Friday, April 29, 2011

More salamanders and turtles, and the tadpoles have hatched!

It was a very herp-y (herp-tastic?) day in the woods today. First of all, I seem to have found a nice Red-backed Salamander hangout, because I looked under another log today in the same area where I found that salamander last week, and I found this guy:

It's another Red-backed Salamander, an individual with the more usual coloring this time (the reddish-brown back that gives the species its name). This little fellow almost scurried away into the leaves when I lifted up the log, but then it decided to sit still for some pictures instead. I like how I didn't even know this species existed until a week ago, and now I've seen it multiple times -- such a cool little animal!

If I were someone who names their pictures, I would call this next one "Turtle Rock." Can you guess why?

So many Painted Turtles! I love how they're neatly arranged by size, and especially how that cute little dinky one gets to hang out in the front. :P

And look what I found in the pools: The Wood Frog eggs have started hatching! There are still a bunch of egg masses waiting to hatch, but the pools are already starting to fill up with these tiny tadpoles. I'll continue to keep an eye on them as the seasons progress -- they're all going to need to grow up into frogs before the pools dry up in the summer.... I hope these little babies can make it!

And this post wouldn't be complete without at least one wildflower. Here's a Jack in the Pulpit, just sprung up and still covered with morning dew. This is the first of these flowers I've seen this year, although there were many more plants starting to bloom nearby and more leaves coming up all over the woods. I think these flowers are both crazy and awesome.

I also saw some really cool birds today (a Bald Eagle, a Black-and-white Warbler, a Northern Parula (a super pretty warbler that I just learned last week)), and three new ones that I'd never seen before (a Veery, a Louisiana Waterthrush, and a Solitary Sandpiper). In total, I saw 28 species today, a new personal record. All the pictures I took, though, were just barely good enough to help me identify these birds, and not really worth sharing -- oh well!

Hooray for the woods!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Watcher in the Water

There were monsters in the woods today.

I'll start with the lesser of the two monsters I saw -- monstrous because of its size more than anything else:

This Bullfrog was at least 5 inches long -- not the biggest Bullfrog ever, but certainly the biggest I've seen in these lakes. This frog was totally confident in its command of the lake, refusing to hop away even after all of its smaller cousins dove underwater at my approach. OK, so it's maybe more impressive than scary (and I want to give it a hug, actually).

This next creature, though, lurking just a few feet away from the Bullfrog, is a monster fitting the title of this post. I'm pretty sure I'm going to have nightmares after looking so closely at this thing:

Is that a stick poking out of the water? Hardly, although that's what I thought at first. I actually started taking pictures of this thing because I liked the novelty of a stick that looked so much like it had an eye... and nostrils... and an open mouth.... It took me a little while to figure out that the "stick" was alive -- the decisive clue was that it was slowly sinking below the surface of the water as I got closer, only to resurface again after I'd sat still for a few minutes.

I find this picture deeply creepy, maybe because that eye looks so human to me.... I can't think of what else this could be besides a Common Snapping Turtle, and it must be a huge one -- that part of the head sticking above the water alone was at least as big as the giant Bullfrog. There were fish swimming around nearby, probably unaware of the presence of that gaping mouth.... *shiver*

But it wasn't all monsters today, thankfully. I was excited to see this Common Loon in the middle of one of the lakes -- this is my first time seeing one in Connecticut, and the only other times I've encountered loons has been on trips to the Far North (i.e., Maine). I couldn't resist showing this teeny picture -- the loon was so far away, but still so cool.

And the wildflowers are really starting to come up. This is the part of the post where I just throw out a bunch of pictures with quick descriptions. Ready? Here we go! :P

This is an Azure Bluet (or just "Bluets", Houstonia caerulea), so dainty and pretty. Apparently this plant is supposed to grow in clumps, although I only saw this one flower.

Here's Coltsfoot, a plant that sends up its bright yellow flowers before it opens up its leaves. I just learned that Coltsfoot is not native to North America, and it's actually listed as invasive and "banned" in Connecticut -- does that mean that you can't bring new plants into the state, or are they trying to eradicate the plants that are here? I haven't done enough research to have an answer to that question.

This is a Wood Anemone. I've been seeing the tiny buds of these plants in the woods for a while now, but they just burst into bloom today -- what pretty, luminous flowers.

