Environment


Woodland Stream in January

“January brings the snow, makes our feet and fingers glow.”

 – Sara Coleridge

Living here in Connecticut offers a lot of variety in interesting places to go outdoors in the winter. From the shoreline to the hills and farmlands, to the forests and major rivers, there are always things to pique one’s interest. The main thing as I see it is to dress for the elements and then to enjoy the crisp, invigorating winter air and anything you happen to venture upon.

Underside of a polypore fungi showing partially broken down pore structure

Crepidula fornicata, the American slipper limpet- like snail, is native to the Atlantic coast of the U.S. Females can lay anywhere from 10- 20,000 eggs four times a year. After winter storms, thousands of these creatures can be washed up on beaches, sometimes in piles that are over two feet deep. Winter visiting shore birds like ruddy turnstones and sanderlings can be found feeding on these creatures where shells have washed up recently. Any mollusks or crustaceans washed on shore are discovered by flipping rocks, seaweed or other shells out of the way. They can easily pull out the snail- like animals from the slipper shells. Both the ruddy turnstone and sanderlings will dodge among small waves as they search for prey. Sanderlings are often in large groups that seem like synchronized surf runner formations, and I give them a 10…. Both species breed as far north as the tundra.

Ruddy turnstones
Sanderlings on piles of American slipper shells

Knobbed whelks (Busycon carica) are edible marine snails that are carnivorous scavengers and predators of shellfish. Their native range is from Massachusetts to Florida. Large casings are released in strings by the female whelks and are then anchored to the sediment. The tiny whelks hatch nine months later. If you find a sting of these egg cases washed up on the beach, shake them and see if any tiny whelks are inside. There is a hole in the egg case top where the little whelks would have exited through, hopefully before the whole string was deposited on the shore.

Stringed whelk egg cases are full of tiny whelks
Knobbed whelk with barnacles

While walking through the woods after a recent snowfall, I came across a hermit thrush, a native thrush that has a rusty red tail, brownish olive body and a white chest speckled with dark brown. Normally, they migrate south for the winter, but I can usually find one every year near woodland steams and boggy areas that do not freeze over.

Very hardy hermit thrush

In mixed deciduous woods, especially where oaks are found, there is often evidence of deer in the neighborhood. Deer will scrape off snow with their hooves to find acorns to eat. Later, the deer may bed down nearby. Look for small areas where the snow has melted- that is where the body heat of the sleeping or resting deer has melted the snow.

Melted snow where three deer had rested or slept

On a yellow birch tree deep in some woods, there was a new burl being formed by abnormal cell enlargement from an unknown cause. This rounded, woody swelling has an interesting surface pattern and grain, and may have been caused by a wound or pathogen as there is a gummy excretion surrounding the base of the burl. In the same area of the woods there was a tree with a fist-sized rock growing into two forked trunks.

Burl
Rock with tree trunks growing around it

In a small brook nearby there was a waterfall that had partially iced over. The patterns in the ice struck me as similar to lines in a topographic map, tiny lightning bolts. Natural designs are often temporal, so I take pictures of things like this as tomorrow, or even in a few hours, it could be gone.

Interesting patterns on small waterfall ice

Every winter day will have its own surprises.  For instance, I wonder if a young white-tailed deer made this tiny snow deer along a woodland trail…

Tiny snow deer

Pamm Cooper

Fox in the backyard seen through a screened window

“January is the quietest month in the garden. But just because it looks quiet, doesn’t mean that nothing is happening.” – Rosalie Muller Wright

November sunrise on Horsebarn Hill UConn

November comes and November goes with the last red berries
and the first white snows.
With night coming early, and dawn coming late, and ice in the bucket
and frost by the gate.

-Elizabeth Coatsworth

While driving along country roads, walking in the woods, or simply getting up early in the morning and stepping outside, any day can offer an opportunity to come across interesting or unusual sights. Fall is the time of bird migrations, splashes of leaf color and beautiful sunrises and sunsets. November seems like a last hurrah with some lingering warm days before the cold settles in for the winter. On a recent morning bare treetops in the pre-sunrise light looked like they were full of leaves, but it was actually thousands of blackbirds. One bird must have started something because the whole lot of them began at once to make a terrific noise, and then they took off in unison. I remeber the day when it could take several minutes for these flocks of blackbirds to pass over the morning sky.

Blackbirds taking flight just before sunrise

This November has been unusually warm, but leaves have finally fallen or changed color as in the case of our dawdling oaks and dawn redwoods. Fallen leaves can cover the ground for a while to restyle a scene with winsome texture and color. Things hidden by foliage in the summer are now revealed- wasp and bird’s nests, fruits and other things.

