Male red-winged blackbird

Spring is when you feel like whistling even with a shoe full of slush.  Doug Larson

Following a relatively mild winter, this spring has been a bit of a chiller so far. Forsythia in the north a yellow bud and central areas of Connecticut barely have yellow flower buds showing and star magnolias are just starting to show a few blooms. Spring may be slow to start, but at least it isn’t winter.

Spring peepers are singing, and have been for about three weeks. These harbingers of spring provide a cheery chorus for those fortunate enough to live near ponds. They were joined a couple of weeks later by wood frogs, who have a more throaty but equally welcome spring song.

Spring peepers live up to their name

Painted turtles, the first of which I saw in February on a 60 degree day, can be seen on warmer days sunning themselves on partially submerged logs and rocks. Spotted salamanders have already laid their eggs in vernal pools, and wood frogs should be doing the same now. Check out vernal pools for the eggs of these amphibians, plus you may see some immature salamanders swimming around before they develop lungs and venture onto land.

painted turtle stretching

Painted turtle stretching out

 

Spring azure butterflies, Celastrina ladon, have a single brood, and flight may occur any time between late March and early June here in Connecticut. This is one of our first butterflies to emerge from its chrysalis, and can be seen obtaining nectar from early spring flowers such as bluets and violets.

spring azure on bluet May 19 2016

Spring azure butterfly on a native bluet flower

Another early flying butterfly is the Mourning cloak, easily identified by the upper sides of its large, chocolate brown wings that are edged with cream borders and lined inside that with lavender to blue spots. Imported cabbage white butterflies are arriving from their southern living quarters. This butterfly lays its eggs on members of the brassica family, which includes the wild mustards, including the invasive garlic mustard.

Mourning cloak early spring

Mourning cloak basking in early April

Migrating birds are slow to arrive, but the red-winged blackbirds have been back since early March, although some were even here in late February. Males arrive way ahead of females, which gives them plenty of time to select the best nesting sites in advance. Some warblers may fly through just before invasive honeysuckles leaf out. Palm and black and white warblers are some of the earliest to arrive. Palm warblers flick their rusty tail, much as phoebes do, and they move on northward to their breeding grounds. Many black and white warblers remain here to breed in woodlands.

palm warbler on migration in April pamm Cooper photo

Palm warblers sometimes migrate through before most plants have leafed out

Forsythia and star magnolias are just starting to bloom -later than normal this spring in northern Connecticut, but bloodroot and violets should be blooming any time now. These are important flowers for our spring pollinators. Japanese andromeda, Pieris japonica, has been blooming in some places since late March, and this is also visited by early spring flying bees. Along with pussy willows, this is a great plant for Colletes inaequalis, the earliest ground nesting bee which is active around the time  native willows start to bloom.

Japanese Andromeda flowering in early April 2018 Pamm Cooper photo

Japanese andromeda flowers in late March

Check out streams for marsh marigolds and watercress, and dry sunny, woodland areas for native trout lilies that usually start to bloom in late April or early May. Red trillium, Trillium erectum, sometimes has an overlapping bloom time with bloodroot, depending on the weather.

Watercress (Nasturtium officinale)

Watercress blooming in a woodland brook

 

Raccoons, foxes and many other animals may have their young from early spring through June. Some birds, including great horned owls, may have their young in late winter. Sometimes these owls use the nest that red-tailed or other hawks used the previous year.

baby raccoons June 2

Two week old raccoons in a sunny spot in the woods

 

While the central portions on the United States are having bomb cyclones this week that are bringing heavy snows and severe wind gusts, we should have snow here only in the form of a distant memory. I can live with that.

Pamm Cooper

 

 

 

 

 

striped jack-in-the-pulpit for web site

A striped Jack-in-the- pulpit just off a bike trail

“Nature gives to every time and season some beauties of its own.”

