If you can’t be in awe of Mother Nature, there’s something wrong with you.

  • Alex Trebek
cecropia day of eclose

Cecropia moth made it to maturity from caterpillar raised in a sleeve

Sometimes, in the course of our lifetime, we may find ourselves in the right place at the right time to make a difference in the life of some living thing. Maybe it is just the simple act of putting a nestling bird back in the nest from which it has fallen. Or we may be able to transplant a native plant to a safe location just a few feet away from the reach of a roadside sickle bar. Once I had to scoop up with a towel a baby fox that had fallen asleep in a dangerous place on the golf course and put it back with its brothers (or sisters!) who had chosen their resting place wisely. While it may not always be a good thing to interfere, sometimes it may be the best thing.

box turtle crossed road day after rain 5-30-16 Pamm Cooper phot copyright 2016

Box turtle was helped across busy road

Where I work, we often have a surprise when mowing early in the morning. This year when I was mowing a green with lights on just before sun-up, I noticed something that I thought was an earthworm moving in the path of the mower. At the last second before running it over, the creature starting running on little legs and I stopped in the nick of time. It was a tiny salamander. I put it in a plastic cup with a lid I always have with me and later on I put the little guy in the woods near a vernal pool.

salamander very tiny 4 green 9-23-2017

tiny salamander saved from a mower

In a similar way, the eft form of red-spotted newts often end up on greens or fairways the day after a rain. Being so small, they are often unable to make it back to the woods where they belong. So placement in a plastic cup keeps it safe until the opportunity comes to set the little eft on the forest floor. Like Shakespeare wrote- ‘all’s well that ends well’.

eft form of red- spotted newt 2017

Eft form of the red-spotted newt

Our giant silkworm moth caterpillars have a high percentage that are killed by introduced parasites meant to control the gypsy moth caterpillars. When I find young silkworm moth caterpillars in the wild, I like to raise them so prevent parasitism. When they form cocoons, I take them back from whence they came. Cocoons can be attached to twigs of the host plant with a bread tie or put in leaf litter below.

cecropias just before second instar

First instar cecropia caterpillars found on alder and raised in captivity safe from introduced parasitic wasps

Turtles often are the recipients of human kindness, especially when they attempt to cross roads. Box turtles are frequently seen crossing roads the day after a summer rain, and many have been helped across by kind people. Some turtles travel great distances to lay their eggs and encounter similar hazards. Once we found three spotted turtle eggs while renovating a bunker. Carefully marking them to keep them right-side up, they were transferred to an aquarium and placed under sand. Within two months they hatched and were released on the banks of the pond where the eggs where originally laid. If it were possible for turtles to leap for joy, they would have.

spotted turtle one week old 2012

Spotted turtle hatched from egg just before release

spotted turtle saved from the mower

Another spotted turtle removed from harm’s way

If a baby bird is found on the ground, it is important to note whether it is a nestling, which has fallen from the nest prematurely, or a fledgling, which should be out of the nest. The cedar waxwing shown below was a fledgling found on the ground on a cart path. It was moved out of harm’s way to a low branch nearby where the parents easily found it. Unlike many other animals, parents will still feed and care for baby birds even after human handling.

cedar waxwing fledgling

Cedar waxwing fledgling moved from a cart path to a low branch

There are walking sticks I find every year on certain plants on a particular power line right- of- way. A lot of tree and shrubs were marked to be cut down to clear the lines including a small clump of filbert and viburnum that are the host plants for these insects. I wanted to try to save a few before the chain saws arrived, so I took my beating sheet and was able to find several tiny walking sticks that probably had hatched that week. They were raised that summer until work along the lines was complete. Since the host plants were left standing, the walking sticks were returned.

power line after tree cutting 2017

Power line right-of-way after drastic tree removal. Walking stick host plants escaped the saw

walkingstick week old perhaps 2017

Walking stick just hatched removed from power line area, raised and released back after tree removal work finished