Dawn redwood fall color before needle drop

Sometimes something that was dull can suddenly get interesting when light and visibility change in what seems like an instant. This happened when a dingy looking shelf fungus growing on a sugar maple had the sun strike it just as I was driving by. Getting my attention, I got out and took a closer look. It turned out to be a stacked tooth fungus, a mushroom new to my experience. They form a tight stack like pancakes and instead of pores or gills, they have fine teeth from which spores are released.

Climacodon septentrionalis stacked toorh fungus
Underside showing the teeth, or spines, of the stacked tooth fungus

On the same ride where I saw the amazing tooth fungus, there was an old Lincoln Zephyr on display in someone’s front yard. Down the same street was an old farmhouse with an impressive front porch and a remarkable sugar maple whose leaves covered the ground around it. In the same area was a grain storage building with old trains and their cars cluttering the tracks, perhaps some still used for transport, and some obviously no longer in service.

Lincoln Zephyr
Old Lincoln Zephyr

Old Farmhouse
Trains at a grain storage facility
November is also the time of final hay cutting and baling operations

There is a home in Glastonbury or Portland that has the most bee hives I ever saw in one place in Connecticut. According to the owner, the hives near the house were requeened this summer and will form a new colony. When queens no longer produce enough eggs, a new queen is introduced and the old is, sadly, released from her earthly duties. Some of these hives are used at a local orchard in the spring, while a majority are placed along the Connecticut River where food is very abundant.

On hike through a nature preserve woods early this month there was the remains of an old car which was probably from the 1930’s and dragged here when the area was a field. This car was almost 20 feet long and had a folding luggage rack on the trunk. Headlamps must have been the size of dinner plates.

On the trunk of a dead aspen along the side of a country road, it was clear what had killed this tree. On the trunk were false tinder conks Phellinus  termulae shelf fungi . No other fungi with this characteristic fruiting body are found on aspen. The woody conks are hoof-like, brown to black, and have a cracked upper surface. Pores are tan or white. The spores of P. tremulae are blown through the air and can enter fresh wounds on aspens, where the fungus attacks the heartwood and causes white trunk rot.

False tinder conks Phellinus  termulae shelf fungi

Still out and about are praying mantids and some dragonflies and bees. This female mantid was on a sidewalk near a flower garden. Her eggs have been laid, so she will perish shortly.

t is the time of warmer jackets, bleaker vistas, perhaps, and chilly days. I am not by nature a puddleglum, so all this is not a deterrent to enjoying the shorter days and the coming cold. There will still be spectacular sunsets and sunrises, snowy landscape coverings and bluer skies that will cheer my heart on occasion. Now is a also good time to read all those books that there was little time for when the outdoors beckoned strongly for all the attention. Maybe I’ll put on a colorful scarf or something…

The morns are meeker than they were,
The nuts are getting brown;
The berry’s cheek is plumper,
The rose is out of town.
The maple wears a gayer scarf,
The field a scarlet gown.
Lest I should be old-fashioned,
I’ll put a trinket on.

-Emily Dickinson

Maybe I’ll just light a sparkler.

Pamm Cooper

“Every leaf speaks bliss to me, fluttering from the autumn tree.” – Emily Brontë

Late September and early October signal the end of summer, but the weather has been warm enough for pleasant excursions that do not require a heavy coat. Lots of insects and flowers are still around, and not too many migrating birds are coming through so far. I am not a big fan of pumpkin spice anything, but I do enjoy leaf colors and cool, crisp mornings with a clear blue sky backdrop.

Light streams early in the morning in autumn 2021

Keep your eye on cedar trees with an abundant amount of berries on them for yellow-rumped warblers passing through, and other year-round birds as well. Crabapples, viburnums and hawthorns are also good food sources for birds late in the year. Today there were bluebirds, phoebes, white-throated sparrows, cardinals, mockingbirds and blue jays on a Cornus florida in my backyard.

Yellow-rumped warbler eating a cedar berry

Ludwigia alternifolia, also known as alternate leaved seedbox is a North American perennial wildflower found in wet areas- swamps, stream banks, edges of ponds and other places with damp soils.  Leaves resemble willow- slender and alternate along the stems. Yellow flowers resemble those of moth mullein and appear in summer for 2-3 months only blooming for a day. Seed capsules are a quarter of an inch square and rattle when they are shaken. Flowers of rattlebox are pollinated primarily by bees. 