And here's one of my happiest discoveries of today, a patch of Wild Strawberries in bloom. This plant is being visited by a Cabbage Butterfly (I think). I was trained to dislike Cabbage Butterflies when I was little, because they're invasive and the caterpillars are really hard on garden plants -- but if this guy is going to help pollinate the strawberry plants and create delicious fruit (and I mean delicious, way better than cultivated strawberries in my opinion), then I say go for it.

Oh good, with all those flower pictures, I've almost forgotten about the Snapping Turtle already. Except that I just reminded myself of it. Yikes, those eyes....

Monday, April 25, 2011

Red and more red, and a baby owl update

Today was the day of red things in the woods! Here's red thing number one:

Well, more of a bright, blazing orange, really. It's a Red Eft! I haven't seen one of these guys since I lived in New York, something like 13 years ago, and oh, how I have missed them. Love, love, love! Red Efts are actually the juvenile forms of Red-spotted Newts, which I've already seen in these lakes. Newts have three completely separate life stages -- a larval stage where they have gills and live underwater (think tadpoles, but with legs), a juvenile stage where they have lungs and live completely on land (the eft), and then an adult stage when they live in the water again -- how cool is that?

Red Efts are so awesome. Carry on, little fellow!

Red thing number two is this Red Trillium (also called Wake-robin, Trillium erectum):

A bunch of these plants were blooming scattered throughout the forest -- what a glorious color! I actually don't know if I've ever seen a more perfect flower. (Don't mind my fingers in this next picture.)

I have one more story from today's adventure in the woods. When I went to check on the Great Horned Owl family, I looked up into their tree to find that the nest was completely gone -- no sticks, and no sign at all that there was a nest there as recently as three days ago. I probably don't need to say that I was a little freaked out, and quite a bit concerned. It took me a minute or so to work up the courage to go explore below the tree to see if I could find out what happened... I was afraid of finding a collapsed nest and a dead baby down there....

But I did go look, and while I didn't find anything on the ground (besides many, many owl droppings), the change of location got me to look up into the tree again from a different angle, and there was the baby, safe and sound.

I still don't know what happened to the nest, but it looks like the baby's big enough to not really need one anyway. (OMG, and I still can't get over the cuteness.)

So all is well, and crisis averted. It was a good day. :)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Adventures in the Pine Barrens

We were visiting Paul's family for Easter this weekend, and this morning I got to go with Paul's dad to explore a bit of the New Jersey Pine Barrens! We walked some of the trails at the Michael Huber Prairie Warbler Preserve, and it was fun to explore woods so different from the ones I'm now used to in Connecticut. Unfortunately, I didn't arrive prepared with my normal gear, but Paul was kind enough to lend me his camera, and I borrowed one of his family's binoculars -- thanks for being enablers, everyone. :P

We saw a bunch of birds while we were there (although we heard many more that were content to stay out of sight), including the Prairie Warbler in the preserve's name, and Pine and Palm warblers as well. We also found a pair of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers working on a nest, which was really cool to see -- they're such fun little birds, and I only saw one for the first time a few days ago (the male looks positively angry with his slanting dark "eyebrows").

These are the first Eastern Towhees I've encountered, a male and a female that were scuffling around in the leaves on the path. I've known about these birds all my life, with my mom singing "drink your tea-ea-ea-ea" throughout my childhood, but I can't remember ever actually seeing one before. They're pretty fantastically colored (something not at all represented by this picture), and I especially loved watching the male as he flew, flashing the bright white on his tail and wings against his deep black back and rufous sides. I'm hoping I'll get to see these birds again sometime back in Connecticut.

This Brown-headed Cowbird male was one of a group of four of these birds (two males and two females), and he was definitely showing off for the girls. The males kept fluffing up like this, and they were also making a totally strange sound, something like a stone falling into a pool of water. The field guide we had with us described the call as "creepy" (not a bad descriptor, really), and this is apparently part of this bird's courting ritual. Pretty crazy!

And let's not forget the plants. This Trailing Arbutus was fading already, but the flowers were still very pretty, and completely new to me.

