The first time I saw a newt on the trail doing this, I thought it was dead and that a cyclist had run it over and its little body had just flattened out and curled up at the ends.
But the other day, conservation biologist Kent McFarland wrote a post about newts on his blog and included this line:
When approached or attacked by a predator, efts may assume the Unken reflex, a defense posture taken by many amphibians to show off the aposematic skin. The eft flexes its mid-section making the head and tail raised and curled over the back in the shape of a horseshoe.
Eureka! So yesterday, when I came upon another little eft in this posture, I gently touched it (after photographing it, of course) and lo and behold, it was perfectly able to return to its normal shape and crawl away.
I love the name unkenreflex (which Wikipedia tells me can interchangeably be written unken reflex). And now I know something new about a newt!
The hummingbirds are at it already. Tonight, as I was reading out on the porch, I could hear them buzzing by on their sorties. They really are awfully competitive. One of the males found the highest leaf on the topmost branch on the tallest tree in the yard and made that his perch. The fact that he couldn’t actually see the feeder, behind the overgrown lilac, didn’t seem to matter. He sat up there for the better part of an hour–and maybe longer but I went in for dinner–king of the mountain. A tiny bird-shaped ornament atop the tree.
I spent the day today wandering through the woods of Rutland County with members of Vermont Fish and Wildlife and The Nature Conservancy. We were looking for rattlesnakes.
There are only two known populations in Vermont and their exact locations are a closely guarded secret. Rattlesnakes are endangered in Vermont. There was a bounty on them in place until 1971. And even friendly visitors now could put the remaining individuals at risk.
I have good pictures on my real camera; I’ll post them in a few days. And I’m producing a radio story for my show.
But suffice it to say, we did spot rattlesnakes. Here’s a teaser photo.
Growing up, I didn’t even know Vermont had rattlers. But ever since I came back I’ve been wanting to catch a glimpse. What a thrill!!
The hummingbirds are back! Sitting on the couch a few hours before sunset, trying to get a moment to rest while Ollie bounced around in front of me, trying to get me on my feet to go for a walk, I noticed a flash go by the window. And then it paused, hovering over the empty bird feeder pole as if looking for something familiar. It paused just long enough to materialize into hummingbird shape before morphing again into a green bullet, speeding away.
Adrian made up some sugar water and the feeder is now out there. I can’t wait to see the hummingbird again!
Another thing that happens after the rain: the salamanders come out!
Last night and this morning, on my walks in the woods, the red efts were everywhere! I love seeing these little critters. But having them all out on the trail makes for a rather unpleasant walk, actually. I didn’t want to kill any underfoot but there were literally hundreds on the trail and so I spent an hour and a half looking down, making a harried scan of the ground before each footfall, trying to spot any bright orange streaks that might be in the danger zone.
To make matters worse, although many of them are bright orange and fairly visible, some of the bigger efts are a greenish gold color. They match exactly with the catkins dropped by the birch trees. So when I pass through the birch groves there are thousands of catkins and hundreds of newts and I start to think I can’t walk anywhere.
(By the way, if you’re not familiar with catkins, they are the little flower clusters of some trees and plants. The catkins that fall from the birches look like tiny replicas of the “worms” that explode out of one of those gag can of worms.)
Also, some of these newts are really tiny! They just sit there in the middle of the trail, trying to blend in, as if they want to be stepped on! Check out how small this one is, compared to my car key:
Needless to say, the walks this week feel a little bit like a sadistic obstacle course.