Rattlebox seed pod flanked with sepals.
Tiny seed box of Ludwegia alternifolia

Wolf Eyes Kousa dogwoods are included as specimen plantings in many landscapes for good reason. These small trees have a nice form and attractive variegated foliage that is an outstanding backdrop for the strawberry- like fruit that appear in late summer.

Wolf eyes Kousa dogwood

Chickweed geometer moths are small, yellow with pink bands and markings. Caterpillars are inchworms and host plants include chickweed, smartweed. Because lawns may contain some of these plants, the small moths are often spotted resting on blades of grass.

Stacked kites look like a lot of fun to launch and enjoy. Recently someone had several kite stacks flying at Harkness Memorial State Park, where the offshore winds are ideal for this hobby. This park has many things of interest including a cutting flower garden, 111 year old full moon maples, gardens, buildings and expansive grounds. There also is a very fragrant heliotrope garden that is worth a visit just past the main building.

Water tower and cutting

Stacked kites

This weekend along a forest trail, I was delighted to find two diminutive puffball species that were new to me. Both had stalks, and were on bare soil, and the stems had a gelatinous film covering them. From directly above, the caps looked like acorns with the tip side up. The aspic puffball Calostoma cinnabarinum had a red cap and the ghoul’s eyes puffball, Calostoma lutescens had a yellow- ochre cap with a red apical mouth resembling, I guess, the eyes of a ghoul.

Aspic puffball
Ghoul’s eyes puffball
Hericium americanum bear’s head tooth fungus looks like a tight cluster of tiny icicles

Some late blooming plants are providing food sources for pollinators that are still active. Lespedeza bush clovers, asters, some goldenrods and lots of annuals like lantana and salvias are important nectar and pollen sources for native and non-native beetles and bees.

Bumblebee on an aster flower
Pink flowered Lespedeza bush clover

Recently the gardener at the golf course and I were delighted to find an eft of the red spotted newt and a very small spotted salamander under some bushes being removed from a neglected landscape. After making sure they were okay, they were returned to a safe place. The excitement never ends…

Juvenile spotted salamander

We also discovered a small spicebush along a cart path that had 5 spicebush caterpillars on it. By the time all had left to pupate, there were only two leaves left uneaten.

Checking a small spicebush
Spicebush swallowtail caterpillar

As the weather cools and leaves begin to drop, many of the little creatures that brightened our day will soon head for a protected spot to overwinter. Although gray treefrogs are still hanging out on leaves, they will retire under leaf litter or other places until next spring. Hardy insects are slowing down to do the same. Sunsets may be more spectacular in cooler weather, but I will miss those surprise encounters with living things in the garden and the wild landscape.

Besides the autumn poets sing, a few prosaic days, a little this side of the snow, and that side of the haze.

Emily Dickinson

Path in the autumn woods

Pamm Cooper

Sunflowers along the edge of a field

“By all these lovely tokens, September days are here. With summer’s best of weather and autumn’s best of cheer.” – Helen Hunt Jackson

September arrived with a splash this year, and a big one at that. Hurricane Ida may have spared us her winds, but not the heavy rains and the flooding that came with it. Temperatures at least have dropped and people  have a reprieve from watering gardens and lawns.  

Saturated soils resulted in the standing water on this turf area.
Flooding and strong currents here at the Glastonbury ferry entrance ramp on the Connecticut River has stopped ferry service temporarily

The extended hot, humid weather has led to a burst of stinkhorn fungi in mulched areas and woodlands. These fungi have spores in a slimy material that is visited by flies attracted by the putrid odor. After visiting this stinky slime and getting nothing for their trouble, the flies move on, dispersing the spores as they go. The stinky squid fungi are small, orange and have three or four fingerlike “arms”. Spores are often in mulch that was added to gardens earlier in the year.

Stinky squid fungi in images above

I found a little 4-toed salamander far from its woodland domain the day after a rain- just missed it with a mower. This is Connecticut’s smallest salamander being only 2- 3 ½ inches long.  These salamanders are found found in both moist and dry woodlands and in wooded swamps. Sphagnum moss is usually present nearby and is often used by the female for nesting.

4-toed salamander

On a woodland trail, a female American pelecinid wasp flew by and landed on a leaf. They have a long ovipositor that they use to inserts eggs with especially where grubs are in the soil. These black wasps diet consists primarily of nectar, perhaps supplemented by some pollen and water.

