Playing in Ponds

The thing about working for the Department of Natural Resources and Environment is that some of my coworkers create publications about the environment, and sometimes they need photos.  A couple of weeks ago a coworker asked if I had any photos of “aquatic vegetation showing the roots underwater,” and after explaining that I had not had the occasion to take such a photo, I offered to do just that.

 With Mark and his PhD in stream ecology in tow, I donned my sexy, green rubber boots, drove to the Rose Lake Wildlife Area and headed to a pond we’d frequented previously to photograph frogs.  After trudging down a path and through an old corn field for a quarter mile, we discovered the rest of the path to our frog pond was all grown over.  We wove around some nasty, pokey vegetation and eventually found our way to where our froggie pals were hopping amongst two species of duckweed and some other aquatic plants.  We squatted down and took several photos of veggies by holding our point and shoot camera underwater. 

 This shows some veggies underwater with their roots showing.

Aquatic veggies.

 This is a close-up of the underside of the only duckweed that’s red underneath.

Duckweed, genus Spirodela. Photo by Mark Oemke or Amy Peterson; we swapped cameras, so we're not sure.

I didn’t know any duckweed is red underneath, and, worried I might be missing out on something else equally ducky, we headed back to our car to find another pond.  Now, the term “heading back” can mean going the same way you came, or wandering around for a  bit until you stumble upon something familiar. In our case, heading back meant a wee bit of extra trudging in the woods and a friendly discussion on the benefit of GPSs. 

 We finally found our car, and drove to a pond we’d driven by dozens of times but never investigated.  We parked by some apartments, tromped across a two-lane road and after crossing fifty feet of a tree-covered wood lot, we discovered nothing but body-sucking muck surrounding the duckweed-covered pond.  The only way to get to the duckweed, Mark said, was for me to take a stick in hand and wobble out onto a long, slippery log that had fallen into the muck.

 With a stick in one hand and an empty peanut butter jar in other, I headed out to “Fetch us some nice duckweed so that we can take photos of it.”  After wobbling out onto the log, I squatted down to get some of the duckweed, spun around like an overweight and clumsy gymnast and returned to solid footing to find Mark flirting with this caterpillar.

A member of the wooly bear family. Photo by Mark Oemke.

As he put the caterpillar down, I saw something tiny and brown hopping on the ground and bent down and came face to face with this tiny toad.

Tiny toad at the second pond.

We bid the fuzzy and bumpy critters farewell, marched back across the road to our car and drove to one more pond in a residential area, where we collected a little more duckweed.  We also ran into another caterpillar.

Common wooly bear caterpillar at the third pond.

Later, at home, we took turns taking photos of the duckweed through the glass of one of a dozen aquariums we just happen to have sitting around.

All in all, we went to three ponds, collected four species of duckweed, and saw several little critters.  We took lots of photos, at least one of which will be used by my coworker.  We agreed that we should spend more time at ponds because we never know what we’re going to find.  Oh, and that a GPS wouldn’t be a bad idea, either.

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