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Pickerel frog sighting! August 27, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in critters.
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Silence Dogood here. This past weekend, I went to a retreat in the Catskills. Supposedly, the place where the retreat is held, with a huge lake set among beautiful forests, is crawling with porcupines. I was hoping to see them, having had a great experience petting a porcupine at the wonderful wildlife park in San Diego years ago. I’ve had a soft spot for porcupines ever since.

Sadly, I didn’t see a porcupine. But I did get to see two amphibians I hadn’t met before: a pickerel frog and a bunch of tiny salamanders.

The pickerel frog wasn’t down by the lake, as you might have expected, but up a fairly steep hill beside a small tree. But I recognized it at once, because I’d just looked up pickerel frogs, leopard frogs, and green frogs so our friend Ben and I could identify the two species that have occupied our deck’s half-barrel water garden all summer. It turned out that we had a green frog and two leopard frogs; pickerel frogs were too small (just 1-2 inches) and covered with bold, distinct spots.

The one I saw at the retreat looked just like the one in the picture. For some reason, I’d thought that pickerel frogs were a Southern species, but obviously, I was wrong. I was very happy to see this little guy! But I still wonder what he was doing way up the hill rather than in the lake.

What was in the lake were the salamanders—dozens and dozens of tiny (2-3-inch-long) black salamanders, swimming next to the shore. The salamanders that I’m familiar with are much bigger; I’ve seen orange-and-black tiger salamanders that were over a foot long at my family home outside Nashville, and many more modest salamanders that were still a good 6 to 8 inches from the tip of their nose to the tip of their tail.

I assumed these salamanders were infants, but my friend Stephanie, who was walking along the lake with me, assured me that they were adults who’d returned to the water to mate and lay eggs. Why would salamanders lay eggs now, with winter coming, I wondered. But then, if they were infants, why wouldn’t they have hatched out in spring and enjoyed a full season of growth before winter’s arrival?

I’m not familiar with small black salamanders, so if any of you can shed light on the issue, please feel free to chime in and relieve my ignorance! Whatever the case, it was fun to watch them, and to see the pickerel frog. It really enriched my retreat!

‘Til next time,


When the porcupines ate the tigers. August 28, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood just spent a wonderful weekend in a lodge in the Catskills, enjoying the lake, meadows, and woods surrounding the lodge. We didn’t see any of the wildlife that the brochure assured us lived there—bears, wolves, bobcats, porcupines, and the like—but there were plenty of birds, butterflies and chipmunks.

Silence has been a huge porcupine fan ever since she gave a neckrub to a porcupine at the San Diego Wildlife Park (she said it was like rubbing a cat’s neck gently under the fur) and saw the porcupine close its eyes, sigh, and collapse in ecstacy as a result, to the astonishment of the staff. So she kept hoping we’d get to see porcupines, but alas, no luck. Our friend Ben was hoping for bald eagles, and maybe a wolf.

At any rate, as we were relaxing in the lodge with the other guests, one of them mentioned how they’d been warned about the porcupines eating the tigers. Tigers?!!! Tigers in the Catskills? What the bleep?! And here I thought porcupines were vegetarian.

“WHAT?!!!” Silence shrieked (our friend Ben would have done the same had she not spoken up first). 

“They told us we had to be careful because the porcupines like to eat tigers,” the person carefully explained.

“Yes, I heard that someone left the gate to the parking area open on Friday night,” a second guest said. “I’m relieved that no porcupines got in and ate our tires.” 

TIRES. Three other guests also thought the person had said “tigers,” so it really wasn’t just yours truly and Silence experiencing some kind of brain fade. The idea of porcupines craving rubber (which is, after all, derived from tree sap, not chemicals or plastic) is certainly bizarre. But it pales in comparison to porcupines devouring tigers in the Catskills! Yowie kazowie.

So Silence and I were emboldened to explore our surroundings in peace. It’s a good thing we didn’t hear about the timber rattlers until we were packing our bags for the return trip to Hawk’s Haven.