Off the Beaten Path: Beyond Silver Lake

by on June 18, 2011 in Life in Nelson, Wildlife

We weren't quick enough to get a picture of the heron, so we borrowed this one. The other pictures in the article were taken on this trip.

“No matter how intently one studies the hundred little dramas of the woods and meadows, one can never learn all the salient facts about any one of them.”  Aldo Leopold

Since December, Al Stoops and I have chosen to follow our whims rather than the established trails in Nelson to discover the hidden flora and fauna and beauty of our precious hill town.  Our latest exploration began on Silver Lake at the boat landing in Harrisville.

We traveled by canoe along the eastern shoreline.  Our first wildlife sighting was a great blue heron perched on the stone steps of someone’s lakefront.

Our next sighting was an early highlight: a bald eagle!  We supposed that it was either one of the pair of eagles from Nubanusit Lake or that it might be from some previous year’s brood: perhaps a new eagle trying to establish a nesting site on Silver Lake.  I thought that I saw some sort of nesting material in its beak as it landed in one of the taller pine trees along the shore.  The eagle was well camouflaged  in the foliage and impossible to find again until it flew away.


When we travel by canoe, we follow the inlets of wetlands and lakes as far as we can to see what we might discover in the still side waters.  In this instance we were not disappointed as we found several spotted salamander egg masses in the pools.  These salamander larvae are unlikely to survive to adulthood.  The pools are connected to the lake so fish will take a heavy toll on the eggs and emerging larvae.  Nonetheless the egg masses were there.  A few may mature and return years from now to breed in this precarious spot.

We left the canoe in one of the pools to explore along the small stream that flows into the northeast corner of Silver Lake.  We were searching for the different kinds of salamanders that live in and around the stream.  Along the way, we observed six types of ferns: cinnamon, interrupted, bracken, hay scented, Christmas and royal.  Different  fern species proliferate in the Nelson woodlands and it was exciting to find so many in a small patch of land.

To find salamanders, one must be willing to look under logs, branches, and rocks.  Finding salamanders is only half the battle.  The salamanders are fast and blend in well with their surroundings.  They are hard to catch and hold.  We were successful, however, in catching and keeping four different kinds of  salamanders: the two-lined, the dusky, the red backed and a very small red eft.  We took pictures of all the salamanders together.  It was interesting to observe at close range the differences between these small amphibians.

Returning to the canoe, we followed the northern shoreline to the Sucker Brook wetland area.  I have observed turtles in the past in this area, so we were hopeful that we might see turtles this day.  No turtles this day, but we did see a Canada Geese family and found some fish eggs (we think) clinging in strands to the submerged vegetation.

Al and I abandoned the canoe to explore Sucker Brook, another stream that feeds into Silver Lake.  We had found a treasure!  This brook flows through a hemlock forest with many boulders and ledge down to the stream edge. The ground is relatively vegetation-free and soft underfoot.  The stream flows in peaceful, pleasing patterns over and around the ledge.  We found more dusky salamanders, including a dusky larvae with visible gills.  We also found a porcupine clawed tree, and evidence of animals digging in the forest floor to find some underground treat.

Our return to the boat landing  along the western shore was not without interest.  At one sheltered cove, we encountered a swarm of gnats.  They weren’t biting so we purposely allowed ourselves to be engulfed in the swarm. The collective buzz was like a song as the gnats coated our arms and legs.

At one of the islands we stopped for lunch and a swim. A large flat boulder served as chair, table and dock.  Swimming offered an opportunity to observe fishing spiders lurking on the face of a boulder hanging over the water.  We wondered aloud how these arachnids catch fish and how big their prey is.

Our final push to the landing was capped off by another sighting of the bald eagle, this time soaring over the lake. The eagle was driven away by a smaller bird undoubtedly protecting its nest and soared out of sight.

Through all of our adventures, our curiosity is constantly piqued.  The more we observe, the more we wonder how and why.  We returned to the boat landing filled with the pleasure of our discoveries, but thirsty for the next adventure. What new mystery will our little hill town offer up to nourish our appetite for the natural world?

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