Female American pelecinid wasp

Three weeks ago I came across an elm sphinx caterpillar on slippery elm. This caterpillar has four horns on the thorax and one on the rear, like most sphinx caterpillars. it can be green or brown, but this one started off green and then just turned brown this week. Food is exclusively elm.

Travelling through tobacco farmland this past week, there was a lot of harvesting activity. Drying barns are filling up with sun grown broadleaf tobacco leaves. Tobacco sheds are vanishing as the land is bought up for development and houses..

Drying shed with hanging tobacco leaves
Hay bales in a barn with green doors

There are so many native plants that have fruits now- viburnums, filberts, shrub and tree dogwoods, black cherry, winterberry and spicebush just to name a few. Along with many herbaceous plants like pokeweed and goldenrods, these fruits are valuable to all kinds of wildlife including migrating birds.

Arrowwood viburnum
Red osier dogwood fruit

Tansy, an introduced member of the aster family, is blooming now. Its yellow, button- like flowers have a striking pattern. The plans has a long history of cultivation for its medicinal qualities.

Of September, who can say it better than this?

“…there is a clarity about September. On clear days, the sun seems brighter, the sky more blue, the white clouds take on marvelous shapes; the moon is a wonderful apparition, rising gold, cooling to silver; and the stars are so big. The September storms… are exhilarating…”
— Faith Baldwin, 

Pamm Cooper

Waning Moon in September
American Lady on Viola Flower

“In early June the world of leaf and blade and flowers explodes, and every sunset is different.” – John Steinbeck

June is always a month when there is an explosion of the new and a little fading away of certain things. Spring wildflowers have had their day and now the flowers and fruits of summer are arriving to take their place. Viburnums that just a little while ago were lending the air a sweet fragrance are now full of developing fruit. Crabapples and wild cherry are full of green fruits while flowers like yarrow, June blooming magnolias, winterberry, milkweeds and whorled loosestrife are just in bloom. Trees are full of leaves and the sky is a clearer blue so when foliage and skies meet, it is a striking contrast.


June blooming magnolia flowers appear after the leaves are fully out
Native tulip tree

American cow wheat, Melampyrum lineare, is a native annual wildflower that has interesting tubular white and yellow flowers. This small plant appears along dry woodland edges and is partially parasitic, stealing nutrients from the roots of certain tress, especially native birch.

Cow wheat flowers

Yarrow, an introduced wildflower, is attractive to many pollinators and butterflies. After years of not seeing a variegated fritillary, last week I finally came across one in a power line right-of-way that was exclusively feeding on yarrow flowers that were abundant there.

Variegated fritillary on yarrow flower

Whorled loosestrife, Lysimachia quadrifolia, also native here in Connecticut, has leaves that are whorled around the stem, and star-like yellow flowers that dangle in between. The leaves are covered with small dark pits on the upper sides.

Whorled loosestrife

Whorled loosestrife flower

On the home front, lantana, salvia, petunias and violas are among the annuals that draw a lot of butterfly and bee activity plus hummingbirds visit lantana and annual salvias as well. A golden northern bumblebee, Bombus fervidus, visits certain flowers including the flowers of a new variety of Buddleia called ‘Miss Violet’.

Spiffy golden northern bumblebee

On a hike I came across a colorful geometrid moth called the hollow-spotted plagodis. Caterpillars of this moth are large loopers and can be found feeding on several trees but preferring Betula species like sweet birch.

Hollow- spotted Plagodis moth

On the same hike there was the sound of a newly fledged bird calling for some food from its parents. I tracked it down among a large stand of invasive mugwort to see what kind of bird it was. Closest guess- pine warbler. I left it alone so mom or dad could give it its next morsel.

Fledgling warbler-likely a pine warbler

On a walk along a land grant property in Manchester, there was an old  Carpathian or English walnut Juglans regia featuring a stout trunk with striking deep, vertically fissured bark. The bark was light colored and the dark fissures made it appear outlined.

English walnut

Dog vomit slime mold can be found on wood chips or mulched areas, usually after heavy rains. Usually it seems to appear overnight as the fruiting stage begins and can be a yellow or orange color.

Aptly named dog vomit slime mold on top of wood chips

Gray tree frogs can be heard trilling day and night. They are frequently found here at home resting on patio furniture, trees, shrubs, water faucets, inside watering cans and many other places they have found suitable for hiding during the day. They often rest on leaf upper sides on trees or shrubs. The one below was on a grape leaf.

Other things of interest are galls of all types on tree leaves and twigs, including the oak apple gall made by a small wasp. The larva feeds inside the gall and emerges as an adult from there.

