish, and the shoreline is marshy so they stay out in open water. Here is a Common Goldeneye

Common Goldeneye

Common Goldeneyes mainly breed in Canada and Alaska, where they nest in tree cavities. They often winter over on the Gulf or Pacific coasts,  along with other Canadians (who are often appropriately referred to as Snowbirds). They eat mainly fish and invertebrates, and a little vegetation.

Below are two different male Ring-necked Ducks, which I find charmingly clownish with their striped beaks. They remind me irresistibly of rubber duckies.


In the first photo you just see the neck-ring:

Ring-necked duckRing-necked duck

They eat submerged vegetation, and invertebrates, and they nest amongst the low marshy bushes and plants. They mainly breed further north, but I still have two pairs of on May 7th, and they do occasionally nest here, so maybe I’ll get lucky and they will stay.

Another time, I’ll show you some of the ones that routinely stay and breed including Common Mergansers, Hooded Mergansers, Wood Ducks, American Black Ducks (and Mallards and Canada Geese).


Frog Blog 8: Legs!!


Yesterday I wasn’t sure, but this morning it is official. The tiniest imaginable legs have appeared.  They are really hard to photograph because as they get bigger they swim faster and faster and wriggle more and more, but can you see the tiny leg here?


This is now 27 days after hatching, and I think it now takes about 10 more days for them to turn into frogs, which seems awfully fast to me! I have put lots of them back in the pond, and kept less than ten, so they have plenty of space.

I will put some bigger rocks in their bowl for them to climb onto.

Watch this space.




Frog Blog 7

(Keep reading, even if the tadpoles are not doing much… there’s a cool photo lower down.)

The tadpoles are even bigger now, but STILL no legs!! They hatched 24 days ago, and the legs usually appear between 20-30 days after hatching, so it must be pretty soon. Here’s a photo to show you their size now. (I lost my dime, so this is next to a one cent piece, about the same size!).


When I was getting water the other day, something big was skipping around on the surface of the water. It was a Fishing Spider, Dolomides triton..

Dolomedes triton, the fishing spider

She was right near the frogs’ eggs, which are now surrounded by millions of tadpoles, so she was obviously hunting them.  She waits for the tiny ripples created by her prey, then she runs across the water and grabs them and injects them with her venom.

Her Greek name is Triton, the mythological son of Poseidon the god of the sea, who acted as his father’s messenger. Here he is , and I don’t think my spider looks much like him !


Beauty in small things

Lichen are so tiny and so close to the ground that we often ignore them. In close up they are fascinating. They are a fungal host in symbiosis with either algae or cyano-bacteria, which perform photosynthesis , under the protective cover of the fungal host. The component organisms cannot live independently: they need each other to survive.

It is possible to observe roughly how they reproduce, although many of the details are still not well understood. They have a variety of different methods.

The Trumpet lichen, of the genus Cladonia, extrudes tiny trumpet-shaped stalks called podetia:

Cladonia sp. lichen

The little pea-like objects inside the podetia are the lichen “spores”. More properly, they are called soredia, and they are granules of algae and fungi ready to disperse and start a new lichen. Here they are in close-up.

Cladonia sp. lichen

Other lichens have different strategies. This is a ruffle lichen, as I usually find them, on a fallen tree branch. .

Ruffle lichen

This one, however, looked different.

Ruffle lichen

In close-up, those brown patches are shiny:

Ruffle lichen

They are, I think, isidia: small growths of the upper cortex with a shiny surface, and they are the fruiting bodies of this type of lichen. They are brown after rain, they turned black the next day when they were dry,  then brown again after another rainy night.

The lichen below is a species of pelt lichen, Peltigera, that grows on rock, and the reddish brown upcurled lobes are the fruiting bodies:

Pelt species, with reddish brown lobes that are fruiting bodies

The moral of this tale is look closely at your lichen, especially after rain, and you might be delighted. This illustration is from a 1908 German book, entitled “Flora im Winterkleide”, or “Flowers in winter dress”, the artist clearly recognizing the beauty to be found in small things.


Frog Blog 6

The tadpoles are growing apace.  Here are three photos, taken over a total of two weeks, to show you how much they have grown.  If you hover over each photo you can see when it was taken. How long do you think it will be before the legs appear?? I am guessing within a week, fingers crossed.

I have put some of the tadpoles back in the pond, because I thought they needed more room to swim around. I have kept about 16 for now, and I may put a few more back as these get bigger and bigger, But they have a good safe place to live with me, and I am feeding them well, and there are no predators in my kitchen!

In with the tadpoles this morning was a tiny miniature water snail. Here it is next to the dime to show you how small it is:


In close-up it is very pretty. Look carefully at the next photo and look for two things: its eyes, and its mantle. “What’s a mantle”, you ask. Patience, and I’ll tell you!


First, the eyes. They are the two tiny black dots at the base of the tentacles. The mantle is the soft part of the snail, and in some snails, like this one, it has flaps that partly fold out over the outside of the shell.

It walks around using its entire body like one huge foot. Here is a picture of one taken from underneath, when it is walking around on the inside of a glass bowl.

pond snail


Clothed with scarlet*

[For the adults who don’t read my Frog Blogs, here is a grownup post. I started this one a while ago, and it never got sent because I got distracted, but I thought you might enjoy it anyway, and I updated it with one more scarlet bird.]

American Robins (both sexes) have striking red breasts, and when you see one in a field it stands out from its surroundings in a way that seems to invite attention.

American robins

But then you see one in an apple tree amongst last year’s apples, and suddenly it almost disappears:


Cedar Waxwings, Bombycilla cedrorum,  are handsome birds:

cedar waxwings

And they too were eating the rotting apples as winter refused to relinquish its grip:

cedar waxwings

They are called waxwings after the vermillion tips of their wing feathers, apparently dipped in sealing wax by an unseen hand. You can see them peeping out on the lower of the two birds. Their Latin name Bombycilla means silky tail, because the plumage is especially soft. Wouldn’t you love to be able to touch one? I think it is why so they are very hard to photograph, because the feathers are extremely fine, and my brilliant camera struggles to focus!

And a month later, I saw this stunning Red-bellied Woodpecker, Melanerpes carolinus:


They are not rare, but for me it was my first glimpse. Like all our woodpeckers at this time of year they are drumming like crazy to attract a mate, which makes them easier to find in the woods. Why it is called Red-bellied when it has this flame-coloured head and nape, I cannot imagine.

* The robins in the snowy tree inspired my title,  from the King James’ Bible, Proverbs 31:21

She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet.  

Frog Blog 5

Answer to the Mystery Photo from last time: The photo was of a Mayfly nymph. It breathes through a forest of feathery gills:


The beautiful Mayfly that emerges looks like this:

Mayfly, sub-imago, also called a dun.

Back to the tadpole. They are getting really big now. But this morning I was puzzled. In amongst all the big guys was one teensy one. I took a picture of it next to one of the giants:


What has happened? Did this one just hatch very late? Maybe, but I have a different theory.

A week ago, the wood frogs stopped making their quacking sounds, and returned to the woods. Instead, the spring peepers began. Here is what they sound like:

Spring peepers are even smaller than wood frogs. Here is a picture of a full-grown one one on the edge of a hydrangea leaf:

spring peeper

So I think the tiny tadpole is a spring peeper tadpole that was swimming around in my pond, and when I put in fresh water yesterday I scooped it up by mistake and now it’s in my aquarium. Anyway, I’ll keep watching him (or her) and keep you posted.