Almost Time?

Last night on Facebook, a friend commented on one of my nature photos, "Almost time..." Today, I got a frantic call from a different friend. "I'm calling about the frogs. I just heard peepers. Did we miss them?"

What were they talking about? Wood frog migration! Around here, in some circles anyway, I'm known as the resident wood frog expert. I've written many picture book manuscripts over the years. One of the manuscripts I'm most proud of, FROG FRENZY, is about this very phenomenon. I spent four springs the watching migration unfold, taking notes, and getting the details just right for that manuscript. I'm still hopeful it will find a home with the right publisher. 

I've been taking my kids and any other families I can round up to see wood frog migration since my kids were young. Before the days of Facebook, friends would wait for a call or text announcing that migration had started and when they could meet me to head out. Now, I often make a quick FB invitation to alert as many people as possible.

In 2012, migration happened on March 8th, but last year it didn't happen until April 22! (Remember that banner year for snow we had here in the northeast? Wood frogs were buried beneath it, frozen solid until April!)

Well, I've been watching the weather, and it looks like this might be the week wood frogs migrate. I never know for sure, but the conditions seem right; peepers were heard (that usually falls a day or two before I see wood frogs), it's going to rain, and it's going to be warm.

In case you're new here and don't know quite what I'm talking about, my kids made videos for you. (Turn up the sound on the first one. You can hear the frogs kwaking). Enjoy!

Big Night for Salamanders

In my very first blog post titled, The Big Day, I described the spring emergence of wood frogs and their race to a nearby pond to procreate.

That time of year is upon us again and wood frogs are not the only animals that migrate this way. Here in the Northeast, spotted salamanders also emerge this time of year and seek nearby water for mating. I'm wondering if salamanders use the same vernal pools as our wood frogs. I hope to set out one evening soon when the conditions are right and see if I can find some. Perhaps you'd like to do the same!

To learn more about spotted salamanders and their migration, read this wonderful book by Sarah Lamstein.
From the author's website:
“During the first warm rainy night of spring—
Big Night—spotted salamanders by the hundreds
crawl out of the woods and down to a natural
pool across the road. There they will breed and
lay their eggs.

Evan and his parents know the salamanders need
their help. Crossing a road at night is dangerous
especially for small amphibians. The family slows
the traffic. They carry salamanders across the
road. But the cars keep coming, and the hour
is late. How can the family help these delicate
creatures cross the road in safety?

Evan has the solution…”

In addition to Evan's story, the book includes lots of factual information about spotted salamanders and suggests additional resources.

For teachers and homeschoolers who'd like to use the book with students, Ms. Lamstein's website offers a classroom guide.

For those who live in eastern Massachusetts, Ms. Lamstein will be appearing at Tatnuck Booksellers in Westborough, MA this Saturday (March 12th) from 1-3 pm to talk about spotted salamanders. She suggests the migration may happen this weekend if the conditions are right. Watch for rain and temperatures over 40 degrees. I've found that in my neck of the woods, the wood frog migration happens on a warm sunny day (50 degrees or higher) that follows a day or more of rain.

Have you experienced spotted salamander or wood frog migration? This may be the weekend for both. Please share any sightings.

Planting Time

During my son's birthday party, his friend, "J" came up to me in the kitchen and said, "Michelle, can I have some seeds?" I was confused by his question. Did he want sunflower seeds to eat? (My kids will request sunflower seeds in this way but I didn't think "J" would).

Then I noticed the trowel in his hand. I said, "Oh, do you want to plant some seeds?"


I explained that I couldn't get the seeds out right then because I was in the middle of preparing food for the party. I asked if he'd like to come back on another day and do some planting. He eagerly responded "yes," and I promised to make the arrangements.

Last Wednesday, I followed through on my promise. The weather was amazing- sunny and 90 degrees. We started by choosing what to plant.

Not surprisingly, the kids wanted to plant pumpkins, so I explained that we have to wait until it's consistently warmer, even during the evenings. For all of my friends in the northeast who may think summer is here because of the amazing weather we've been having...don't be fooled into planting your whole garden. There's still a risk of frost. For now, you can plant things like pea pods, spinach, kale, swiss chard and other greens. Wait until around Memorial Day for those heat loving plants like tomatoes, basil, squash, peppers, eggplant, and watermelons.

In preparation for the boy's arrival, I had used a pitch fork to turn over the soil in the section we would plant. Then, I had the kids help me rake the area smooth and remove any visible rocks.

Next, I showed them a little trick for planting pea pod seeds. We laid the seeds out in a zig zag pattern on top of the soil, close to the wire that will support the plants when they grow. By doing this, we could see where the seeds were and move them around as needed. Once the seeds were set, we poked them into the soil using our fingers. By going as far in as their second knuckles, the seeds are at just the right depth.

We planted the pea pods in the middle of our three foot wide raised beds, near the wire frame. On the north side of the supports, we planted spinach and on the south side of the supports, we planted mesclun mix. Spinach and mesclun seeds are much smaller and harder for little hands to control. If you plant with young children, it's better to stick with large seeds like peas (and later watermelons, pumpkins, sunflowers, and beans) that they'll be able to handle. I know our spinach and mesclun seeds didn't all end up in rows along the outer edge, but I don't mind a little chaos in my garden. It's more natural that way, anyway.

Once the seeds were all planted, we watered them gently.
And, we got a little silly! Why not... this is supposed to be fun, right?

Those of you who live in the city or don't have yards may wonder how you can have a garden. Come back tomorrow for my suggestions.

No Frog Eggs Found...Yet

Three days after our first wood frog adventure, my family visited a different vernal pool roughly 1/2 mile behind our house "as the crow flies." We were greeted with the same boistrous clucks and calls. Last Sunday, one week later, I returned to that same vernal pool. All was quiet. The only sound was the wind rustling sassafras leaves nearby. I looked for frog eggs (scientists call them frog spawn) but found none. The overcast light of the day reflected off the water creating a glare that obscured my view of the bottom. We need sunbeams to shine through the water and illuminate the eggs. It's been raining here in Southeastern Massachusetts for days, so we haven't returned, yet. This weekend is supposed to be warm and sunny, though, so we'll check back then and report our findings.

On Sunday, I did make this discovery, just a few feet from where I had sat the week before. I was so focused on the wood frogs that I had missed it. With the quiet of this past weekend, I took time to look around more.

Does anyone want to venture a guess regarding what this might be?

Here's a close-up :