Some sassafras leaves are shaped like mittens.
White pine needles grow in clusters of five; if you need help remembering that, you can spell out WHITE as you count them.
And a striped maple tree has silvery stripes on its bark, which is how it got one of its names. Some people also call the tree goosefoot maple, because its leaves look like a goose tracks.
Those are just a few of the fun facts a group of hikers learned last weekend as they embarked on a leisurely walk to identify trees and shrubs at the Moon Lake Recreation Area off Route 29 in Hunlock Creek.
Leading the walk were Garrett Barr and Tammy Tintjer from the Greater Wyoming Valley Audubon Society, who shared their extensive knowledge of biology with the group.
“We’re not here to talk about amphibians,” Barr said at one point. But he couldn’t resist picking up a wood frog, smaller than a thumbnail, that proceeded to hop along his arm.
The wood frog had hatched from a vernal pool of water that appears along the forest trail only in spring and, unlike nearby Moon Lake, is free of fish.
“When the eggs hatch, there’s not a lot to eat them,” Barr said. “They’re relatively safe.”
As close to a dozen hikers walked along the park’s Nature Trail, they tried to identify trees without Barr and Tintjer giving them the answers.
What about a specimen with jagged, tooth-like edges on its leaves? Could it be an American chestnut? Or a chinkapin oak?
“The app says American chestnut,” one hiker said, consulting her phone while other hikers paged through printed field guides.
Technology played a role in identifying some birds, too, as Lorraine Smith of Hanover Township used the Merlin Bird ID sound app on her phone to name a red-eyed vireo.
“Oh, it will listen and tell you what you hear?” Tintjer asked. Smith nodded.
“Oh, I need to get that,” Tintjer said.
Hiker Sandy Goodwin didn’t need an app to identify the call of a warbler known as a black-throated green, or to identify the neat rows of little round holes, also known as sapwells, that a sapsucker had left in a tree.
“Oh, it’s interested in insects,” a hiker commented.
“No,” Goodwin said. “It’s interested in sap.”
The hikers were careful not to step on a small white plant Tintjer identified as Indian pipe. She explained it was a parasitic plant that gets nourishment not from photosynthesis but from its green neighbors with underground fungi acting as a middleman.
A few participants scratched and tasted the bark of some young saplings, with the refreshing flavor of birch eliciting a “Wow!” from Kaki Sjogren of Wilkes-Barre and Falls.
And Garr uprooted a tiny shoot of Indian cucumber, showing the group where they’d find a bit of nourishment that tasted like cucumbers.
With so many interesting plants to discuss, the leaders announced after two hours they’d covered only one-third of the distance they’d intended to walk. At that point, some hikers departed; some stay.
The local chapter of the Audubon Society has scheduled other events.
During a July 15 walk set to begin at 8:30 pm July 15 at the Moon Lake Recreation Area, participants will use recording equipment to take an “acoustic survey of bats.” That walk is expected to last until moonrise around 10:30 pm Interested participants may call Garrett Barr at 570-301-4618 to register.
Early risers may prefer another walk, set to begin 8:30 am Aug. 20 at Nescopeck State Park in Drums. That one is designated as a bird walk, and the person to call to register is John Dickinson at 570-239-4369.
More information about the chapter is available on the group’s Facebook page.
Reach Mary Therese Biebel at 570-991-6109 or on Twitter @BiebelMT