So yeah, the Pine Barrens is a pretty cool place, and I'm glad I got this chance to explore it a little. :D

Friday, April 22, 2011

Violets and warblers

Every time I go to the woods, even if I walk through exactly the same places as I did just the day before, it seems like there's always something new to see. I guess this probably has something to do with the fact that I can't look everywhere at once (which is unfortunate), so I'll always be missing some things one day with the possibility of seeing them the next.

So here's my new discovery for today: a whole big patch (several square feet) of these dainty little violets, each plant just a couple of inches tall, which I completely missed when I walked by this spot yesterday. As it turns out (and as I have just learned), there are many different species of violets (and subspecies, and hybrids, etc.), and several of them look very similar to each other. After some research, however, I'm reasonably confident that this is a Small White Violet (also called a Northern White Violet, Viola macloskeyi) -- these plants were growing in a very wet, swampy area, which is characteristic of this species, and they were quite small as the name suggests (and the leaves and flowers were a good match as well, but that was true for some other potential species as well). I'm open for corrections, though, if anyone reading this knows otherwise!

This is another one of the Yellow-rumped Warblers that have been flitting around the woods recently, a male this time (brighter and more colorful than the female). These guys are actually much flashier in real life than this washed-out picture shows, but I think you can still get an idea of the prettiness of these birds. The males are fun to watch, too, because they keep flying up to a perch, fluffing up their feathers, and trilling so that their whole body shakes -- I bet the ladies are impressed. :P

I don't think I've ever payed attention to pussy willows past their small-gray-fuzzy stage, but the catkins on this American Willow were stunning today (there's a lot more detail in this picture if you click on it to zoom in). I actually think this tree was past its peak, with some flowers already falling off into the river below, but it was beautiful nonetheless, and very cool to see up close.

There were many more plants with buds just about ready to burst into bloom -- before too long the forest floor should be awash with color, and then it will really feel like spring. :)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The most adorable salamander ever (also, birds)

I looked under a log today in the woods (as I am wont to do), and this is what I found:

You cannot honestly tell me that that is not the cutest wee salamander you have ever seen! This little fellow couldn't have been more than two inches long, and with those big eyes and teeny tiny toes... I wanted to cuddle it! (But I restrained myself.) This is a Red-backed (or Redback) Salamander, although this one is what my internet sources tell me is a "leadback" color morph of the species -- it's just gray/blue and doesn't have the normal reddish stripe that gives the species its name. I've never seen one of these guys before, although apparently they're extremely common in northeastern woods. When I was finished taking pictures, I put the log carefully back where I found it -- and don't worry, there was a nice cavity in the underside of the log so the salamander wouldn't get squished. What an awesome creature, I love yooouuuu!

There were lots of birds in the woods today as well, and the trilliums are sending up buds. :) I watched two Ospreys fishing for a little while (I didn't see them catch anything), and I got sidetracked for a long time when I stumbled into a whole mess of warblers and other small songbirds.

The bird in this picture is a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, although you wouldn't necessarily know it from this angle. Kinglets are tiny birds (do I have a small-things theme in this post?), and this one was hanging out with at least five different species of warblers in one big group. So many pretty colors flying around in the trees, and two of these warblers were ones I'd never seen before: a Black-and-white warbler (super cool-looking, sorry I don't have a picture), and another one that I managed to narrow down to two possible species, a Blackburnian Warbler or a Yellow-throated Warbler. Unfortunately I didn't pay close enough attention to the color on this last bird's head, and neither of these species is supposed to be in this area at this time of year (or in the Yellow-throated Warbler's case, ever), so I don't feel confident making an identification call.... Oh well, whatever it was, it was beautiful, with a bright yellow throat and black/white stripes all over.

I'm already planning my next trip to the woods.... There's just so much to see -- why can't I be there all the time, again?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Chipping Sparrows

A couple of Chipping Sparrows have been hanging around the apartment for the past few days, which means that I have now officially learned a new sparrow! (For those of you keeping track, this increases my sparrow-knowledge capacity to four.)

These birds are on the small side, as far as sparrows go -- almost dainty, even. And look how handsome they are, with that red-brown cap over a white/black/gray face. This little bird landed in the tree outside our window a couple of days ago, and then proceeded to close its eyes and rest for a few minutes:

Sleep well, little Chipping Sparrow. :)

Monday, April 18, 2011

This is a post about wildflowers

My current situation with wildflowers is very similar to my situation with birds -- there are a decent number of species that I know really well, but there are a ton more that I don't know at all. So this summer I have decided that I will not only be learning new birds, I will also be learning wildflowers.

