Winter

Hiking around the outdoor loops here at the museum can be rewarding, you never know what you’ll come across. Even though I’ve walked these trails for some eleven years now I and my fellow rangers are still finding new things to discover.

A few weeks ago, Ranger Martha discovered a group of earthstar mushrooms on the Dinosaur Trail. Initially, earthstars look like onions. Eventually the outer “onion” layer splits open creating a star-shaped platform on which sits a small ball-shaped spore sac. There are innumerable spores inside the spore sac.

Earthstar mushrooms.

Earthstars are related to puffballs and they disperse their spores in the same way. Slight pressure, or a raindrop, on the spore sac will send spores flying out of the pointed tip of the sac.

Spore sac of earthstar mushroom.

Fatsia japonica is blooming on the Dino Trail. It naturally attracts whatever insects are active at this time of year, flies of various species, yellowjackets, and false honey ants (also called winter ants), to name a few.

Fatsia in bloom with flies and yellowjackets.
Winter ants and fly on fatsia.

Look over the railing of the boardwalk around our wetland and you may see mosquitofish by the score.

Gambusia, or mosquitofish, at edge of pond.

On one particularly chilling day, I came upon a pickerel frog out and about. Pickerel frogs don’t necessarily mind the cold. They start breeding in February. But this amphibian was clearly caught out in a place it didn’t want to be. With little energy to hop away as most frogs would do when approached as close as I did this one, the frog walked over to the side of the path and into the leaf litter.

Pickerel frog caught out in the cold.
Walking away.

Near the end of an overcast day, the sky had cleared to the west as the sun dove for the horizon. The tips of the trees on the east side of the wetlands caught the sun’s rays just as it emerged from the clouds.

The last bit of the sun.
Good light at the end of the day.

It was a Saturday morning and the temps were in the fifties. As I looked out over the water of our wetland for any hooded mergansers that might be present, I spotted one bird. It was a duck, and like the mergansers, it was a diving duck. It was not, though, a merganser, perhaps a bufflehead, maybe a redhead. Both redheads and buffleheads have been seen in our wetlands in the past.

Strange duck in our wetlands.

Since I didn’t have my binoculars with me, I got out my camera in hopes of zooming in on the bird to see just what duck it was. At first, the bird stayed close to cover but finally drifted out into view. Either way, I could see it was a ring-necked duck, a first for our wetland. Ring-necked ducks are common on our local reservoirs, and even some of our small lakes and ponds, but I’d never seen one here at the museum. Tick!

Male ring-necked duck.

Don’t struggle to see the ring on this bird’s neck. The bird would have to be in your lap for you to see the reddish-brown ring around its lower neck.

Finally, if you’re not seeing anything that interests you as you walk the paths of the museum, stop off at the Red Wolf Enclosure, I’m sure you’ll see something worthwhile there.

Male 1803.

Enjoy!

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