-Charles Dickens

As we move into late spring, especially after the rather gray, wet spring we have had so far, the sunny, warmer days of late bring a little excitement to both gardeners and hikers alike. Plants are starting to provide lush green backdrops for their flowers, while insects, animals and birds are increasing their activities. Gardens centers are providing bountiful selections for everyone, and there are new cultivars every year to provide interest in the landscape. As we move into a more outdoorsy mode of life, we can have encounter pleasant surprises wherever we may go in our travels.

For instance, at this time of year, female turtles of many species are commonly seen as they leave their normal adult habitat and go off searching for egg- laying sites. For the past two years, I have found two different spotted turtles in almost the exact same place, at almost the same date as they travel back from laying eggs. These are different turtles, though, as the spotting patterns are remarkably different.

spotted turtle with constellation of spots May 30 2018

Spotted turtle on the move- May 30 2018

A surprise discovery for me this year was when I noticed a number of tiny, barrel- shaped leaf rolls on a small oak sapling. Some insect had cut the lobes and then rolled them up tightly while still attached by the midrib. After some research, these structures were found to be called a nidus (Latin for nest) formed by the female leaf- rolling, or thief weevil Homoeolobus ssp. An egg is laid within the leaf before the third roll is made.

leaf rolling weevil Homoeolabus analis

Work of the leaf-rolling weevil

Plenty of plant galls can be seen now, especially on oaks. One interesting gall is called the wool sower gall, which is formed on oaks by the larval feeding of the certain wasps. The gall resembles a toasted marshmallow, with white fibrous masses that at first have a yellow- seed like capsules though out the gall.  Each capsule contains a wasp larva.

wool sower wasp gall

Gall formed on an oak by the wool sower gall wasp

In the town where I live, there is an unusual tree growing in a woodland wetland area. I noticed it several years ago only because of the striking white flowers that stood out amidst all the green foliage of native trees and shrubs. It was identified by a tree expert as a Fraser magnolia which is native to the southern Appalachians. He thought it was probably brought here in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s by people who had a homestead on this site, who perhaps came from that area of the country.

Fraser Magnolia

Fraser Magnolia in the wild in Manchester, Ct.

Insects are more noticeable now as more species increase in both numbers and activity, including, unfortunately, the notorious lily leaf beetle. Check Asiatic day lilies for eggs and larvae now. And the giant silkworm moths are emerging from their cocoons now. I had the impressive eyed click beetle land near me the other day, and shortly after that encountered the first gray hairstreak butterfly of the year. Always a positive experience for me to see any butterfly- except maybe the cabbage white…?

eyed click beetle just out late May 2018

eyed click beetle

first gray hairstreak seen 2018 May 15

Gray hairstreak spotted in late May

Deer are looking a bit scraggly as they lose their winter coats, and early June is the time that fawns are born. Raccoons also have their young this time of year, as well. Fox kits should already be accompanying  their parents of hunting forays.

baby raccoons June 2

Baby raccoons- maybe two weeks old

Lady slippers, wild geraniums, columbine, black cherry and other native plants are blooming now. And if that isn’t enough, you can always get some interesting flowers to enjoy at home. An unusual offering from the Tri-county Greenhouse in Mansfield Depot is the bat-faced heather. And a Thunbergia alata cultivar called “Tangerine slice’ is striking if you are looking for a good vining plant.

wild columbine and geranium maculatum by a roadside

Wild columbine and Geranium maculatum by a roadside

bat-faced heather from Tri- Coumty Greenhouse Mansfield Depot

Bat-faced heather

tangerine slice Thunbergia alata

Tangerine slice Thunbergia– Pamm Cooper photo

You never know what things of interest you may see, whether in the great outdoors or a good garden center. Image the unexpected pleasure of seeing a couple of ducks who were enjoying being taken for a walk on an airline trail. That was the best surprise for me on that particular day in the great outdoors!

Crowley and Dean out for a walk

Crowley and Dean out for a walk

 

Pamm Cooper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marsh Marigolds blooming in a stream in early April 2015

Marsh Marigolds blooming in a stream in early April 2015

Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love!