Oak apple gall
Very tiny oak apple gall wasp just emerged from its gall

There are so many interesting things going on for those of us blessed enough to wait or look for them. The excitement never ends. I agree with the sentiment of Henry David Thoreau, who loved observing and becoming part of his surroundings in nature- “This is June, the month of grass and leaves . . . already the aspens are trembling again, and a new summer is offered me.”

Pamm Cooper

Juvenal’s duskywing on native Geranium maculatum

“The butterfly is a flying flower,
The flower a tethered butterfly.”
― Ponce Denis Écouchard Le Brun

May is a harbinger of things to come and the herald of things that are already here. Each May I look forward to the appearance of certain ephemeral wildflowers and butterflies that are worth the effort often necessary to search for them. For instance, small butterflies often have a limited flight range, and to find them, you need to know when they start to fly, what flowers they visit, and what the host plants are for their caterpillars. Some wildflowers can be hidden by taller plants surrounding them and a surprise when come across.

Eastern pine elfin on a blade of grass

The Eastern pine elfin, Callophrys niphon, is a tiny hairstreak butterfly  that has only one brood and a flight time that may go from mid-April- June, but is more likely to be found in  flying about in mid-May. Small enough to fit on your fingernail, this elfin is often seen nectaring on blueberry, huckleberry and wild strawberry near its caterpillar’s host plant, white pine.

Eastern pine elfin

Henry’s elfin, Callophrys henrici, is another small hairstreak with an early spring flight time. Mid May is a good time to look for males perching on host plants like redbud, huckleberry, blueberry and viburnums during the day. Nectar sources include willows, hawthorn and pussytoes. Where both species are found, you may come across both the eastern pine and Henry’s elfins in the same stand of wild blueberries or huckleberries.

Henry’s elfin

Horace’s duskywing, Erynnis horatiu,s is another small butterfly found in dry fields near oaks, which is the host plant of its caterpillar. Often confused with Juvenal’s duskywing which flies at the same time, Horace’s  has several larger glassy spots on the forewings. They have a rapid, darting flight and feed and perch with wings outstretched.

Horace’s duskywing

One flowered cancer root is an interesting parasitic wildflower that has no chlorophyll and depends upon a host plant for nutrients. An annual, once the seed germinates, a host plant must be found within a day. Hosts include the genus Sedum and members of the families Saxifragaceae and Asteraceae. The plant consists of a 3-10 inch stem with a single purple to white flower which is covered in hairs and looks like sugar crystals have been sprinkled on it. Look for this plant in May in wet fields or meadows among tall grasses with host plants nearby.

One-flowered cancer root

Garlic mustard, while an invasive plant and worthy of being pulled up, is still useful to bees as a pollen and nectar source. While of use to native pollinators, I still yank out any garlic mustard I can and hope native plants like Geranium maculatum will take its place.

Tiny bee on garlic mustard flower

Columbine and Geranium maculatum bloom for a long period of time and are visited by many pollinators, with columbine a favorite of hummingbirds as well. These plants are often found together along country roadsides and ditches, as well as power line right-of-ways. If at the edge of woods, nodding trillium may also be found nearby. This trillium has very large leaves which hide the drooping flower beneath them.

Columbine and Geranium maculatum

Fringed polygala, a diminutive wildflower that is no taller than 6 inches and has tiny pink airplane- like flowers is a personal favorite. Two of the flower petals unite to form a tube, with the third keeled with a pink fringe. They can be found along dappled wood lines in May or under pines.

Fringed polygala

Shrubs and small trees also can have striking flowers, and one is the nannyberry, Viburnum lentago. Tiny white flowers occuring downward curved panicles that can be 5 inches across. Flowers attract many native pollinators and later on the fruits are eaten by many bird species.

Blackhaw or nannyberry viburnum

The native pinxter is another shrub or small tree that makes itself known through its display of showy pink flower clusters that appear before its leaves and linger well after its leaves are fully out. Hummingbirds visit the flowers of this wetland plant.

Pinxterflower near a woodland swamp

This spring has had a good display of both native and ornamental flowering trees, shrubs, bulbs and early perennials. Butterflies are already more abundant than last year, and hopefully that will continue throughout the year. Spring is the forerunner of better things to come, but for right now, spring has enough for those of us who are wildflower and butterfly enthusiasts.

Pamm Cooper

Swallowtails like this spicebush swallowtail are in flight in May
Tiny spring azure butterfly on a bluet flower

“April hath put a spirit of youth in everything.”

