well, it wasn't the salamanders i've been searching for but finding red-spotted newts ain't too shabby. what's the difference, you say, between a salamander and a newt? there's conflicting definitions, but a newt is actually a kind of salamander. it has something to do with the way they develop: most salamanders (including newts) are born in the water. normal salamanders become adults and live on land, returning to the water only to breed. newts however go on land during a special intermediate immature phase called the eft - those are those red lizard things i've been seeing in the forest for the past few summers. once they become breeding adults, they return to the water and live there for the rest of their lives. newt adults have flattened tails for swimming that regular adult salamanders don't have. salamanders may also be noctural while newts are active during the daytime (making newts much easier to find).
ever since i've been back from washington DC, i've stopped using my alarm clock. surprisingly, i still wake up around the same time everyday. alarm clocks are like training wheels; i'm old enough to do without them. actually, it doesn't really matter when i wake up, as long as i get my work done. a little early, a little late, my boss (me) doesn't care when i show up for work. and sometimes my boss lets me take the day off, especially when the weather is really nice (like it was today, with 68 degrees temperature).
i decided to visit rocky woods (491 acres) in medfield. i've been there one other time, 2 years ago. i was desperately trying to find efts that summer, and went to rocky woods in the hopes that i'd see some (but didn't). i remembered it was a pretty big place and that i had to pay in order to get in. it took over 45 minutes for me to ride my motorcycle down to medfield. it didn't help that i had to pee and everytime i went over a bump i thought i'd wet myself. when i finally arrived at rocky woods, the ranger at the entrance greeted me, asked if i needed a map. i told him i already have one and asked him how i had to pay. "we encourage donations, but we only charge on the weekends and holidays." sweet! as i pulled into the nearly empty parking lot (there was only one other car), i heard the ranger say, "nice bike!"
the whole time i was there i only saw 3 other people: an old man with one arm walking a dog when i came in, a man on a mountain bike (startled me, i didn't hear him behind me), and a woman walking a dog when i left. i pretty much had the whole place to myself, it felt great. speaking of which, as soon as i thought nobody was around, i went behind a tree and relieved myself.
the first piece of nature i spotted were butterflies sunning themselves high on a tree trunk. i attached the telephoto lens and snapped a few photos. mourning cloaks and compton tortoiseshells belong in the same family of butterflies that actually hibernate during the winter. once the weather warms up, they show up (they're one of the earliest butterflies to be seen during the spring). i also saw some spring azures (tiny blue butterflies) but i couldn't get them to stop flying around to get a photo.
for the most part there wasn't a lot to see. i was hoping to find some wildflowers but it's still too early in the season. maybe it was the time of day, but there was hardly any birds singing either. it was just dry and warm, but at least there wasn't any mosquitoes yet, so it was nice to be able to walk around unmolested by bugs. i started at marker 1 then crossed echo pond (the last time i was where the pond was covered in lilypads - this time around it was completely empty except for some painted turtles) to marker 6, going north with a detour at the overlook, walking by whale rock, arriving at marker 7. from marker 8 i walked towards marker 9, along the wilson swamp trail. i saw something that might've been a brook, but it wasn't continuous, completely dried up in certain spots. i followed the trail until i could see a small body of water (i assumed wilson swamp) off the path. i crashed through tree branches and thorn vines to get a closer look at the swamp.
the swamp was in bad shape. the drought we experienced in march had greatly reduced the size of the swamp, as evident in the large perimeter of dried leaves encircling the "pond." approaching the swamp i could hear peepers singing but they stopped as soon as i got there. although there were no birds this place seemed like a popular fowl hangout as evident by the abundance of feathers. what little water was left in the swamp was surprisingly clear and i could easily see all the way down to the leaf debris at the bottom. i snapped a few photos and decided to leave. that's when i saw two things dart at me in the water. they were moving so fast at first i thought maybe they were fish, but then i looked and i couldn't believe my eyes: salamanders! i quickly put back the telephoto lens, trying very hard to contain my excitement. i originally thought they might be spotted salamanders but i soon realized they were only red-spotted newts.
i spent the next hour just hovering by the edge of the swamp, watching the newts swim around. there were actually a lot of them, almost like the whole pool was filled with newts. they'd usually hide underneath the leaves, but sometimes they'd come out, maybe to get a breath of air, or maybe trying to find something to eat. occasionally they'd chase each other, or collide in a passionate (seemingly violent) mating ritual and then just as quickly split apart. they swam with a weird propulsion, pulling down their arms and legs in unison and gliding underwater like a dart, reminded me of the way squids and octopuses move around.
the newts were no bigger than 3". i could tell which ones were the males by the larger lower legs with special black grips.
i probably could've spent the whole day just watching the newts but i had to get back before it got too late. i retraced my steps and made it back to the parking lot in about half an hour. by late afternoon the birds were singing again. i saw titmice and chickadees, as well as a thrush. the ranger had already left for the day. returning to cambridge took another 45 minutes. i visited the cafe to pick up some chocolate cake my mother had made for me then came home to take a shower and inspect myself for ticks.
at 6pm i went to a lecture at MIT (at the stata center, building 32) about building museum interactives. i bumped into michael rogers, and then kristine showed up as well. i confronted her about the last time we met, at a similar lecture (about data visualization), and how she totally didn't say hi. tonight's lecture was interesting but was ruined by a few member of the audience, mainly a programmer who resembled a dirty albert enstein and a woman who would ask the stupidest questions that had nothing to do with the lecture (more like she was doing research for her own projects) but our guest speaker was too polite to not answer. once again kristine left early; i should've followed her out. another person sitting in front of us (wolfman, he was really hairy) decided to combine dinner with the lecture; midway through the talk, i watched as he slowly tried to take something out of a paper bag without making any noise (this failed of course); when he finally fished out an over-sized cookie, i almost burst out laughing.
the ride back was freezing; though our days are warm, the night time temperatures drop to the 50's. i squeezed the handlebars tightly to stop myself from shivering. i made myself some hot dogs for dinner and watched ANTM followed by heist, the NBC hustle wannabe that's actually an okay series (it tries too hard to be like pulp fiction though). i would've watched the red sox game but they were losing.