Friday, March 28, 2014

On Any Given Day In Spring

On Any Given Day In Spring . . .

You may find a treasure

Today the wind is whistling through the trees, the sun is shining, and the temperature is warmer that it has been for quite a few days.  Spring has, indeed, sprung even if we did have snow on Tuesday!  Of course if there are any more predictions of snow, we'll pretend we didn't hear them and hope it goes away.

These pictures show some of the things folks can see this time of year - on up through June in many cases.  A couple pictures are from earlier in the year but their subjects are around now and later, too.

The usual but very important warning: DO NOT EVER EAT WILD MUSHROOMS UNLESS YOU ARE AN EXPERT OR HAVE AN EXPERT WITH YOU WHEN COLLECTING!  NEVER!  Enjoy them where they grow and leave them there to make more mushrooms:>)

This is a marvelous time of year to go walking.  If you ride a bike, use a skateboard,  drive a car, etc., you will miss a lot of what is right at your feet.  Make special time to savor the sights and sounds (no ear buds, okay?), even the smells. See how many tiny little treasures you can find.

FRIEND - NOT FOE!  Dandelions are way up on the top of my favorite springtime wildflowers list.  They fill lawns with a universe of bright yellow flowers; "Welcome spring!" they shout.  The early, tender greens are much prized for salads, especially when paired with hot bacon dressing - yum!  The dandelion wine I tasted years ago was too sweet for me, but people do seem to love it.  the flowers are edible and add a pretty decoration to salad.  Roast the roots, grind them, and you have a caffeine-free "coffee".  What we call a flower is, actually, many flowers growing together from one seed head.

Daisy Fleabane - These lovely wildflowers grow in partial sun to full sun, but they really prefer lots of sun.  Look for them along roadsides and in fields.  In our yard they grow on the margins of the woods and get up to a foot and a half tall.  They belong to the HUGE family of aster relatives.

 Leopard Frog - This frog and it's buddies that were hanging out together are a darker color than I would expect, but they are variable and easy to confuse with the Pickerel Frog (Very little in nature is as easy to identify as it appears.).  Springtime is breeding season, and these frogs are sitting in a small brook located about three feet from a stream.   It runs parallel for, perhaps, 200 yards then joins back up with the stream.   The water in this side-brook is quiet much of the time which is great for breeding and egg laying.  Once that chore is done, the adults go back to the larger body of water and the eggs, then the tadpoles, stay in the quiet place until they hatch, grow, and morph (change) into frogs with legs.  Then they, too, leave to search for larger bodies of water.  Leopard frogs are becoming more rare for all the usual, sad reasons.  Pesticides and loss of habitat. climate changes - all add up to trouble for the frogs.
Wild Ginger Leaves

Wild Ginger Wildflower - These bloom in April around Green Lane, and they are a flower you need to hunt for to find.  The pretty, dark green, heart-shaped (some people call them kidney shape) leaves grow low to the ground and, when happy, will cover an area in the early spring.  Look under the leaves at ground level, in the axils of the leaf stems, and you will find these wonderful, strange flowers.  The plants like very moist, very rich soils and a fair amount of shade.  I go to a colony that lives in a low place beside the Unami Creek.  There are people who use Wild Ginger root as a spice.  It is, however, a very strong diuretic and I caution you against trying this.  The plant is not really "ginger" but a member of the same general family as the Dutchman's Breeches".

Blue Jays are amazing birds, very intelligent and very hungry!  I post this picture to show you how smart they are.  Look closely at the throat of this bird and you'll see the end of a peanut.  The Blue Jays partially swallow one peanut, pick up a second, then fly off to eat both.  Each peanut is picked up and weighed (or the birds evaluate the peanuts in some other manner I can't fathom) to see if it meets quality control standards.  Then the bird then either flies away with an approved peanut choice or rejects it and tries another.  Fun to watch the process.

We have chipmunks living all around the house.  They are clever underground architects and set up separate rooms for sleeping, potty, food storage, and such.  They have multiple entrances/exits to their homes.  If startled they yelp, maybe "chip" is a better way to say it, to warn other chipmunks of danger.  They also become quite tame if someone spends loads of quiet time and patience in their company.  Their antics are fun to watch.  The mother chipmunk gives birth to up to five babies and nurses them for forty days.  Once the kids are weaned, Mom moves away and leaves the house to the teenagers.
Pileated Woodpeckers are crow-sized birds and impressive to see, especially flying through the woods.  As you can see, they will come to suet when food is scarce.  The male (lower right) has a red check patch which the female (upper left) lacks.  Pairs are true to each other until one dies and once paired up, they claim large territories as their own.  When a pair moves in, you probably won't see others in the vicinity because they are very defensive of their "turf".  If one dies, the other may look for another mate.  I have more pictures that are closer up and you'll be seeing them as time goes on:>)  I adore these guys!  They were the model for Woody Woodpecker right down to the laughing call.