The Trout Lily in my post yesterday is one flower that I know very well, having grown up paying attention to it, but when I was back into the woods this morning (I'm insatiable), I found two flowers that were completely new to me. Usually I do most of my identifying (of wildflowers or birds or anything else) online -- the Connecticut Botanical Society has a pretty expansive wildflower guide with lots of pictures, for example. But today the internet failed me, and as it turned out, I was only able to identify these plants at all by turning to my copy of Central Appalachian Wildflowers (2002) by Barbara and Victor Medina.

Yep, this is my grandparents' wildflower book (one of two, actually), and using it today brought back good memories of going on wildflower walks with them when I was little. This book has sat on my shelf for years, and I'm very happy to finally have a chance to find out how extremely useful it is. :P (Mini-trivia: This book was a full family endeavor, and I actually have credit for doing the illustrations, which I believe technically makes me a published artist -- how crazy is that?)

Anyway, where was I? Right, flowers:

This one is Dwarf Ginseng, as best as I can tell -- most of the pictures of this species I've seen show an upright, perky plant, rather than the slouched individuals I found pushing their way up out of the ground today, but the overall shape of the leaves and flowers is right, so Dwarf Ginseng is what I'm calling it. This plant was teeny-tiny, only about an inch or two high, with its little cluster of white flowers just starting to open. I imagine it'll look more impressive in a few days, but I couldn't resist taking a picture of spring in the works.

I've noticed these bushes in the woods before with their floating yellow buds, and today the flowers were open. This is a Spicebush, and besides being bright and pretty, this plant is apparently home (i.e. food) for a couple of very cool butterflies and moths (food for their caterpillars, that is) during the summer. I'll have to keep an eye out for these creatures as the year progresses. :)

There are so many things in the world to learn! But that's good, really -- it just means that I'll always have something new to discover. :)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Snakes and flowers in the sun

Paul came with me to the woods today, and I have to say, it was really great having the extra pair of eyes! We saw lots of newts and turtles, and look at what Paul found basking on a branch over the lake:

It's a Northern Water Snake, and the first snake I've seen this year! Here's a closer view of its front end -- you can just see its eye peeking over the branch:

These guys are pretty common around water (hence the name), and aren't dangerous. I mean, I wouldn't want to try to pick one up because I've heard that they're biters, but they're not venomous. We've seen these snakes swimming in the water before, and that's always cool to see, but it looks like this fellow was just content to lay back and enjoy the warm sunlight.

I was also happy to see that the Trout Lilies are just now starting to bloom -- I love these flowers. :) The mottled leaves of these plants are pretty much carpeting the ground in many places in these woods, but only on this south-facing slope are the plants actually sending up buds and opening blossoms already. These flowers just look so cheerful, especially surrounded by dead leaves and the hints of other plants just barely starting to grow.

It was great to see so many plants and animals out today -- everyone was having fun in the sun, and we were, too. :)

Friday, April 15, 2011

Look it's a baby! And other things, too

I was back at the Naugatuck State Forest this morning, and the baby Great Horned Owl was up and about, toddling around the big nest all by itself:

Baaaaaby! Such a cute little ball of fluff. :D Look, it even has little baby ear tufts, just like its mommy and daddy:

I'm so glad I happened to find this little family -- what a fun thing to look forward to checking whenever I'm in the woods. :D

Here's one of the Yellow-rumped Warblers I saw flitting around yesterday and today. It's a female, and she's not as bright and flashy as the yellow/black/white males, but she's still pretty. She's got that splash of yellow below her wings, and I think you can just barely see a tiny bit of the yellow on the top of her head and on her butt in this picture (look right behind her wing tips). There were a couple of males around as well, but they weren't about to sit still for a picture.

And speaking of sitting still for pictures, the chipmunks are getting bolder as it gets further into spring. This fellow was not only refusing to run away scared, but was actually yelling at me, presumably telling me to get off of his territory -- not exactly the meek chipmunk behavior I've been seeing up to now. I heard more chipmunks yelling ("squeaking" is probably a more accurate term) in other parts of the forest as well -- I guess it's time to stake claims and stick by them!

