Friday, June 26, 2009

Milford Point Mudsnails

I needed some scum-cleaners for my reef aquarium and, being too cheap to buy the pretty kinds of snails that actually live around reefs, I headed to the Sound to grab a few of the millions of mud snails there. Yes, there are millions (billions?) of these in Long Island Sound. I bet there are a thousand in the photo above. See all the black bumps protruding from the mud and water? All of those bumps are mud snails.

I've kept mud snails in various aquariums for years. These snails are a lowly marvel of nature. Black and nondescript, they can survive out of water for long stretches, can handle water as warm as a bath tub, and even quick changes in salinity. They eat everything, including scum, but are especially attracted to chunks of fish, and it's amazing how fast their little sniffer tubes will shoot up and start sniffing if you drop some fish nearby. In no time at all the dead fish will be just covered with the snails. After being in my reef tank for a while they'll be coated with purple coralline algae and be a lot nicer to look at.

The worst part about these snails is they carry swimmer's itch, which I discovered one day after cleaning my aquarium in which I had recently stocked lots of mud snails. I soon had big round horribly itchy welts all up my arm where microscopic flatworms had mistaken me for waterfowl, crawled under my skin, and promptly died. The flatworm's first host and carrier is the mud snail.
The Point was beautiful as always, but much of it is closed off for nesting birds (more than usual I think) and I didn't want to get anywhere near those areas with my puppy. And then the no-see-ums suddenly came from nowhere and attacked mercilessly. So we grabbed a bunch of snails and retreated.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Shelton Lakes Greenway Slideshow

Here's a slideshow of the "Shelton Lakes Greenway from Bridge to Bridge." It starts at Pine Lake then passes the school campus, Silent Waters, Hope Lake (Nells Rock Res.), Eklund Native Species Garden, the Nells Rock area ("the Wilderness" - which is why I put mostly pictures of animals there), Huntington Woods, and the Lane Street Meadow. It ends at the Huntington Street Cafe, where the volunteer usually congregate after an event. Letterboxers might note a feature towards the end of the slideshow that's referenced in one of my Shelton mystery boxes.

The first 1.25 mile is an "improved" handicapped-accessible path and the remain 2/3 of the route follows regular hiking trails. You start on the yellow-blazed Shelton Lakes Recreation Path ("Rec Path"), turn left onto the orange trail just after crossing Shelton Avenue, then turn right onto the yellow once again in the Nells Rock area. Bring a map! See

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Eklund Vernal Pool

Yesterday I was speaking the the Booth Hill School 4th graders, so I stopped at Eklund Garden in the morning and took a few swipes with a net in the skeegy pond down below to see what I could bring to show the kids. I already knew wood frogs breed there (quacking in the spring); spring peepers (peeping, of course); spotted salamanders (a breeding swarm were witnessed this spring); and the eastern spotted newt, which I had previously caught by accident while fetching water for the plants (I also caught a crayfish once that way).
That's the newt I caught yesterday (above). It's the same species as the red eft, which we find up in the garden. He was quite lively and is seen here trying to make a break for it.

In the photo above you can see a wood frog tadpole and the newt. There were lots of macroinvertebrates, too. At the top you can see a predaceous diving beetle larvae (these things get really nasty and actually eat tadpoles) and a hellegramite. On the right are a water strider (they walk on top of the water), a damselfly larvae (the long one), and a dragonfly larvae (the squat bug).

There's a close-up of the newt and damselfly larvae.

And here's the water strider and a backswimmer (top right). The backswimmers hang from the surface upside down.

Most people, when they see a scummy little pond without fish, immediately think it should either be filled in or perhaps enlarged and filled with fish. But ponds without fish are critical breeding habitats for amphibians like wood frogs and spotted salamanders. And there may be a rich ecosystem thriving in the pond. (Although you never know. Some promising pools turning out to be just mosquito larvae and scum).

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Take a Break

If you force yourself to sit down and relax for awhile when hiking, you're more likely to take notice of the plants, animals, and rocks along the trail. Today on Shelton's Bridge-to-Bridge Hike I took a good break at the powerlines (long enough for my puppy to fall asleep on a bed of moss).

After a bit I suddenly noticed the birds twittering in the small tree nearby. They were making quite a commotion so I finally got up to take a look. It turned out to be a couple of fledgling birds out of the nest and singing for their parents. An adult chickadee flew in so that's probably what they were.

Then I noticed some tiny blue flowers along the trail, only about 1/4 inch long and about a foot high. Very easy to miss if you are walking fast. These are Blue Toadflax (Linari canadensis) and they are native to Connecticut in dry, sandy areas such as roadsides.

Here's one of the many species of Hawkweed, most of which are not native to North America. Another roadside species.

So take a break when hiking. You never know what you'll see.