Friday, April 29, 2016

Woodland Gems from the Forest Floor

Dog Violets, despite being their somewhat sparse growth compared to other members of the Violet family, they still lend a bit of color to the forest floor.         
Once upon a time, while strolling through the woods (wait a sec, this isn't a Fairy Tale, it's a true story).  There was a time – albeit long ago - when I seldom, if ever, gave a second thought to the plant growth springing forth from the forest floor as March turned to April. In my haste to get from point A to point B in search of who knows what, I no doubt must have tromped on a good many vibrantly colored woodland gems.

Those days of haste are behind me now, replaced by leisurely and far more attentive strolls wherever I meander each week.  Being the curious sort, somewhere along the way, long before "Google" became an adjective, I accumulated a mini library of reference books, books that divulged information on all that I encountered.  My bookcase became home to a vast array of outdoor topics ranging from the night sky to butterflies, to mammals, and fish, and birds and, much, much more. One of the more worn books in my collection is about wildflowers. Here are some pics of a few that I happened across while outside near my house recently.  I give you this year's "edition" of early woodland blooms.    
The flower of the Trout Lily consists of just a solitary, nodding bloom.
Although their mottled leaves first emerged a couple weeks ago, it's only in recent days that the Trout Lilies finally have sprouted in the small woods adjacent our property. They stand a mere four to ten inches tall but, left undisturbed over time they can develop into large colonies that will blanket the forest floor.

The Trout Lily apparently got its name because someone back in the day thought the mottled blotching on the leaves resembled the markings found along the backs of wild brook trout.
Lesser Clenandine has heart-shaped leaves and shiny yellow flowers.
Lesser Celandine is normally found growing in large to massive clusters in damp woodlots and along sluggish streams and will brighten the forest floor considerably. Late in the day, as the sun nears the western horizon, the blossoms will close tightly and remain so until the next morning after the sun has ascended well overhead.  (A word of caution, this is an invasive species and should not be transplanted.)

No, this is not a dandelion. 
Another early spring wild flower, Colts Foot first emerged in early March this year.  Sometimes mistaken for dandelion, Colts Foot is found along streams as well as roadsides. Thanks to their distinct leaves (hence the name), the plant is one of the more readily identifiable wildflowers. Both the flowers and the leaves are edible and also are used in some natural homeopathic remedies.   
Suffice to say at this stage of my life I am no longer in such a hurry when outdoors and more importantly, I no longer knowingly step on delicate wild plants, but rather stop quite often to admire some of the God’s finest handiwork in the spring woodlands.  "Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these."

Until Next Time,
Jim & Claudia

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Some Sights and Sounds of Springtime

A Red-wing Blackbird alights upon a Red Osier Willow.
Among the first arrivals of our feathered friends early last month was a large contingent of Red-winged Blackbirds. While their song is easily recognizable and a sure sign that spring is nigh, it seems this year neither they nor our local meteorologists could agree as to when exactly spring should kick into high gear.

Environs such as this are a spring peeper paradise.
There is no sweeter springtime sound than that of the small chorus frog, commonly known as the "peeper". Their mating season was underway weeks ago and, providing the air temperature doesn’t drop significantly, you will hear their springtime cacophony day or night.

A wood frog warily eyes its surroundings.
It may be the spring peeper whose chorus we are most familiar with, but it’s the wood frog who is usually heard from first. Its raspy call is heard in early spring, often before ice has completely melted.  They are at the lower end of the locally indigenous creatures food chain, often falling prey to just about every other bird, mammal, and reptile they have the misfortune of being spotted by.         

This vernal pool will provide a wonderful micro-environment habitat.
A vernal pool such as the one pictured above is seasonal, perhaps lasting no more than a month or two, depending on the weather. The Spring Peeper and the Wood Frog, as well as certain species of turtles, salamanders, etc., are all reliant on these pools to procreate. They come here to breed, deposit their egg masses and then go back to whence they came. And they don’t necessarily live in close proximity.

Like waterfowl, the aforementioned creatures also have a need to migrate – they just don’t do so on such a grand scale as the birds of the air.  They may simply have to cross a variety of terrain (as well as a dangerous road or two) to get to said place because their biological clock, as well as their ancestral DNA tells them so.  While in our midst however, let us take the time to enjoy their springtime songs of love to one another.

Until Next Time,
Jim & Claudia

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

A Strange Visitor From Afar

The Horned Grebe is a rather unique creature. For the most part, they breed on freshwater lakes and marshes from Canada’s Prairie Provinces northwest to Alaska and, come fall, nearly the entire population moves to the coast. They migrate nocturnally and after reaching their wintering grounds, they seldom fly.  So it was more than a bit of a surprise and a real treat to find a Horned Grebe cavorting and diving for small fish in our flooded backyard after the Tonawanda Creek spilled its banks a couple of winters ago

There are numerous species of grebes but the Horned Grebe is thought to be tamer than the rest, allowing a closer approach by humans. This fellow didn’t seem to mind our presence one bit, allowing Claudia to take a number of photos while he swam about non-stop, diving at random and, after having stayed submerged for several seconds, would pop up like a cork. More often than not it was successful in finding small fish in the murky floodwater.

"I'm watching you, watching me,"

As seen in this photo, the Horned Grebe’s deep-red eyes are connected to its bill by a thin line and may play a role in locating prey in dark and dingy water. They are excellent swimmers and the young are able to swim immediately after hatching but mostly they hitch a ride on their mother’s back. 

Down the hatch!

By tilting its head slightly, the Horned Grebe allows its finned prey to easily slide down its gullet. More at home on the water, they feed mainly on fish, crustaceans and aquatic insects.  Unlike ducks which are content to sit motionless if undisturbed, the Horned Grebe is perpetual motion, constantly on the move when on the water.  

Still sporting its winter plumage, the “horns” for which this species derives its name are actually tufts of feathers located behind and slightly above its eyes. The russet-colored “horns” will become much more prominent during breeding season at which time the Horned Grebe’s neck will become rufous (reddish-brown) and the plumage along its back will darken considerably.

The solitary bird spent the better part of that weekend with us. We first spotted him around noon on a Saturday and for the entire time – during daylight hours anyway - he was constantly on the move, alternately swimming and diving for food. He must have been fueling up for the next leg of his journey as he was gone by first light on Monday morning.  

Until Next Time,
Jim & Claudia