― William Shakespeare

April is the time of Hyacinth, tulips, apple and cherry blossoms, and, usually, April showers. Although we caught up from the drought of last year, this spring has been dry and we clearly need rain. Waking up on April 16, it was really no surprise to find it snowing as weather guessers reported it would get cold enough to turn last night’s rain to snow by this morning (but not in our area- ha!). In recent years there seem to be late snow events that have coincided with various trees and shrubs bloom time. Hopefully, this snow will not damage their flowers and buds.

Hyacinth under the snow

Bloodroot flowers have mostly come and gone and bluets have just started blooming heralding the expected return of some of our thrushes, such as the veery. Tiger swallowtail butterflies often visit bluet flowers, as do many native bee species.

Returning veery among some bluets

The six-spotted tiger beetles are out running along woodland trails. This small, predatory beetle is a brilliant metallic green, so it is hard to miss against a brown background of a woodland trail.

Six-spotted tiger beetle

The other day while walking up a woodland hill trying to find a barred owl family, I came upon a really nice surprise. Just poking above the leaf litter were these tiny purple-blue flowers that were new to me. The plants each had unusual leaves with three rounded lobes. Flower and leaf stems were hairy, and this small area was the only place they could be found. They are Hepatica americana, round-lobed Hepatica. A native buttercup family member, they can bloom March-May and are found on leafy woodland slopes with higher calcium content than most of our Connecticut woodlands

.

Round-lobed Hepatica flower and leaf

Walking along the banks of a woodland double pond, there was evidence of recent beaver activity. A nice dam was getting some restructuring by the beaver, plus there were tree felling operations along the edges of the pond. Some nice moss was at the base of some  trees that so far are not in this beaver’s line of fire.

Moss under trees in a woodland pond
Beaver toothmarks and gnawed bark

I found what I thought were clam shells along this woodland pond’s banks, but found out they are really the shells of freshwater mussels that were eaten by a river otter, muskrat or some other animal and left behind for people like me to find. Freshwater mussels spend the first part of their life as a tiny glochidium on a host fish. Afterward, they fall off and drop to the bottom of the lake, pond, stream or river bed where they remain partially buried. They help keep water clean by filtering it as they eat algae and other small water organisms.

Freshwater mussel shell

Bee activity has been somewhat slow this spring, but recently a small Andrena nasonii ground-nesting bee was just emerging from under a landscape shrub where it had overwintered underground. This species often emerges when snow is melting and sometimes days before their foraging plants have flowered.. Most of our solitary native bee species are not aggressive, and this female rested on my finger for a while.

Native Andrena bee

Native eastern red cedar Juniperus virginiana is in flower along the shoreline in Connecticut. Male and female flowers are cone like structures called strobili, borne on separate trees. Male cones are oval to egg shaped, with yellowish brown scales that hold the pollen, and they are located at the tips of 2nd year branches.

Male flowers of eastern red cedar

Turkeys are still stomping, hissing and fanning their tails, mourning doves have just fledged their first brood, kit foxes are playing around their dens and spring azure, mourning cloak and comma butterflies are flying around, so April has succeeded in its modest enterprise of pushing new life out of its winter slumber.

Kit fox near its den

I agree with the sentiment of Hans Christian Andersen- “Just living is not enough… one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower. “

Pamm Cooper

Round- lobed Hepatica flower

“March brings breezes loud and shrill, stirs the dancing daffodil.” 

― Sara Coleridge 

Bald eagle
bald eagle

This winter started off warmer than usual, settled down to a white and cold normal one, and now it seems to be in a hurry to get as warm as possible before April can get all the credit for bringing in the welcome green of spring. By the end of the month spicebush may be blooming and perhaps the marsh marigold.

marsh marigolds in a woodland bog

Marsh marigolds (Caltha palustris) are one of the first wildflowers to bloom and the plant is very conspicuous as it grows in swamps, along streambanks, and sometimes directly in the water in wet woodland habitats. There may be no leaves on other plants yet, and  brown leaf litter may cover the ground, but the splash of bright green highlighted with yellow flowers is a welcome herald of what will come.

Birds have been singing their morning and evening songs, plus their territorial daytime calls as well. Male turkeys have begun their strutting, hissing and stamping routines which are somehow alluring to the hens.

male turkeys
Male turkeys fanning display

Bald eagles have built a nest in my town, and the pair have been seen sitting together along busy roads where they have chosen to raise their young. A nearby open river has provided food for them all winter, and the high traffic volume and large number of people watching this pair does not seem to bother them at all.

