“ The world’s favorite season is the spring. All things seem possible in May.”

-Edwin Way Teale

crabapples along driveway route 85 May 7 2017

Crabapples along a fence highlight a driveway on Route 85 – May 2017


May is usually the time of warmer weather and sunny days that brighten the landscape again with flushes of green leaves and splashes of color from flowers. We look forward to another season of gardening and other outdoor activities, and the encounters with nature that are unavoidable as one ventures outside.

This May has been colder than I would prefer, but at least it has seen more rainfall than last spring. The reason this is especially good news is that the gypsy moth caterpillars have recently hatched, and the rains bring hope that the fungal pathogen, Entomophaga maimaiga, will help diminish populations of this pest. Last year they went unchecked for most of their caterpillar stage as drought conditions kept fungal spores from germinating.

wilsons warbler May 12, 2014

A Wilson’s warbler stopped by on its way north

Ferns are opening up now and their graceful forms are a welcome decoration wherever they appear. My personal favorites are the scented fern, cinnamon fern and the diminutive polypody which are often found growing together on rocks with mosses. Polypody work well in dish gardens coupled with moss and partridgeberry, and can be brought indoors for the winter, or left outside if that works better.

sensitive ferns

Sensitive ferns in a wetland area


Most trees have leafed out by now, with the pokey sycamores and hickories lagging behind, as usual. With the flush of leaves come the migrating warblers. Caterpillars are now found eating leaves in the tree canopies, and this is where many of the warblers find some protein for their return to northern breeding grounds. Rose-breasted grosbeaks, scarlet tanagers, orioles, and thrushes are all back and they have transformed the woodlands to a symphony of birdsong. Also, barred and great horned owls born in late winter and early spring have left their nests, and parents can often be heard calling to their young. Many robins have already hatched their first brood as of two weeks ago, so it must be true that the early bird gets the worm…

mother and two baby great horned owls Pamm Cooper photo 2017

These young great horned owls left the nest days after this picture was taken.


Dogwoods have had spectacular blooms this year, and crabapples and viburnums as well. Yellow water lilies, Nuphar lutea, are beginning to bloom. This plant closes its flower late in the day, trapping beetles or flies overnight who will pollinate it as they try to escape.

Yellow pond lilies Nuphar luteum Airline 5-14-16

Limber honeysuckle, Lonicera dioica, a native vine-like shrub that is infrequently encountered, is also starting to bloom. The tubular red flowers have distinctive yellow stamens and attract hummingbirds and native bumblebees. Fringed polygala, a small, pink native wildflower with flowers that make me think of Mickey Mouse with an airplane propeller, are just beginning to bloom and are often found together with stands of the native Canada Mayflower. Native columbine are also blooming now and native Pinxter azalea should be following shortly.

limber honeysuckle May 7 2017

limber honeysuckle

fringed polygala May 13, 2015 Pamm Cooper photo

Fringed polygala

Interesting galls are forming on the young leaves on wild cherry. Spindle galls, caused by the mite Eriophyes emarginatae, are red spindle-like structures of leaf materialcaused by the mites feeding within. These tiny mites begin feeding as soon as cherry leaves expand in the spring. Although they can occur in large numbers, the galls will not stop leaves from photosynthesizing, and the trees will put out new leaves after mites are inactive.

spindle galls on cherry

Spindle galls on a small black cherry

Giant silkworm moths such as Cecropia, Polyphemus and Luna have been overwintering in cocoons and should be eclosing any time from mid- May to June. These spectacular moths usually fly during the night, but are often attracted to lights. Since they cannot feed, if you find any lingering about in the daytime, don’t worry about what to feed them- just enjoy their company!

cecropia female 9p.m. same day as emrged from cocoon 5-31-13

Female Cecropia moth

Swallowtail, Painted Lady, American coppers, Juvenal’s duskywing and many other butterflies are out and about. Wherever you see them, check out larval host plants for caterpillars. Sometimes they are as close as your own backyard.

striped jack-in-the-pulpit for web site


Here’s hoping for timely rains during the summer, warmer days to get our blood moving and an abundance of fruits, flowers and birds that to follow May’s fore-running to summer.


Pamm Cooper

Great Horned Owl HopiakCLO photo

Recently while visiting my daughter in Massachusetts, I heard the hooting of an owl breaking the silence of the night inside the house. Out on the deck, his call could be heard much more clearly. Her house abuts a large wetland filled with tall pines and maples. I looked up owl calls on the internet and identified the call as coming from a Great Horned Owl. Listen to several different owl calls at this link. owl calls

Great Horned Owls are plentiful in New England. They are known to eat around 250 different species of mammals , fish and reptiles. Lizards, frogs, fish and salamanders are wetland prey the owl I heard was probably seeking. Raccoons, squirrels and rodents are not safe from Great Horned Owls during their nocturnal hunts either. Other foods sources are large insects, crayfish, scorpions, centipedes,  worms, spiders, and road killed animals. The Great Horned Owl will regurgitate pellets of indigestible parts of animal six to ten hours after eating. Naturalists and scientists look for the pellets to dissect giving them clues to the owls’ diet.  I remember doing just that in an elementary school science class many years ago, and sparked my curiosity of owls.

The most recognizable feature of the Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus, is the tufts of feathers looking like horns or ears, called plumicorns. They are neither ears nor horns just longer feathers. The name plumicorn comes from the Latin pluma meaning feather and cornu meaning horn. The Great Horned Owl is a large bird 18 to 24 inches tall and can weigh over 5 pounds. They nest in hollow trees and cliffs or the abandoned nests of other large birds, preferring not to make their own. Mating season for an owl couple is January and February annually. The female will two or three eggs that will hatch in about four weeks. Both the mother and father will sit on the eggs and feed the owlets. Baby owls will venture out of the nest by hopping between one and two months old. They learn to fly around 10 weeks old. There is only one generation each year.

-Carol Quish

Owl Pellets, sfjc.edu