Sunday, June 4, 2023

The Salamanders of New England - New Film


Salamanders are some of our most mysterious amphibians. Living below ground, or underwater, they're seldom seen, if ever, by most people. Probably the most familiar is the Red Eft, that bright orange juvenile stage of the Red-spotted Newt that seems to magically appear on the forest floor during or after rains. 


Red Eft
Terrestrial salamanders, when they do come to the surface, are primarily nocturnal, so we don't get many opportunities to see them. The aquatic species remain just as elusive, given that few of us are spending any time in the kind of underwater worlds they inhabit.

We've spent the last year locating and filming every salamander species that calls New England home. Without the help of several biologists (herpetologists, more precisely), this would not have happened. 

Special thanks go to Alan Richmond, recently retired from a biology teaching career at UMass Amherst, who played two major roles in this production: first, he spent many days and hours guiding the way to salamander haunts; second, he labored to get some of the pertinent biology into my resistant brain. He was amazingly successful at that first task, but maybe a lot less so at the second.

Also deserving of much credit and thanks is Jacob "Jake" Kubel, Conservation Scientist for the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species program. Jake also was very gracious and helpful in the quest to locate species and was quite willing to share not only information, but photos and video too.

Another enthusiastic biologist who not only supplied footage, but spent several cold, rainy evenings leading us through dark swamplands in search of Blue-spotted salamanders, is Brian Bastarache. Many thanks to Brian, even though I suspect he derived sinister pleasure by requiring us to make multiple chilly, soggy night trips into the dark swamps before allowing us to find the Blue-spot.

Robbie Cairl also led us to vernal pools that produced good results for which we thank him. 

As a result of the efforts of these good people, we're happy to say we found all the species of New England, and can now share with you a look into the lives of these shy creatures. 

You can watch The Salamanders of New England on the New England Forests Youtube channel.




Saturday, June 3, 2023

The Forgotten Forest Primeval film event


There is a natural, original, old growth forest on New Hampshire's Mount Sunapee, which most people are surprised (and excited!) to learn about. Such remnant ancient forests are extremely rare in the northeast. The forest is featured in our film, "The Forgotten Forest Primeval - Rediscovering Mt Sunapee's Old Growth".

On Monday evening, June 19, 2023, a screening of the film will be the opener of the 2023 Summer Speaker series of events, part of a Newbury, NH, community cultural and educational project. Sponsored by the Center Meeting House and the Newbury Library, the program will be held at Newbury's Center Meeting House (945 Rt 103, Newbury, NH) at 7pm.

Ecologist Chris Kane, who is credited with rediscovering the Mt Sunapee primeval forest a couple decades ago (and who appears in the film), will be on hand for a Q&A session following the film.

Chris Kane at an ancient Yellow Birch

Also participating in the Q&A will be Dave Anderson, Senior Director of Education for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, and Steve Russell, president of the Friends of Mount Sunapee. Both also appear in the film, and are avid, knowledgeable spokesmen for the state's exemplary Mt. Sunapee forest. 

Yours truly (Ray Asselin) will be there as well for the Q&A, although I take a back seat to Chris, Dave, and Steve.


Dave Anderson beside old sugar maple



Steve Russell at a large white ash tree
The Mt Sunapee old forest is situated on rugged terrain, and can be a rather arduous and treacherous destination for casual hikers to climb to. The film will take you to see the best of it, from a storm-battered, stunted beech grove on the summit, to the mid-slope stands of grand old yellow birch, sugar maple, and ash.

And you'll have access to the three experts who are most knowledgeable about the background story of this forest, as well as its contents... all eager to answer your questions. Do take advantage of this opportunity!


The event is free and open to the public.

For more info, see Friends of Mt Sunapee's website.


Note: some publicity articles state that the event will be held at the Newbury Veterans Hall, but the venue has been changed to the Center Meeting House.

Thursday, June 1, 2023

"Beaver Pond Wildlife Part 3" film screening


Beaver Pond Wildlife Part 3 - Early Summer will be shown on Thursday evening, June 8, 2023, at the Simsbury Grange hall in West Simsbury, CT. This event is the third in a 5-part series of films showcasing the great array of wild animal and plant life found at New England's many beaver ponds. 

The films are scheduled to coincide with what you can expect to see at northeastern beaver ponds at that time of the year. Each contains scenes that probably most people have never witnessed.

Mink in beaver pond


In Part 3, we'll finally see that red-shouldered hawk we heard calling in Part 2. We'll go underwater to see how a number of intriguing creatures live, such as the larval stage of dragonflies, and many others. The significance of adult dragonflies in the lives of birds will be revealed. Rare footage will give insight to some surprising bullfrog behaviors- thought you knew what they eat? Well, brace yourself. We'll see closeups of how beavers maintain the dam. A mink is on the hunt. Otters prowl the pond. And much more.


Redwing blackbird harasses Red-shouldered hawk


There will be a Q&A session with filmmaker Ray Asselin following each film.

Parts 4 and 5 will cover late summer to winter, and are scheduled for September 14, and November 19, respectively. 

The events will be held at the Simsbury Grange hall, 236 Farms Village Rd, W. Simsbury, CT.  Doors open at 6:00 for socializing. 

Admission is free, but donations are appreciated.

Pre-register at the Simsbury Library website.