Killdeer, one of our first birds to return from their winter vacation homes have been back since late February this year. The early bird gets the worm… They lay their eggs directly on the ground in open gravelly areas and their young are born covered with down and ready to run around with the parents.

Killdeer
Killdeer

Like the killdeer, blackbirds and grackles have been back since late February, but wait until females arrive a month or so later to breed. They can be seen together in large flocks where seeds are abundant.

While hiking in the woods, my sister and I came across some peculiar damage to quite a few mature trees in a widespread area. Bark had been scratched and clawed off, sometimes shredded, and areas damaged were about three feet off the ground. This was the work of a black bear, new to this particular area and now residing in the woods by the looks of it. Marking trees with teeth and claws, especially in  spring is thought to either mark territory or just be from normal stretching and scratching activity.

Scratching and tooth mark damage to tree
Claw marks from black bear

Along the shore ruddy ducks usually can be seen floating in large groups along the in Old Saybrook causeway. These cute little ducks can be recognized by their small size, blue bills of the males, and the perky little tails that are sometimes held straight up. Sometimes little coots can also be seen along the Connecticut shoreline now.

Spiffy little ruddy ducks
Coot showing off its wonderful clodhoppers

Sweet ferns Comptonia peregrina, a native shrub with aromatic foliage, is showing its flower buds unfurling at this time of year, and  some of our pussy willows are almost blooming. I have a black pussy willow that is almost in full bloom, and that is a sign that Collettes inaequalis, a small, handsome, native ground-nesting bee, will be out and about soon.

Black flower variety of pussy willow

 

Sweetfern flower and leaves unfolding

I can hardly wait for green to be the primary color in the landscape again, and I strongly share this person’s sentiment:

  “Winds of March, we welcome you, there is work for you to do. Work and play and blow all day, blow the winter wind away.” ― Unknown

Pamm Cooper

Painted turtles enjoying a warn, sunny march afternoon
Image of a hot air balloon taken while looking up through a spider’s web


Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.

-Albert Einstein

Somebody has said to expect the unexpected and that is exactly what may happen in our travels outdoors. No matter how many times someone may walk the same path in the woods or hills, visit the same beach, walk around the yard or the neighborhood or even enter a building, there can be pleasant surprises every time. There are changes in light or shadows, weather, cloud formations, the colors of leaves, skies or flowers, and the springing up of new plants as seasons change that present new wonders every day.

Pompom dahlia close-up

Look up, down and all around and there are sure to be even the smallest of delights, even if just for the briefest moment in time. Stunning displays in scenery or charming encounters with another creature can lift one’s spirit and become a pleasant memory somewhere down the road.


A black and white koi happened to swim by in water appearing black because of dark skies on this rainy day at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens

Annual garden Harkness Memorial State Park
110 year old threadleaf maple-Harkness
Waning crescent moon and venus predawn October 13 2020
The whole moon was visible to the observer

It doesn’t have to be nature alone that provides unforeseen pleasure to the eyes and spirit. Perhaps simply a building seen in a new light will, out of the blue, add a bit of whimsy to an ordinary bit of scenery. Sometimes buildings are far more interesting when light or reflections change everything, if only for the briefest moment. Every day the sun changes position slightly and light may differ in color just a little bit. If something strikes you, catch the image as it will probably never be seen in quite the same light again.

Pergola shadows framed an entryway for a moment in time
Reflections of building on windows of other buildings in downtown Hartford



Nature presents the most impressive compositions that are unequaled in the best of man-made designs. Every little thing can become a natural diorama

Nimbostratus cloud hanging low
Common tansy, (Tanacetum vulgare), while considered invasive, still is attractive with its bright yellow disc flowers in bloom this October along a roadside in Old Lyme.
Woodland pond with reflected yellow from maple and birch leaves  created this image when two mallard ducks took off and made some waves.
These mushrooms look like tiny parasols
Mushrooms with caps in three different stages
These mums have an artistic appearance better than any painting could try to capture.

On this October day several years ago, these majestic, ancient sugar maples formed a tunnel over the country road leading to the former Golden Lamb Buttery. Since then, many of the trees have been lost due to old age and storm damage.

Country road in Pomfret in autumn
White oak leaf displaying one of several possible fall colors this tree may have.
Staghorn sumac Rhus typhina, is related to the cashew. It has attractive red seed heads and autumn foliage.  

As the season winds down and gets less colorful, there will still be moments that will give an occasion to cheers us up and maybe makes us laugh a little Maybe something as commonplace as… a weathervane…

Cat and mouse

Pamm Cooper

Painted lady on boneset

“Summer’s lease hath all too short a date.”

