Nature bummin’ with Kirk Gentalen
My family recently gave me one of those clip-on, macro lenses that attaches to my phone (cellular not terrestrial). It allows close-up photo documentation and was a birthday present. I don’t normally gush over gear, but this one was an instant game changer. “New tools bring new opportunities,” or is it “with new tools comes great opportunities?” Whatever I may mean—the timing of the gift couldn’t have been better. Not only was it for my birthday, but the vernal pools on the peninsula are bubbling with amphibian egg masses and life in early spring! I know—just when you thought life couldn’t get any better!
From the 15 or so vernal pools I have had the pleasure to visit in St. George, Wood Frog and Spotted Salamander egg masses are the amphibian eggs most likely to be present.
Wood frogs lay sizable egg masses (up to 1,500 eggs) soon after arriving at the pools (this year that was early-mid April). The eggs usually hatch within three weeks. The egg masses, shells, and yolk are clear, so observing the Wood Frog embryos develop prior to hatching,—as odd as that may sound—is easy.
Over a two-week period, repeat visits to a couple of local pools took the frog embryos from rolled-up specks, to unfurled blobs and eventually to gilled tadpoles and hatching! Photos taken with the new tool added to the lessons and appreciation of vernal pool life—even from the comforts of home! In the end, May 13th was the Wood Frog hatching day at Maine Coast Heritage Trust’s Bamford Preserve on Long Cove, and to be at a vernal pool when thousands of tadpoles were erupting is pretty cool and exciting. I was there to welcome the tadpoles to freedom, catch some views of their first attempts at swimming and to snag a photo or two!
While vernal pools are often “turnaround zones” for early spring strolls, an entire walk can be thought of as the “destination.” And there are always numerous distractions by which to get side-tracked along the way.
Owl pellets are distractions I am happy to take a closer look at, and there is no shortage of pellets to be found in the woods of mid-coast Maine. These pellets consist of non-digestables (fur and bones) from an owl’s recent meal, wrapped up tight and coughed up while the owl is perched. Earlier this month a Great-horned Owl was kind enough to regurgitate a pellet right along the path I take to the vernal pool down the road. With each inspection, the pellet showed sign of breaking down as the fur was being washed away, exposing a rodent skull and bones within. As if that weren’t cool enough, keeping tabs on the bones turned up three rodent lower mandibles, which meant that the owl caught three rodents before coughing up this pellet. Must have been a great hunting night!
While on a visit to the vernal pools by the Town Forest Loop trail I came across a pile of coyote scat right in middle of the trail, classic coyote style. Coyote scat is a common sight on the peninsula for sure, but this scat was the first I’ve found this year that had some movement in it (pun indeed!). A small, but strong contingent of Carrion Beetles (Oiceoptoma novaboracense) was finding nourishment from the waste of a product the coyote had passed on (pun again!). These beetles will often scurry or burrow when approached, but either this “scat was so good” or this particular group was in a “scat coma” as they just stayed in position, outwardly showing no interest in my large, looming presence. I used the new tool to gain a close-up Carrion Beetle perspective, while limiting my close-up time and potential impact on the beetles. They have a crappy, but important job to do, and so I left them to their own.
I have a friend who leaves his camera at home on purpose at times. Apparently, he feels that his pursuit of the perfect shot can take away from his observing of wildlife. I have never felt this. Binoculars, spotting scopes, cameras, field guides—they are all tools meant to enhance an observation, expand an understanding, and continue a lesson. The simple act of taking a close-up photo requires slowing down and taking a closer look. That, right there, is a lesson unto itself every time. Enjoy the little things!
PHOTOS: Kirk Gentalen