Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Silver Maple Flowers Among a Tangle of Invasives

I am spending a few days as a first-time attendee at the Northeast Natural History Conference in Springfield, Mass. Yesterday I attended a workshop on invasive plants--how to i.d. and map them. We learned about the Outsmart App (if you have a smartphone this is fun, easy, and contributes to a national database). The Outsmart folks have created several short educational videos on some of the common invasives such as glossy buckthorn and check out this invasive star-studded video.

On a raw overcast spring day we walked Springfield's waterfront along the Connecticut River. A spot conducive for invasive plants, and we found plenty: tree of heaven, multiflora rose, bittersweet, Japanese knotweed, garlic mustard, spotted knapweed, burning bush, Japanese barberry.

As far as I know we don't yet have tree of heaven in New Hampshire. Despite its heavenly name, this tree grows fast and tall and is not a nice addition to the waterfront. As with most invasives it is a heavy seed producer and crowds out the natives.
In the midst of the invaders we found beauty in one of the classic native trees of a wooded floodplain: silver maple. It's arching branches host the earliest tree blossoms--bundles of red and yellowish flowers.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Leftover Leaves and Spring Songs

Last year's white oak leaves still hang on the tree, while new life thaws, stirs, and emerges from a seemingly extra long winter.
A male turkey strutted in our neighbor's yard this morning, courting two females (although they paid no attention to him) and warning other males to stay clear of his small harem. His head and neck were bright red and blue with various fleshy protrusions known as a snood, caruncles, and a dewlap. Earlier, at dawn, we heard multiple turkeys gobbling; this male clearly won over at least two females, with his colorful snood, puffed up body, and large, fanned tail.

Yesterday morning we head the first phoebe of the year; any day now one will return to our yard. This morning (when the sun was still out and it felt like another nice day--turned raw by midday) I heard several brown creepers, one of the sweetest songs of early spring. This tiny brown and white bird creeps up tree trunks in search of insects, spiraling around the tree as it climbs.

Every day now for a spell offers some new spring gift--peenting woodcock, first phoebe, singing creepers, gobbling turkeys--all sweeter than Easter candy. What is my next spring sighting...can't wait.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Skunk Cabbage--A Spring Favorite

When I visit my parents at their Winterberry Farm in western Massachusetts in March, I search out the woodland seeps behind the house. It is there that I find one of my favorite early spring emergents: skunk cabbage. Despite its name, it is a beautiful plant in form and color.
The flowers emerge protected by the hood, which is a modified leaf called the spathe. The hood comes in shades of maroon and green and is often speckled, and carefully protects the flower that remains mostly hidden inside. The skunk-like smell of the flower attracts small flies and beetles at a time when the surrounding trees and shrubs are still leafless.

Skunk cabbage is avoided by most mammals. Bears apparently seek it out when they emerge in spring from hibernation. On my skunk cabbage excursion yesterday I noticed that many of the plants were chewed. I considered squirrels, rabbits, or turkeys as the possible nibblers. All three are common here and signs of their tracks were evident in the snow. I decided it was turkeys that had pecked at these cabbages, but maybe it was one of the others.
Skunk cabbage flowers and their protective hood emerge when the ground is still snow-covered. The flowers generate excessive heat during respiration, which melts the snow around them---as you can see in the photos below.
 Soon, the spear-like tightly packed buds of leaves will emerge next to the hoods. In another month the leaves will unfold, turning the brown-colored seep into a sea of green.
Until then, I'll enjoy seeing the multi-colored hoods poke through snow and leaf litter as spring slowly unfolds this year.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Spring Unfolds Slowly

The past two weeks rolled by with just the slightest hint of a transition from winter to spring. The outdoors stayed cold and snow-covered. We had brief spurts of interesting wildlife sightings: skunk tracks in snow, a small flock of cobalt-blue bluebirds at the suet feeder, a dozen turkeys. Red-winged blackbirds returned. I looked hard for signs of spring.

This morning I heard the most hopeful sign yet: a male woodcock peenting before dawn from the edge of a still snow-covered field. In keeping with this year's weather their arrival is a week later than usual. Even the cardinals sounded more spirited this morning.

The only bit of fresh green that I could find in my yard on these first few days of spring was the moss growing on our rock wall. At least it is something as another week of cold temps and wintry weather is in the air.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Kodi and Henna Still Love the Snow

Kodi and Henna are the only 2 in our family of 4 that are still loving all the snow that remains in our yard.

Meanwhile, I was relishing the sound of snow and ice melting from our roof and thankful for a second day of blue sky and full sun.