– William Shakespeare

Sedum var ‘Autumn Joy’ attracts many species of butterflies and bees

The grand finale of the blooming season is here and while many plants are winding down their bloom period, other plants are still in great form or are yet to put on their show of flowers. There are still many species of pollinators, especially native bees and honeybees, that are active and needful of pollen and nectar sources late in the year. And butterflies, especially those that migrate, are in the same biological boat, needing energy providing nectar sources for their long journeys south. Many annual, perennial and woody plants provide all of them with the food sources they need to accomplish their late season undertakings.        

  

Tiger swallowtail visiting aster flowers
Anise hyssop is a favorite of butterflies and bees
Giant swallowtail on Hyssop at James L. Goodwin State Forest
Agastache ‘Kudos Coral’ -a variety of anise hyssop

Among annuals that are late-season bloomers there are too many to name, but some of the best for pollinators and butterflies include Torenia, zinnias, sunflowers, Lantana, petunia, sweet potato vine, salvias, and sweet alyssum Lobularia maritima. Some of these may still bloom after a light frost, so place them carefully in the garden or planter.

Painted lady on a variety of annual salvia
Bumblebees go inside certain flowers, like this annual Torenia
Painted lady on annual Mexican sunflower Tithonia rotundifolia

Late- blooming perennials for pollinators and butterflies are numerous, and are best when mixed together for easy access for pollinating insects. For example, planting several tall garden phlox, asters, and goldenrods together makes it easy for bees to travel short distances to preferred flowers. In the wild native asters, goldenrods, boneset, snakeroot and woodland sunflowers and Rudbeckia often occur together.

Spotted Joe-pye weed, boneset and goldenrods in their natural setting
Tiny green Halictidae bee on goldenrod
Wool carder bee on calamint

Among late season blooming non-native perennials, obedient plant, guara, Echinacea, veronica , hyssop varieties , sedums, Coreopsis and others are long bloomers that are preferred by the greatest variety of bee and butterfly species. Some may need to be dead–headed as needed to encourage maximum flower development.

Honey bee visiting obedient plant flower

Native perennials for pollinators like black snakeroot, asters, goldenrods, boneset, white snakeroot, Rudbeckia, mountain mint, closed gentians and turtlehead are among those  visited may many species of bees, wasps and butterflies. Turtlehead and closed bottle gentians need a robust pollinator like a bumblebee that is able to barge its way into the flowers and then exit

.

Pink variety of turtlehead with bumblebee visitors
Native turtlehead

Spotted bee balm, Monarda punctata is a short-lived perennial that has showy pagoda-like colorful bracts that the small, purple spotted tubular flowers rest upon. Attractive to butterflies and pollinators, blooms last for weeks. The plants have an appearance similar to an illustration in a Dr.  Suess book.

Spotted bee balm
Summer azure on spotted bee balm flower-James L. Goodwin State Forest garden

Black snakeroot, cimicifuga ramose, also called bugbane or Actaea, is a tall late-blooming perennial that is very attractive to bees. It has sweet-smelling white flowers on long spikes that attract bees, flies, flower beetles and small butterflies. Blooming in late September into October, it is a good shade- loving perennial for late flying pollinators .

Cimicifuga sp. snakeroot
unknown moth and honey bee on snakeroot

Among shrubs and trees that bloom late in the year Franklinia, witch hazel, rose-of-Sharon, sweet autumn clematis (a wonderful vine loaded with white sweet scented flowers), paniculata varieties of hydrangea and lespedeza bush clover are good pollen and nectar sources for bees and butterflies. Native witch hazel blooms the latest- starting in early October- and is striking when its peculiar yellow flowers bloom when its leaves are also yellow. This plant may bloom well into November, providing food for those bees and other pollinators that are still active very late in the year. Caryopteris– common name bluebeard- is also frequented by various bees and butterflies

Lespedeza thunbergii bush clover
Native fall blooming witch hazel still in flower in November after leaves have fallen
Bluebeard–Caryopteris--and bumblebees
Sweet autumn clematis
Franklinia tree flowering in late September- early October

Getting outside in both the natural and home landscape will provide moments of thoughtful consideration for the small, engaging things that are taking place around us. Whether insects, flowers or simply the changing of leaf color, there are so many things happening we should try not to miss. One of them has been the magnificent orange sun at dawn and dusk, even though the cause of this phenomenon is heart-rending.  

Sunrise September 15 2020 featured an orange sun due to smoke drifting across the nation from wildfires in the western U.S..

Pamm Cooper

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