This year we had an interesting incident involving honey bees. Since it was late in the year and many flowers were no longer available, honey bees were very busy on black and blue salvia in a large planter outside the clubhouse. The problem was, someone had fallen into and smashed the salvia and it had to be removed. Our gardener noticed that over fifty honey bees were still swarming around where the plant had been, and they were even trying to get nectar from the petals remaining on the ground. Since a planting nearby along a stone wall also had the same salvia, we took small branches with the flowers and held them over the ground where the bees were. The bees immediately went for the flowers on the stalks and stayed there, or flew with them to the front planting. We shook the bees off, and they found the new flowers right away. We were able to get all the bees over there in this way. They probably would have found the other salvia on their own, but it was something to do…

karen transporting honeybees

Transporting honeybees on a branch of black and blue salvia flowers


Honey bees inside flowers and following branch as they are moved to a new nectar site

To help wildlife on your own property, include water dishes for toads, chipmunks, and other animals, birdbaths and perhaps bird and bee houses. Provide shelter for  birds such as small trees and shrubs, which may also double as food sources and nesting places.

bee nest house using bamboo tubes

Bee nesting house using bamboo tubes that should be sealed on one end with mud or another substance

When you are out and about enjoying  nature in the wild or in your own back yard, it is always satisfying and cheering to one’s own little self to see something else become better off because of what we may be able to do. Just think- you don’t have to be a nature expert to become, at least for a little while, a bee whisperer.

Pamm Cooper                                              all photos by Pamm Cooper

Cutting back the perennials was much more exciting than usual this year!  As I was cutting back a dense patch of Hosta, I noticed a striking, shiny black surface.  Looking closer, I noticed yellow spots and quickly realized that I had come across a spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum)!   I was quite excited about this because I have always enjoyed finding little creatures like this, even as a child.   I felt quite sorry to have disturbed this one, and moved it to a sheltered spot nearby.  It was mid November already and I was afraid this would no longer be a suitable place to spend the winter, because of exposure to both cold temperatures and predators.   Here’s a picture:

  Joan Allen photo

Spotted salamanders are in the family of salamanders commonly known as mole salamanders. This name comes from their habit of living underground in the burrows of other animals or in protected places such as under rotting logs.   Adult salamanders spend most of their time on land but they need moisture.   They are nocturnal and emerge at night to feed or to breed.

In March to April, the adult salamanders migrate on rainy nights to the vernal pools where they were born to mate and lay eggs.  Males leave small white, gelatinous masses of sperm (spermatophores) on the pool bottom.  Females pick up the sperm to fertilize their eggs which are laid in gelatinous masses attached to stems or sticks underwater.   Egg masses are milky white and up to 4” across.  Algae grows on the mass and provides a source of oxygen and camouflage.  It was even recently found that the embryos have a symbiotic algae growing inside them!

Eggs hatch in 4-7 weeks.  The larvae look a lot like tadpoles but have feathery gills.


Spotted salamander larvae eat tiny aquatic creatures.  They will even eat each other if food is scarce.   It takes 2-4 months for larvae to develop into 2-2.5” adults.   The adults emerge from the pond and can live for up to 20 years.  The adult diet consists of insects, slugs and snails, centipedes and millipedes, and worms.  Predators of the larval stage include fish, turtles, aquatic birds and insects, frogs and crayfish.   Adults are eaten by skunks, raccoons, squirrels, opossums, and snakes.  The adult salamanders are unique among vertebrates in that they are able to regenerate lost limbs and even some organs.  If a leg is lost to injury or predation, it will regrow within about 3 months.   These amazing little animals can even regrow  a part of their brain or the lens from an eye.

National Geographic has a great video of leg regeneration (and other info) on their website for kids.  I think it’s a great website for all ages.   Another informative website is from New Hampshire and it has great photos of all spotted salamander life stages, even the spermatophores.

The spotted salamander occurs throughout the eastern United States and into eastern Canada.  It is not endangered, just sometimes hard to find.  While its numbers are currently stable in most of its range, local populations are sensitive to changes in ecology and habitat loss.  Wild salamanders should not be kept as pets.

The spring migration of most kinds of salamander to their breeding pools is an event worth seeing!  Sometimes local nature centers or groups have opportunities to go to known sites at this time, both to observe the salamanders (sometimes numbering in the hundreds) and also to ensure their safety as they cross roads that are in their path.    If you’re lucky enough to find a salamander of any kind, be sure to leave it where you found it so it will survive.

J. Allen