I made several other small discoveries today, including this little creature who was hiding under a rock in a stream. I'm guessing this must be some kind of crayfish. (Out of curiosity, I searched for "crayfish in Connecticut" on the internet and found out that we have at least seven species here... who knew!) Whatever it was, this creature was very tiny and appeared to be missing a front claw. I wish it luck and a long crustacean-y life.

Last picture: This is a small flowering Red Maple that was growing at the edge of one of the lakes. I love the bright orange/red color of the blossoms, and I wonder if this is the same species of maple that's showing off its deep red flowers in my yard.(I suspect that it is.)

And the woods continue to be awesome -- no surprise there. :D

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Pretty yard weeds and more warblers in the woods

I went to the woods this morning and saw tons of cool birds (24 species, which is kind of a lot for me), but the little flying creatures didn't translate very well to pictures today, so I don't have a great deal to show. (Since so much of my "photography" is based on chance, this was bound to happen eventually.) The Great Horned Owl parent was drowsing on the nest, and the Palm Warblers were still flitting around (or possibly new ones had arrived). I also had fun watching a group of Yellow-rumped Warblers -- affectionately referred to in this apartment as "yellow butts" ever since we identified these birds outside our windows last fall by noting this distinguishing feature -- with the males trilling and showing off their bright yellow, black, and white markings.

And I learned a new warbler today: the Pine Warbler. This isn't a great picture of the bird by any means (when I showed it to Paul, he asked me if there was supposed to be a bird in there somewhere), but it helped me figure out what I was looking at, at least. These birds breed in the northeastern US and I think they're supposed to be fairly common around here in the spring and summer, but this is the first time I've seen one. Birds are cool. :)

I'm still waiting for the violets to spring up in the woods (I saw little leaves everywhere this morning, but no flowers yet). In the meantime, I found this beautiful little Common Blue Violet growing as a weed at the very edge of our yard. I think I like this bicolor version of these flowers more than the standard purple variety -- I love the fine tracings of purple lines near the center of the petals, and the way the color fades into the white.

And while I'm on the subject of weeds, I had to admire this Common Dandelion blooming at my doorstep. I know... it's a dandelion. But there are still so few flowers around right now, I feel like I should appreciate every bit of color I can find. Plus, it's kinda pretty.

It was 70 degrees and sunny today -- we even had the windows open for a little while! Here's hoping we get even more nice days like this soon!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Baby Owls!! Also, warblers and turtles -- yay spring!

There were so many exciting things happening in the woods today, and I'm having a hard time deciding what to share first! OK, I'll just dive in.

So apparently I'm on something of an owl streak right now. Today, I decided to walk my usual loop in the Naugatuck State Forest, but in the opposite direction, and that turned out to be a really good idea because it got me into just the right position to spot this:

See the little fuzzy thing on the left? OMG Great Horned Owl baby! (Or possibly babies!)

I can't believe this owl's nest was just right there, and so close to the path -- I don't know how many times I must've walked right by without knowing it was there. The owl I saw the other day was in this same area, so it was almost certainly a member of this nesting pair. I'm so excited to have found this nest, but I'm also a little worried for these guys -- I heard the crows going after the owls again when I was leaving the woods, and with the nest clearly visible from the path, what if people find it and get nosy and disturb it...? I mean, I would hope no one would actually do that, and these are big birds and I guess they can probably take care of themselves, but still, I worry.... Well, I guess there's nothing I can do from here besides wait and see what happens!

I can already tell I'm going to learn a ton of new birds this summer. The migrants are starting to come back and/or pass through this area right now, and I saw at least four different small songbirds today that I'd never seen before.

Of all those mystery birds, I was only able to positively identify this one: a Palm Warbler. There were three or four of these guys all hanging out in one spot, flying around and catching bugs out of the air. I can see why so many people are interested in warblers -- what stunning birds. As it turns out, Palm Warblers live in the very southern United States and the Caribbean during the winter, and they breed in the summer all the way up in Canada. So that means that these birds were right in the middle of their migratory trip when I saw them, and they just happened to stop to spend a little while (a day? a few days?) in this forest. I guess that's probably another reason why people like warblers: it feels like a stroke of luck to see these birds as they're just passing through.

