Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Spring explodes!

This is the annual “spring is exploding” week at Roundtop.  In 2-3 short days, the forest leaves have gone from tiny leaf buds to fully-formed leaves, if not yet full-grown leaves.  I’ve lost my winter view of Nell’s Hill, which won’t return until November.

I took a photo on Sunday night at sunset where I could tell the view was “going,” but it was still rather nice.  This morning I could only make out where my neighboring mountain is because I know where it is.  I’ll take another photo tonight at sunset and then post both of them so you can see the difference a mere 3 days makes in how the forest looks. It’s amazing how fast the trees leaf out once they get going.

Warblers have arrived, skittering through the treetops around my cabin. So far I haven’t been able to identify many.  I have poor hearing for those high notes, so I can’t identify most of them that way.  And even with my expensive, trusty binoculars, those flitting shapes atop the tallest oaks are either 1) hidden by leaves  2)gone before I see them or3) those little things don’t show up well in poor early-morning light.  Oh, and there’s a 4) too.  I only find the females, which as they prefer more camouflaged coloring, unlike their gaudy mates, the distance and poor lighting doesn’t make them very easy to ID.  But trust me, they are up there.

The wood thrush and ovenbirds are singing away at dawn and dusk—those I can hear!  I’ve heard 3 separate males and probably 2 separate ovenbirds on my little patch of woods.  The forest is a busy place this week.  The first week of May is virtually always the busiest week of the year in these parts. It’s not a time to be indoors!

Monday, May 04, 2015

Spring is here

Spring is here. That is all. Thank you.

Redbud blooming at the bottom of my lane

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Nature's Notebook

Redbud starting to appear
Do you know about Nature’s Notebook?  It’s a program of the National Phenology Network where citizen scientists record details about birds, trees, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, butterflies and moths to help scientists create long-term datasets about changes to populations and timing.  The species the organization is currently tracking are not all inclusive of every species you may see, but it’s a fairly long list. I currently have just under 100 species I’m reporting on, but you can pick as many or as few as you like.

Phenology is the study of when things happen in nature, the seasonal changes that occur every year.  For instance, I know that the leaf fall in my forest is about two weeks later in the year than it was 20 years ago because I keep track of the dates.  Lest you think I’m totally OCD, for years the only television reception I had was a satellite dish that only worked once the leaves fell in the fall.  I knew when to expect to see TV again, and I soon realized it happened a day or two later just about every year.

Tools like e-Bird made it easy to see changes in the arrival and departure dates of bird species I see around my cabin. For Nature’s Notebook, the questions asked about each sighting are more extensive than for those in e-Bird, and the questions vary somewhat with each species. You can submit your sightings online by computer or through an app that’s available for i-Phone and Android users.

The organization has about 50 partnering groups that range from nature centers to student groups and professional organizations. Sponsoring agencies include the National Park Service, The U.S. Geological Service, NASA, NOAA among others.

The only downside I can see is that I haven’t yet figured out if I can enter my data from previous years.  One project I’m participating in is about red oaks.  My observations will note when the first leaf buds appear, the number of them I see, when the first actual leaves appear, when the leaves are full size, when they turn color and when they fall.

Some publications and educator tools are available for free download to help explain particulars and help with botany. They also have tools, some only in a beta version currently, that let you see the arrival of spring, for example, across the U.S.

Anyway, if such things interest you, I invite you to check it out and see if it’s something you would enjoy participating in.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Every spring is different

Rue anemone at sunset
As if the budding trees and blooming wildflowers weren’t enough, I can tell it’s spring by the amount of sounds in the forest around my cabin.  The sound of wild turkeys gobbling, the sound of a fox barking,  the call of the phoebes and Carolina wrens, the rush of wind through the trees—all of this is quite a change from the quiet of winter.  For some reason I’m still not used to all the spring sounds yet.  The season sounds noisy to me.

Or perhaps it’s only that I can no longer filter out sounds the way I used to, the way I imagine people who live in cities do.  Or even towns.  It’s hard to hear the forest for all the noise going on inside it right now.  And it will only get louder as more of the summer resident birds arrive and start singing for a mate.