Sitting Bull

I always look for marsh marigolds Caltha palustris L., also known as cowslip, along boggy woodland streams, in early April, and they were certainly blooming within the normal time period this year. Last spring they were late arriving, perhaps because of a snowfall in mid- April. Who knows? I am just glad to see them as they are a limpid herald of spring. Bloodroot is also an early bird, and I have some in my garden. But flowers have not opened fully or they close without good sun, so maybe soon we will have less gloomy gray days and I can see the flowers.

bloodroot 2011

Well, spring is trying to get started here in Connecticut and we seem to be on average ten to fifteen days behind normal plant development so far, according to the UMass Landscape Message report for April 24, 2015. After a winter that saw high snowfall over frozen ground, and topped off by continual cold temperatures after a two- day tease of high 60’s a couple of weeks ago, we all need a break from cold, gray days. That should happen soon. Maybe.

Lawns took a big hit this winter and spring from snow molds, voles and soggy soils causing the death of some areas of the lawn. Green up and recovery has been slow as soil temperatures are only in the upper 40’s. Regrowth is spotty at the moment. Of course, grubs are up and at ‘em and have been for a few weeks. Worms are near the surface and so are the moles that eat them. Robins are always a good indicator of the presence of earthworms near the soil surface, and so is mole activity. Vole damage may have killed large areas of lawns, readily seen where they clipped off the tops of the grass while under the protection of snow cover. If crowns were eaten, then raking up the dead material and reseeding will be needed.

vole-and-snow-mold-damage-april-6-2015.jpg

Vole-and-snow-mold-damage-in April from 2015  winter snow cover

 

The time frame between forsythia full bloom and lilac bloom is typically when pre- emergent crabgrass control is applied. Be careful not to be too late or too early. Last year older forsythia cultivars were late and were in full bloom at the same time as lilacs. This year may prove to be similar. Hardy forsythia cultivars are already in full bloom, while the older ones are in sparse to no bloom as of today (April 28, 2015). If that is the case, make sure to apply pre-emergent products before lilacs bloom and some already have leaves and flower buds appearing.

As for the birds- I participate in the Audubon Spring Bird Count every year, which takes place from the last week of April through the first two weeks of May. The idea is to count species during this time frame, so many migratory birds make the count interesting as they pass through on their way north. So far even the birds that breed here are slow in arriving. Got one wood thrush, the first I saw this year, on Saturday. Savannah Sparrows are just arriving here in Storrs, so Bob-o-links and Meadowlarks should arrive soon as well. Pileated Woodpeckers, the Holy Cow! Behemoths that are here all year, are regular visitors to my backyard woods. Last week I was able to get a shot of a male and female on the same tree. How often does that happen?

Savannah Sparrow on Horsebarn Hill, Storrs April 28, 2015

Savannah Sparrow on Horsebarn Hill, Storrs April 28, 2015

Male and female Pileated Woodpeckers in my backyard woods

Male and female Pileated Woodpeckers in my backyard woods

Hummingbirds have been spotted in southern areas of Connecticut, so get ready with hummingbird feeders. Usually they arrive as apples are blooming or the early Azalea cultivars. Keep in mind that hummingbirds eat insects as well, and often can be seen in the woods, especially around oaks because these trees attract many insects. So the hummers will not starve if you are late with your feeders.

Bluebirds have built their nests already, or at least have picked out a good nesting spot. If you have a large open area near woods where you know bluebirds live, but have trouble with sparrows consistently taking over any house you may put up, consider putting up two or three houses 25- 30 feet apart.  At my golf course, and here on campus on Horse Barn Hill we put up three birdhouse in the same area and every year we have a tree swallow, a bluebird and an English sparrow in each box. Clean them out by early to late March as bluebirds select nesting sites early even though nest building may not occur yet.

