Skunk Cabbage

All posts tagged Skunk Cabbage

By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator

Circles of Snowdrops are blooming around Ashland right now-- our first Sign of Spring. Image by Derek Stoner, February 19, 2012.

On February 19th, the Second Annual Signs of Spring Contest officially began.  The contest should really be called a “Challenge” as that is what faces participants when filling out a sheet that proposes trying to align twenty different Signs across ten weeks.   The Challenge lies in guessing when the Signs might appear based up0n knowledge of natural history, understanding of seasonal rhythms, a bit of climate forecasting,  and admittedly, a bit of luck!

The first day of the contest saw the expected observations of blooming Snowdrops and emerging Skunk Cabbage.  These plants actually started bursting forth in the early part of February this year, with the incredibly mild temperatures spurring the emergence of many plants.

Skunk Cabbage, a fascinating wetland plant, is emerging all over the wetlands at Ashland. Image by Derek Stoner, February 19, 2012.

As Week 2 began, the next two official observations made the records:  On February 27 Sarah Stapley reported Wood Frog egg masses at the vernal pools  along Sharpless Road, on the northern edge of Ashland’s property.  These frogs are busy laying dozens of egg masses and creating quite a commotion with their persistent, duck-like chuckles.  

On February 28th, a Groundhog ran by outside the window near David Pragoff’s desk, thus becoming the first groundhog of the official count period.  Earlier in February, a groundhog dared to appear before we had even filled out our contest spreadsheets!

A pair of Wood Frogs in amplexus at the Backyard Habitat Pond at Ashland Nature Center on March 1, 2012. Image by Derek Stoner.

Today, March 1, the Wood Frog activity has begun around the Ashland Nature Center Building, with more than 20 frogs gathered in the pond adjoining our butterfly house.   This pond is a featured section of the Backyard Wildlife Habitat Garden, and will be host to many species of frogs throughout the coming months.  But for now, the Wood Frogs own the pond!   Come out to Ashland  in the next few days to catch this show before they disappear for another year.

Thank you to the 26 entrants in this year’s Signs of Spring Contest.  Next week we will have an update of how our contestants are faring– in another installment of the Signs of Spring.    In the meantime, please share with us your sightings of Signs of Spring from your backyard or favorite natural area nearby. 

By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator

A burst of blooming Snowdrops along a sunny bank at Ashland. Image by Derek Stoner.

At the end of the first week of the Signs of Spring Contest, February 21-27, a flurry of emergences occurred. 

On February 24, Amy White reported the first Skunk Cabbages blooming, in the old marsh across Barley Mill Road from Ashland. 

On February 25th, Jill Constantine and Sarah Stapley reported finding Snowdrops in full bloom near the covered bridge.  Also on that day, Spring Peepers started calling in the Ashland Marsh– a relatively quiet chorus, but a start nonetheless.

Not the first, not the second, but maybe the third Groundhog seen at Ashland this year. Observed March 2 outside the butterfly house at the center. Image by Derek Stoner.

A new week (February 28 to March 6) is underway, and already a couple of new sightings are being reported. 

On February 28, Jean Beattie spotted a male Groundhog dashing by the front door of the nature center.   Later that evening, a light rain and temperatures in the mid-50’s coaxed the first Wood Frogs to emerge.  After dark, I found a female Wood Frog crossing the driveway on her way to the marsh.  As is (my) tradition at Ashland, I captured her and put her in a holding cage overnight. 

The "First of Season" female Wood Frog poses before heading into the marsh for the breeding season. Image by Derek Stoner.

The next morning she made the rounds at the office, proudly on display as the “First Official Wood Frog of 2011” before heading outside for a quick photo session and release into a puddle near the marsh.  Overnight the puddle had developed a skim of ice, so that frog was dipping into some chilly water for her first swim of the New Year.  Wood Frogs are incredibly hardy amphibians, and well-known for their ability to deal with icy and snowy conditions during their early emergences.   And in other early-emerging news, Jim White spotted the first Snapping Turtle of the year on March 1 in the Ashland Marsh.

Now we wait for the big numbers of Wood Frogs to make their way down to the marsh and begin the egg laying extravaganza.  That is the next big sign we are waiting for: Wood Frog Egg Masses! 

Signs of Spring Contest Update:

For clarification purposes, sightings of Tree Swallow, Barn Swallow and House Wren must be of birds that are returning to the property and spending time at Ashland.  This is to differentiate from migrants that simply fly over and do not land on Ashland turf.

For those keeping score, we already have 5 of the 20 Signs of Spring accounted for at Ashland: Snowdrops and Skunk Cabbages blooming, Spring Peepers calling, Groundhog and Snapping Turtle.

What Signs of Spring are you seeing around your homes and local natural areas?