Orange Falcate Tip Butterflies are one of the earliest we see.  We have a very small population right at our house, and every late April/early May about twelve individuals can be seen flitting about in the low weeds.  They rarely sit still and I only have two pictures that are worth anything at all; even those aren't too good.  These butterflies look a lot like the ubiquitous cabbage whites that are the bane of gardeners, but these Orange Falcate Tips are flying for only two weeks or so, then they are gone.  They are thought to lay only one egg per plant (but I suppose two butterflies could use the same plant) and the caterpillar will eat buds, flowers, and leaves. Once they've gotten fat and happy, they make a chrysalis.  The pupa hibernates until hatching time the following spring.

Black Morel Mushroom - These, and the yellow ones shown below - will be popping up any day now.  They are supposed to be DELICIOUS!  I, however, will not pick and eat them.  I am not an expert and as sure as I am of this identification, I know better than to trust myself.  If you see either form of these in the woods and want to pick and eat them - check first with an expert.  Otherwise, take a picture, make a sketch, or just look and enjoy.

Yellow Morel - See above

Eastern Painted Turtles are probably the most common turtle, and they live in ponds, lakes, and natural pools.  They love sun bathing and bask on logs, rocks, or bare ground.  You can find them where there is space, sun, and easy access for escape into the water.  Painted turtles enjoy the company of others; these two look like they are having a gossip session.  Although they get up to nine or ten inches long, they are very shy.  You need to creep up on them being careful not to let vibrations or movement give you away or they plop off their logs or rocks and disappear under water.  They breed in springtime and the females travel away from the water to dig their nests, but the nest must be close enough to water to allow for water to seep into the bottom of the hole.  She covers the nest and in about ten weeks the babies hatch and dig themselves free.  Temperature determines the sex of the little ones - hot weather means females!  Conversely, cold weather makes males.  Painted Turtles hibernate in the mud through the winter.

Perfoliate Bellwort, Merry Bells - These lovely, little wildflowers are hard to spot because of their greenish yellow color and the way they hang downward; the yellow/green color of the flower allows them to blend in with other green plants.  Again, you need to be looking for them.  They are denizens of forest edges and bloom before the leaves are out on the trees.

Rue Anemone Wildflowers will very soon be showing off their pretty little flowers.  Note the mitten shape to the leaves.  Although pure white flowers like these, are the most common, some are tinted with pink.  The plants are small and grow to about a foot high at the very tallest.  They love the dappled sunlight of the springtime woods and prefer their soil to be loamy, rich, and somewhat moist.

American Robin - These birds are considered true harbingers of Spring.  Lawns are a place to look for them, especially early in the morning or after a rain when worms come close to the surface.  Robins love to eat worms, thus the saying, "The early bird captures the worm".  Robins are easily recognized by the dark gray/brown color of their backs and wings and the warm orange of their breast.

SKUNK!  Don't hold your nose just yet, people:>)  I love skunks and we have at least one family that lives among the rocks near our house.  We can smell them occasionally.  They do come out in mild weather to eat the birds' seeds and dropped pieces of suet.  If we go outside they don't run and we are careful not to scare them - no spraying allowed here. Skunks are terrific diggers, love to eat anything that comes their way, and are not aggressive - just don't make them feel threatened and you won't get sprayed.  We had a couple dogs that tangled with a skunk; that was not a good outcome for either the dogs or us!  We found out the hard way that tomato juice, enzymes, soap - nothing works, at least not well.  That is one strong stink and it stays on you forever!!!  My grandparents had a pet skunk named Chanel, and she was a sweetheart, but my Grandfather had "deodorized" her.
Wild Azalea Shrub -  I'll try to get a regular picture for you this year.  For now, this shows you what they look like.  The trees (pardon me, shrubs) grow fairly tall and generally are blooming in May.  The leaves are not out in full at that time and the flowers get lots of sunshine.  This is a true native to our region, not introduced.  As you may have guessed, it is related to rhododendrons.

This was a long post - maybe too long.  I'll try to be more succinct in the future:>)  Thank you ever so much for visiting and for your patience.

Happy weekend and have a great week ahead.