mike and his girlfriend were back at the house this morning. i thought there was nobody else at home and was surprised when i heard noises coming from his bedroom. i cooked up a pair of hot dogs for lunch before walking down to my parents' cafe to borrow one of their cars. while i was there, i also got some bubble ice tea. my mission for the day was to find efts. the weather was warm (in the 80's) but unfortunately it wasn't wet, and that's one of the necessary criteria for efts to reveal themselves. nevertheless, i figured i might see something interesting anyway, so i drove out to habitat in belmont hill. the audubon society, in order to make some money, rent out the habitat house for private functions. today, it was either a graduation party or a wedding reception. i paid no attention, parked the car, and quietly slipped into the forest.

the forest was fragrant with the unmistakable scent of lily-of-the-valley (like walking through the perfume counter of a department store), although i didn't see very many. later i'd learn that that smell came from canada mayflowers covering the forest floor, AKA wild lily-of-the-valley. there were also a lot of starflowers and red patridgeberries, which are edible, but i didn't give them a taste.

chipmunks are everywhere in the forest, but they're usually seen running away, making a chirpy noise before they exit. they're very skittish and are hard to get good photos of.
around turtle pond i could hear birds singing in the canopy. they were hard to spot, but i did see a yellow bird, which was too large to be a warbler or a goldfinch. turned out it was a scarlet tanager, a female, which are different from the male in that they're yellow instead of red. there were also mockingbirds singing loudly.

at the far end of turtle pond i came across something that would haunt the rest of my days. i saw something move on the shore, wasn't quite sure what it was, but it was large, roughly the size of a mailbox. when i got a closer look, it took me a few seconds before my mind could catch up with what i was seeing: a snapping turtle! not just any snapping turtle, a full-grown adult, 16" long, 5" tall, and scary as hell.

painted turtle
i'd seen large turtles before (i even once saw a tortoise in turkey), and i thought i'd seen snapping turtles, but there was no mistaking the identity of this creature. i just happened to be standing between it and the pond as it started to scramble away to the safety of the water, coming towards me like some prehistoric nightmare. i of course immediately backed away. it wasn't the smartest of turtles, instead of going around a log, it climbed over it, showcasing a surprising stumbling reptilian agility. it flopped over the log, crawled towards the water, then into the pond it went, disappearing, like nothing ever happened. at one point i wanted to put my shoe on its back for a size comparison, but i was too afraid it would turn around and bite me. at that point i wanted to scream but instead quickly left the pond, paranoid that i might encounter another snapping turtle. despite the heat, which was good for sunning reptiles and amphibians, i didn't see any snakes, which i was hoping to find.

potato beetle

crab spider

orchard spider

there were some insect activities, and the first thing that greeted me when i arrived at habitat was a lone monarch butterfly fluttering through the air. i spent a long time in a field of fresh milkweed searching for monarch eggs or caterpillars, but didn't find anything. i also saw a black swallowtail at one point.

belmont habitat boasts a vernal pool, which sounds a lot more interesting than it actually is. if you didn't pay attention you'd probably miss it, since the surface of the pool is covered in this opaque growth. reportedly all sorts of forest creatures live in vernal pools, like frogs and salamanders and fairy shrimps, but the pool looked dead to me, the only living things were the hungry mosquitoes busy sucking the life out of me. i didn't want to spray repellent until it was absolutely necessary, but it suddenly became very necessary. unfortunately it was a case of too little too late, and i wasn't very careful about my application, and missed a few spots that the mosquitoes would later discover, and i was also wearing just a t-shirt and a pair of shorts, so i had a lot of exposed skin. these mosquitoes were serious bloodsuckers as well, biting me on the back right through my t-shirt. it wasn't as bad as last year (i learned my lesson, partially at least), but when i left habitat later that day, my body, mainly my legs, were lumpy and itchy with mosquito welts. anyway, regarding the vernal pool, maybe the best way to explore it is to get a pair of rubber boots and really dig around in the muck, trying to find something cool.

because of the dry, warm weather, there wasn't a lot of mushrooms to be seen. besides the bracket mushrooms, i also saw these unknown mushrooms growing from rotten tree stumps. the remind me of the enokitake mushrooms i sometimes eat with my chinese hot pot.

there were a lot of tent caterpillars. and unlike the ones i saw a few weeks ago at broadmoor, these were more mature caterpillars, about to defoliate a good portion of the forest. they were so gross, i wanted to burn them, but i was afraid i might set the reservation on fire.

american toad

i came across a meadowsweet shrub, which from a distance looked like a white lilac bush. nothing particularly special about the flowers, not really fragrant, a bunch of small insects busy pollinating it.

i didn't see any ladyslippers in all of habitat; it wasn't until i crossed over to the large tract of land belonging to the mclean hospital did i find them. i like them because you could be walking through miles of forest with nothing to see, but all of a sudden you come across these rather obscene looking flowers, which by the way often come in pairs. i heard they also come in a white variety as well as yellow, neither of which i've seen before.

to be continued...