Male Bluebird on this year's selected nesting box

Male Bluebird on this year’s selected nesting box

Insects are slowly but surely making their presence known. Butterflies seen so far are Mourning Cloaks, Spring Azure hairstreaks, Commas and Question Marks, and Cabbage Whites are migrating in this week. Bees and wasps are now common where flowers are blooming, and so are many flies. Lily leaf Beetles will appear as lily host plants start to grow, so be prepared to deal with that pest. Boxwood leaf miners should be in the pupal state soon, and adults should fly by mid May. Look for pupal cases that are exposed on leaves as the adults emerge to gauge when egg- laying may occur. Fireflies are also in flight, but are not in flashing mode yet. Six- spotted tiger beetles should be out and about. Check for these along open dirt roads or woodland paths- their brilliant green metallic elytra make them easy to spot. And tent caterpillars are emerging from their egg masses and using silk to make their tents at forks in cherry branches.

Tent caterpillars just hatched and in daytime shelter
Tent caterpillars just hatched and in daytime shelter

There is too much else going on to even think about, but I am glad that  green and other colors are on the landscape palette again. Here’s hoping we have a great growing season with lots of rewards for our hard labors.

Pamm Cooper                                    All photos copyright 2015 by Pamm Cooper

bluets

Bluets- Houstonia caerulea

Well, it appears as though spring is warming up at last and some common early bloomers in the wild landscape are finally starting to show themselves. And I say, better late than never…

I always look for Marsh Marigolds ( Calthus palustris ) to appear in April before most other flowering plants have even broken through with new growth. They are a nice cushiony dark green with golden yellow flowers, and they are often the only green to be found in an otherwise bleak and brown landsc??????????ape. Look for them in open marshy areas, or in stream beds from April- June in Connecticut. They are in the Buttercup  family, ( Ranunculaceae ), and have similar flowers to the field buttercups.

Second on my list of favorite spring wildflowers are the Trout Lilies, or Dogtooth Violets, named for their mottled leaves that mimic brown trout markings, and the edible corms that resemble a dog’s tooth. Found in rich woods, these native low- growing plants have nodding yellow flowers, and sometimes grow in large colonies that may be over one hundred years old. Petals and sepals are bent backwards revealing the six brown stamens. Only mature plants having two leaves will produce a flower.

trout lilyjpg

Another April bloomer is dwarf ginseng, Panax trifolius, which is only 3- 8 inches tall, and can often be found with wood anemones. Look for these in rich, moist woods especially at the base of trees on the edge of woods or along woodland trails and in clearings that are damp. They flower April- June and have a small umbel of tiny white flowers and three sessile leaflets, and its tubers can be eaten raw or boiled, according to the USDA Forest Service.

Bloodroot,Sanguinaria canadensis, is one of the earliest wildflowers to bloom in New England, form March- May. Although small in stature, they are definitely a plant that gets noticed. Flowers are a magnificent white and have a stately form  that can provide a wonderful herald to the arrival of spring. This is a member of the Poppy family of plants. Its two large, distinctive leaves are large and completely enwraps the flower bud at first. Flowers open in the sun and close at night. The Latin name, Sanguinaria, means “ bleeding’, and refers to the red juice that was extracted from the roots by Native Americans and used as a dye for clothing and baskets and also as an insect repellent.

bloodroot 4-15-13

My last inclusion in the spring wildflower list of favorites is purple trillium,Trillium erectum, a member of the Lily family that blooms from  April- June. This is also a native that is found in rich, damp, shady woods, and its name is derived from the plant parts, which are arranged in threes.purple trillium2010 Flowers are commonly a deep red- purple, but sometimes are green, white, or pink. They smell like rotting meat and are pollinated by flies. The fruit is a reddish berry having a threefold symmetry and containing seeds in a reddish , juicy pulp, and continues development into the fall. Seeds are attractive to ants, so if you want to try to start trillium from seed, you have to compete with them for the seeds. Seeds require two winter periods before they will germinate, so patience is required before the reward of new plants.

There are other wildflowers of spring- bird’s foot violet, wood anemones, starflower, wild sarsaparilla, and, of course, violets, but those are for another time.

Pamm Cooper                           All photos copyright  2014 Cooper