In winter the sounds of even a quiet footfall or a distant limb breaking and falling somewhere let me know what’s going on around these woods.  But now I hear so many other things that I can’t hear those more distant or quiet sounds anymore.  I suppose this happens every spring, but for some reason I’m noticing it more this year.

Every spring some things are different, even in the same forest.  This year the rue anemone are thicker than I’ve ever seen them . The forest across from my cabin is so thick with them that I don’t dare walk over there, as I could not avoid stepping on them. There must be hundreds of plants, looking almost like little cotton balls strewn across the forest floor.

And yet, I didn’t have any bloodroot this spring, and I found only a few hepatica plants.  Already the trout lilies are done blooming, and the leaves of the purple violets are just appearing.  The forest is ever-changing, season by season and year by year.  Even in the same place.

Friday, April 24, 2015

April snow flurries and the warmest winter on record

April is the cruelest month, and this April is crueler than most.

Snow flurries!  I had snow flurries this morning before sunrise.  And temperatures solidly below freezing.  Just when it looked as though spring had finally arrived, another blast of near-winter makes me drag out my winter jacket again.

Yes, I know the photo is deceptive. It looks like a pretty spring morning, not one with skim ice in the puddles and bone-chilling wind gusts. The trees have that fuzzy look they get before the leaves pop out.  I think the leaves might be wishing they were still hiding in their warm, cozy buds for the next few days. I rather feel the same way.

I pity the poor barn swallows that arrived a few days ago.  I can’t believe they will be very successful finding mosquitos for a while.  It’s hard for people in this part of the country to wrap their heads around the fact that 96% of our earth experienced a much warmer than average winter.  In fact the winter was the warmest on record worldwide.   You can read about that here:  There’s a nice global map that shows the eastern half of the U.S. as the earth’s only cold region.  Aren’t we just the lucky ones?  But here, in the cold spot of the world, winter just won’t let go.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

This and that

The chickens are on lockdown for the moment, and officially they are Not Happy.  At 4:30 a.m. this morning I was awakened by the sound of a barking red fox—the first I’ve heard in months. It sounded as though the fox was in my driveway.  An hour or so later when Baby Dog and I were taking our morning walk, I heard the barking again, this time more distantly.  

I will let the chickens out this evening when I get home, so they can be outside for a few hours until dusk.  Foxes are usually active at night, though sometimes are seen during the day.  It’s those early morning and early evening hours that are the most critical, but with the fox prowling so close to the cabin, I’m not going to take any chances for a while. 

This probably also means I won’t get any unbroken eggs for a while. The girls have taken to laying their eggs in the old chicken coop that I don’t use any longer but which I haven’t gotten rid of yet.   Instead of laying eggs in their own coop’s nest boxes, they have decided to sleep in those cozy little nooks. So if they are forced to lay there today, I imagine the eggs will get broken before I get home. 
In other chicken news, one of my girls laid a fairy egg a day or so ago.  It’s the first one I’ve ever had.  Fairy eggs, also called witch eggs, happen occasionally.  Usually it’s when a hen is interrupted in her laying process for a day.  It might have even been the day Baby Dog scared one of the hens when the two met unexpectedly at the corner of the cabin.  Fairy eggs won’t have a yolk, so this one will get tossed out, but it’s still kind of interesting to see. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Spring ephemera

Spring ephemerals are blooming all around my cabin this week.  Out! They all popped all at once. They are such tiny and dainty little things.

I have to look for them, watching underfoot so I don’t accidentally step on one.  Friends who aren’t flower people tell me when they see my photos, “I’ve never seen anything like that.”  I think it’s because they expect the flowers to be large and showy, as sometimes the close-up photos make them appear. These are not your mother’s tulips. These are half-inch jewels that are easily overlooked, despite their colors.  Many of them close up at night and only reopen when the sun wakes them up again, and in a week or two they are gone, gone for another year.

They aren’t always easy to see or easy to find.  That’s part of what makes them so special and so spectacular in their own tiny little way.