if the weather's nice there's usually a pretty good chance i'll be out taking advantage of it. with temperature in the 60's and the sky a crystal clear blue, i decided to revisit rocky woods in medfield. 25 miles away, medfield's claim to fame is it's home to red sox pitcher curt schilling. according to my records, i seem to visit rocky woods every 2 years. the first time was in 2004, then once more in 2006. the last time was near the end of april as well, and i remembered i saw a vernal pool with adult newts for the very first time, which was the main reason for my visit this time around.
after i made a quick lunch of an egg & prosciutto bagel sandwich and a mug of orange juice, i headed out the door a bit after 12:30. my bike was giving me all sorts of grief again, unable to accelerate when i turned the throttle. by the time i made it down to watertown, the engine would grind to a halt whenever i stopped and i had to force start the begin before the light turned green. finally i gave it one big crank of gasoline as the engine roared back into life. i must've done something right, maybe unclogged a valve, because after that the motorcycle ran fine.
it takes nearly an hour to get to rocky woods. i was dressed warmly (4 top layers and thermal underwear) so the constant rushing of the wind didn't faze me. one of the best part about riding a motorcycle, besides the view (which i've already seen before), is the smell. the flowering trees, the emerging bulbs, people burning leaves. it's still early, but once all the trees have blossomed, it's like taking a ride in a natural perfume store.
when i finally made it to rocky woods, the ranger wasn't on duty. even if he was, i found out last time that the reservation is free on weekdays. while i was getting ready, i watched three people waving what looked to be large tan flags. "what're you guys doing?" i asked. turns out they were collecting ticks to test for lyme disease. oh great. it's seems weird that there'd be ticks so early in the season, but from my own personal experience, april is when i usually get most of my ticks (case in point: oxbow april 2006). just to prove they weren't kidding, they showed me the ticks they've caught so far in a test tube. i started to get paranoid and itchy, made worse by the fact that i seemed inadequately dressed compared to these field biologists, who even taped their ankles to prevent ticks from crawling up their pants. one of them told me that when they do their collection in nantucket, there are so many ticks there that they need a roller to collect them off of their flag traps (which is coated in fake fur), and that they can easily collect several hundred ticks in just a few minutes.
as far as insects, it was slim pickings. i did see the occasional butterfly but never managed to get any good photos. sometimes it requires a measure of patience i don't quite possess, not when my main mission was to document newts. most frustrating were the spring azures, these small light blue butterflies. every year i try to get a good photo but they never seem to land, and in the rare chance when they do, their wings are always folded. the one entomological highlight was a single green tiger beetle i saw on the summit of a rocky hill. by the time i switched to my macro lens, it'd already flew away.
i made it to wilson swamp but i forgot how i found the supposed vernal pool teeming with newt life. i bushwhacked my way into the forest (mostly dead leaves and dried branches, but the occasional thorny vine) and found the head of a sphagnum swamp. standing along the edge of the swamp, it wasn't long before i spotted my first newt, swimming between the submerged leaf debris that gave the water a reddish tint. i stayed there for a bit, waiting for the newts to appear. as interesting as it was, this wasn't the place i remembered from last time. i so made it back out to the trail and continued looking for the lost vernal pool.
finally i found it. it's not marked on the trail map, other than a large patch of swamp. it's hidden inside the forest, but surprisingly obvious once you make out what looks to be a pond a few hundred yards down an embankment. i'm not even really sure if it's even a vernal pool, except there doesn't seem to be any fish, and the bottom of the pool is all leaf debris. i didn't see any fairy shrimps (which would indicate this was a vernal pool), but those critters show up fairly early in the season and then quickly disappear (so i've read).
the place didn't disappoint as the pool was stocked with newts. i easily snapped 500 photos, but most of them lack clarity because of the refraction of the water. with so many newts, there must be eggs so i tried looking for some. what i didn't realize at the time was newts don't lay their eggs in an egg mass, but rather deposit them individually onto plants. however, i did find a large mass of eggs. they weren't frog eggs (this is what frog eggs look like), so they're definitely salamanders. could they be the eggs of the elusive yellow-spotted salamanders? i've only seen them one other time, and it was in the dark, but it's a very likely possibility.
leaving wilson swamp, i saw something crawling on my hand. a tick! i quickly flicked it off. standing in the dead leaves taking photos of the newts, i must've been a sitting target for ticks. i checked my jeans. another tick. and then i lifted up my shirt. one more. once i made it back out to the trail, i found another one crawling up my pant leg.
i didn't manage to leave rocky woods until about 4:30. the trip back took a bit longer because i got caught in some traffic the closer i got to the city. i ended up going to my parents' place for dinner since i was in the neighborhood. the first thing i did was go into the bathroom and check my body for any additional ticks. fortunately i didn't have any hitchhikers. before dinner, my father helped me change the bike's motor oil again. true, we'd just changed it about 2 weeks ago, but the previous oil was so dirty, we needed to do an additional change just to flush out the engine. the oil that came out this time around was also dark, but nothing like what it was the first time.
after dinner i helped my father do another clean install of XP pro on his pc before returning to cambridge. while using the laptop, i saw this black sesame seed crawling across my keyboard. a tick! it must've fallen out of my hair. i quickly rain into the bathroom and took a shower, performing another full body tick check.