Monday, April 28, 2014

Where the Wildflowers Are

Apparently I've been going to the wrong woods for spring wildflowers for years now! Well, "wrong" isn't quite what I mean; I still get to see Trout Lilies and violets and trilliums and other cool things at all my usual haunts. But today I visited the Bent of the River Audubon sanctuary, where I saw tons of wildflowers that are by no means rare in Connecticut but that I've missed entirely until now.

Like, for example, Bloodroot, whose blooms were closed when I first arrived:

But which opened into luminous beacons as the morning progressed:

I think these flowers are even prettier in the shade of the forest floor:

There were Dutchman's Breeches, fancy little flowers dangling over wonderfully frilly leaves:

And carpets of tiny Spring Beauties:

This little flower is definitely worth admiring up close:

I was already familiar with some of the other flowers I saw, but that didn't make them any less awesome. A few Red Trillium plants bore nodding blooms:

I think these are some of our most beautiful wildflowers, and I'm very glad I got to see them again:

I also admired the Trout Lilies, of course, stout dark plants in the sun:

And wispier individuals in the shade:

I don't think I'll ever get tired of seeing these plants:

So yeah, this is a pretty amazing place for wildflowers. And some other early spring sights made this morning's visit even better. A few Northern Rough-winged Swallows are setting up nests in holes in the riverbank:

I had way too much fun watching these birds perform their aerial acrobatics above the river as they jostled for territory:

A couple of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were foraging at the edge of the woods, and the female got close enough for some pictures:

Pretty bird:

When I caught up with these birds again later, the male was busy putting on a performance. He would fluff up his feathers and stretch his head down:

The female fluttered from branch to branch all around him, and he kept turning to face her. Bird courtship is so strange and interesting:

What do you think, Ms. Gnatcatcher? Is he fluffy enough for you?

In another part of the woods, a few Palm Warblers worked their way through the underbrush:

One of the last creatures to make an appearance during my visit was this large (multi-foot-long) black snake, who wound its way across the path:

At first, I thought this was a Black Rat Snake, but on closer inspection (and after a bit of research) it turned out to be a Northern Black Racer. How cool, a new snake for me! This website gives a good description of the differences between these two species of large black snake; this creatures' smooth scales were the biggest clue about its identity, since Black Rat Snakes have slight ridges on their scales. This snake rattled its tail against the dead leaves to warn me away -- an awesome behavior I'd never seen before -- but my zoom lens let me get a portrait before the snake disappeared into the woods:

With so many awesome plants and animals, I'm hoping to return to the Bent of the River again soon. I'm very curious to see what will show up here in the coming weeks!

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