Spring arrived in April

skunk cabbageIt was a mild winter. The skunk cabbage seemed to just survive the snow, with frost-blackened tips. In early April, creatures were waking up. Here, a skunk cabbage hood (spathe) showing the spadix inside (the flower head).

garter snakeAlso a garter snake adventuring, and best of all, there were a glorious few days of peepers. When I recorded this, they were so loud, and there were so many layers of sound, and individual voices. Wonderful. Not long after this, we had a spate of severe cold and snow and the peepers were noticeably quiet.

Hemp Nettle

Hemp NettleStill discovering wildflowers in my familiar haunts that I haven’t identified. This one has tiny, snapdragon-like blossoms. The most distinctive thing is the dense spiky whorls of blossoms growing in the axils– between the leaves, all up and down the stem. This is an annual, dependent on seed production to flourish, native to Europe and Asia. In the Mint family.

Hemp Nettle (Galeopsis tetrahit)

Bonus picture: There is a gentleman in our neighborhood who has transformed his suburban property into a delightful farm, with fruit trees and bees and all kinds of berries and vegetables. We stopped and bought some peaches off his front porch, and he gave us a short tour, including these elderberries. Describing how he cooked with the white flowers, and all the delicious things you could make with the berries. He has a passion for his plants.

Elderberry

Purple-headed Sneezeweed

Purple-headed SneezeweedPossibly the best flower name we’ve had so far. All manner of insects use the nectar and pollen, the leaves, the stem. But the leaves are nasty so it’s avoided by mammals. A member of the Aster family. Native

Purple-headed Sneezeweed (Helenium flexuosum)

Young herons

I wondered how this heron nest could possibly weather the severe winter we had, but I was glad to see it still there and occupied this spring. I believe these are the young ones, looking a bit like bowling pins til they turned their heads…

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Herons lay 2-6 eggs in a clutch, in March and April. The eggs incubate about a month. Then they fledge when they’re about two months old. They still come back to visit for a few weeks.

Peeper time at last!

Heard the peepers first on the night of April 10, coming from the Charles River, only a week later than last year, even though spring feels so late this year. Then today went for a good listen. It was silent at a pond that still had snow on it, but frog party-town at the adjacent one that gets more sun… It’s peepers and wood frogs — wood frogs are the ones that make a clacking sound. So good to hear some spring!

Eastern Wahoo in Autumn

Eastern Wahoo in AutumnAll the wildflowers have gone to fruit and seeds. This shot is from November 19. Wahoo is a Dakota term for this plant, which means “arrow wood.” Native to North America, related to bittersweet and also to the non-native invasive kind of euonymous.

Eastern Wahoo (Euonymous atropurpureus)

Coyote

We were driving around looking for a different access route to the marsh with the heron nest. We were on a residential street in Wellesley when we spotted this coyote. It immediately turned to leave, but when Lucy started barking at it from inside the car, it came back to investigate us.

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It looked quite fine and healthy as far as I could tell. Rather thrilling to get such a good look. Coyotes weigh 20 to 50 lbs. and can live up to 14 years in the wild. Their litters are three to twelve pups, born in the spring. Both parents protect their pups and their territory. By fall, the young can hunt on their own. There is an area of Ridge Hill I call Coyoteville. I wonder if this one has a den in that area.

Great Blue Heron Nest

This 4th of July morning was gray with the clouds of an impending storm. We went to  check out a heron nest I saw a couple of weeks ago. And it was so great to look over there and see all these great tall birds perched in their aerie! At first they were bunched together so it was hard to see how many there were. DSC_0005

But then they wandered around a bit, revealing four.DSC_0007

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I hope they come through this storm okay (remnants of Hurricane Arthur). Glad there is enough habitat here to support them. Imagine building that nest (with your mouth) — how do you get the first sticks to stay? Clever birds!

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Great Blue Herons will eat just about anything they can catch, including fish, insects, mammals, amphibians, reptiles and even birds. They can hunt during the day and night, because of good night vision. We’ve noticed new beaver dams in our favorite hiking areas, and this is a boon for herons because hunting is good in the swamps created by the dams.

From allaboutbirds.org:

Male Great Blue Herons collect much of the nest material, gathering sticks from the ground and nearby shrubs and trees, and from unguarded and abandoned nests, and presenting them to the female. She weaves a platform and a saucer-shaped nest cup, lining it with pine needles, moss, reeds, dry grass, mangrove leaves, or small twigs. Nest building can take from 3 days up to 2 weeks; the finished nest can range from a simple platform measuring 20 inches across to more elaborate structures used over multiple years, reaching 4 feet across and nearly 3.5 feet deep. Ground-nesting herons use vegetation such as salt grass to form the nest.

Great Blue Herons nest mainly in trees, but will also nest on the ground, on bushes, in mangroves, and on structures such as duck blinds, channel markers, or artificial nest platforms. Males arrive at the colony and settle on nest sites; from there, they court passing females. Colonies can consist of 500 or more individual nests, with multiple nests per tree built 100 or more feet off the ground.

— A clutch will have 2-6 eggs, which are about 2.5 to 3 inches long. They incubate for about a month, and the young stay in the nest 4 to 7 weeks. These ones must be about ready to strike out on their own. Pairs choose new breeding partners each year.

First sign of spring: Skunk Cabbage

Skunk Cabbage in black swampskunk cabbage sproutsSkunk Cabbage and oak leaves

The skunk cabbage has been up for weeks. It came up through the ice and snow—skunk cabbage flowers make their own heat, so that the temperature inside the sculptural spathe is considerably warmer than the surrounding air. You can see in these shots that some of the tips got frostbitten. Now that everything is melted, this marsh looks black and primordial, with green and wine-colored fingers reaching up through the muck. Native to eastern North America.

I first heard the peepers on April 5. It’s been a long winter—last year the peeper debut was March 28, the year before was March 12. This afternoon at Ridge Hill, they were dazzlingly loud. It was fantastic. The winter forest roaring back to life!

Eastern Skunk Cabbage, Polecat Weed, Swamp Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus)

Bonus picture: this is the kind of action that immediately follows sloshing around in the swamp. Lucy with a stick

 

Pinesap

Pinesap 1Pinesap 2The most exciting new wildflower discovery in a long time! A bit of shocking pink among the September leaf litter. Kudos to AF Brian for spotting it first. It’s very like Indian Pipe, but this wonderful color, and it’s rare. It’s a mycotrophic flower — it has no chlorophyll and gets its nutrition from host green plants like a fungus. But instead of being a direct parasite on the host roots, it taps into an intermediary fungus on the roots of the host. Unlike a fungus, it does flower and bear seeds. Can be 12 inches high! Native. Pyrola family.

Pinesap, Dutchman’s Pipe, False Beechdrops (Monotropa hypopithys)