Willows in Sun and Rain

The wild willow shrubs (Salix spp.) are in full bloom. There are many species, their identification complicated by hybridization, but all have silky-hairy flower buds that give rise to an early spring bloom. As with the Glory-of-the-snow garden flower covered in a recent post, the early Willow bloom is a critical food source for bees and other insects.

One local species is fairly showy, displaying large buds and masses of pale yellow flowers that brighten up the monochromatic landscape of a wetland on a dark and dreary evening.

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Willow shrub, buds bursting (19April2014)

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Willow shrub, approaching full bloom (29April2014)

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Spring Wildflowers: White Trillium

The White Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum, also called Large-flowered Trillium) has started to bloom — finally! This is a fairly common, carpet-forming, spring ephemeral that thrives in rich, moist woodlands. The large, showy flowers, 2 to 4 inches across, often turn pinkish as they age.

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Photo by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Spring Wildflowers: Hepatica

Unseasonably cool weather persists, delaying the much anticipated sequence of bloom of the early spring wildflowers. It appears that the blooming period will be shorter than normal, but intense. Many plants are up, some carpeting the forest floor, with buds and flowers on hold. Several days of warm weather should trigger an explosion of blooms from many species!

Hepatica, one of the first of the spring ephemerals to bloom, always gets a head start on the others, regardless of the weather. Tough, persistent leaves from the previous growing season help make this possible.

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Sharp-lobed Hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba) in full bloom (26April2014)

Hepatica is not abundant and, like many of the early spring flowers in this region, is usually found growing in moist, fertile woodlands. It is a plant of the mixed mesophytic forests of eastern U.S. and southern Canada.

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The delicate flowers, with 6-12 sepals that resemble petals, are usually white (pink and blue variations also occur)

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

“Mourning” in the Sun

The Mourning Cloak is one of the most interesting butterflies in North America. It is a nonconformist in every way. Is it colorful and pretty? Not really; in fact, in the resting pose with wings folded, it is downright ugly.

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Mourning Cloak on a deer carcass in late summer

Does it flit about in the heat of the summer, following the bloom and nectaring? No. It’s dormant then (estivating), preferring to feed on tree sap in the spring and again in late summer and fall. Is it a specialist, relying on a few plant species with limited range for survival? No. On the contrary, it’s a generalist, occurring throughout temperate North America, and Eurasia too. The caterpillars feed on a variety of plants that are widely distributed and abundant, especially in riparian habitats – willows, aspens, cottonwoods, and elm for example.

Lastly, this unique butterfly actually hibernates, emerging in March and April, when the sap flows, to breed.

The spread wings, dark and velvety, resemble a cloak worn at a time of mourning, hence the common name. In this case, they have a dual purpose: attract a mate, and absorb solar radiation for warmth.

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Mourning Cloak butterfly perched in a sunny spot on the forest floor, waiting – hoping – for a receptive female (24April2014)

Photos by NB Hunter. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Earth Day 2014

Earth Day photos; all except the last image captured in central New York on 21April2014; quotes by Aldo Leopold, the father of modern wildlife ecology and management

“The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant, “What good is it?”

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Turkey Vulture, flying low and scanning open landscapes for a meal of carrion

“Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language.”

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Eastern Bluebird, female, investigating the availability of nest boxes and open feeding grounds

“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

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Ruffed Grouse, female

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“We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”

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Eleven-month-old White-tail buck after a long winter

“To those devoid of imagination a blank place on a map is a useless waste; to others, the most valuable part.”

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Canada Geese at sunrise

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Preflight Ritual

One of a pair of Tree Swallows perched above the chosen nest box; they typically  preen and stretch in the morning sun prior to take-off.

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For information and photos relating to habitat management for tree swallows and other cavity-nesting songbirds, you might want to visit this post from my archives: http://nicksnaturepics.wordpress.com/2013/04/21/h

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Mute Swan in Evening Light

A brief visit to the marsh this evening rewarded me with an opportunity to watch the wild Mute Swan feeding in a quiet pool, highlighted by the last sunlight of the day. Rapidly gaining celebrity status in the area, it gave an encore performance that kept the carload of little kids in front of me amazingly quiet and still!

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Glory-of-the-Snow

When landscaping for wildlife (including some insects), I prefer plants that provide multiple benefits through the seasons. A flowering crabapple tree (Malus spp.) with attractive, spring flowers and persistent, colorful fruit that feeds Robins in late winter is an example. As the snow melts in early spring, my attention is drawn to a small perennial flower that also supports this landscaping priority: Glory-of-the-Snow (Chionodoxa spp.).

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Glory-of-the-Snow is native to alpine habitats in the eastern Mediterranean region and is therefore very hardy, tolerating winter temperatures down to minus 20 degrees (F) or colder, depending on the variety. In this area it is often seen blooming in a snow-covered perennial bed or lawn (they naturalize) in March or April.

The temperature was 18 degrees (F) when this photo was taken (the slender green structures framing the flower are the typical leaves of this variety).

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Aside from the obvious aesthetic appeal of an early spring bloom and carpet of blue on white, Glory-of-the-Snow also performs a valuable ecological role in the landscape. It provides a food source for honeybees, flies and other insects. Take a walk and tally up all of the flowers in bloom that might be visited by a honey bee for nectar. Here, you’ll find landscape crocuses (Crocus spp.), some willows (Salix spp.; cultivated and natural)  — but not much else.

Bees returned to feed soon after the deep freeze, when afternoon temperatures reached 45 – 50 degrees (F).

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Wood Frogs

Wood Frogs (Rana sylvatica) are notorious for their opportunistic breeding behavior. They quickly congregate, mate and lay eggs during the first warm spell following ice melt in March or April. Low, repetitive, quacking sounds in vernal pools and wetlands announce this ephemeral breeding frenzy, but constant vigilance is still critical – if you’re not paying attention, you’ll miss all of the action!

I saw a few frogs in a vernal pool briefly, four days ago. It was 18 degrees (F) and snowing this morning when I visited the same pool. It was much too cold for an amphibian –  but there were eggs in the pool! Done!!!

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.