OK, enough bird talk -- on to the herps! I was very happy to see these Painted Turtles basking in the sun, because I wasn't entirely sure whether there were actually any turtles in these lakes. Now I know that there are. :) And they're the first reptiles I've seen this year! Yay!

So spring is definitely in full swing now, what with all the fluffy babies and reptiles and migrants around today. It's supposed to rain for the rest of the week, but I already can't wait until the weather clears up and I can get out into the woods again!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Ospreys on a big metal tower

There's a big metal tower thing on a ridge about half a mile or so from our apartment, as the crow flies. I don't know if it's a cell-phone tower or a radio tower or what, but it's big. Anyway, a few days ago, I was looking out of our windows, and I saw a big raptor-type bird fly over and land on the top of this tower, and then I saw it do this again a little while later. The bird was really far away, but it looked like it might have been an Osprey, and I knew that they sometimes nest on man-made structures, which made me wonder whether there might be a nest up there.

So today I decided to be a bird stalker. Paul was kind enough to come with me and act as my getaway driver -- he kept an eye out for people coming to yell at us while we hung around in a random company's parking lot near the foot of the tower with binoculars and cameras. As it turned out, no one came to tell us to leave, and I'm happy to report that the mission was a success!

There were two Ospreys guarding their huge nest up at the top of the tower. Such cool birds! One of the birds was perched on the outer rim of the tower when we first got there (see the above picture), the other on the nest. Then, after much flapping and jostling together (and many blurry pictures), one bird re-settled onto the nest while the other (presumably the male) flew off. He returned a few minutes later with a giant stick to add to the nest, and then was off foraging/hunting again. We left before he came back, but I presume he was successful.

The nest itself was a pretty impressive structure, with lots of big sticks and even what looked like a piece of blue wire thrown into the mix. I find myself wondering whether the Ospreys built this nest from scratch this year, or if it's an older structure that's reused year after year. Either way, this seems to be the perfect perch for the birds, and it's certainly safe (assuming people don't go up there and disturb them). To give an idea of how high up this nest is, here's a picture of the whole tower:

Yeah, that's pretty high.

Incidentally, this trip marks the first time I've driven somewhere solely to track down a specific bird, which I'm pretty sure is another step on the slippery slope toward full-fledged birder (no pun intended). At least this was only half a mile from my house, so I don't think I'm too far gone yet. :P And in any case, it was fun. :)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Seriously, owls are awesome (and so are newts)

Today, in the woods, I saw my second owl.* It was a Great Horned Owl, and it was gorgeous.


Unlike the Barred Owl I stumbled upon a few weeks ago, I saw this Great Horned Owl only after I started specifically looking for it, so maybe I am learning something about bird watching after all. I was walking through the woods and I heard a group of crows making a huge ruckus up in the trees. I had read online about crows hating owls, and Megan N. had told me a story about spotting an owl once because it was being mobbed by crows, so I started watching for a big feathery predator... and then there it was. The crows chased the owl from tree to tree for several minutes before they finally flew off and left it alone. I was super excited to get to hang out with this guy (or girl) -- I've heard Great Horned Owls calling in these woods before, but they're so good at the camouflage thing, I almost certainly wouldn't have seen this owl if it hadn't been for the crows harassing it. (Sorry, owl, I hope you got some rest eventually.) Sooooo awesome. :D

OK, owls are great, but I saw other cool things today, too. Every time I go to the woods, I check the shallow edges of the lakes for amphibians, and today I had success -- the Red-spotted Newts are awake and wriggling! I love love love these guys (that's three "love"s), and I wish I could've gotten closer to them, but I was pressing my luck as it was, balanced precariously on rocks and leaning over the water to take pictures. There were a couple of times when I stepped just a little bit too far into soggy ground, and I definitely would've been in trouble if my boots hadn't been waterproof (thank goodness for that).

I also saw my first wildflower of the season today (besides the skunk cabbage). It's common chickweed (if I'm identifying it correctly), nothing too exciting since this is a (non-native) weed you can find in yards and gardens and basically everywhere, but still, it's a small something growing and blooming and bringing in the spring. And speaking of flowers, many of the paths I was walking today were flanked with huge swathes of trout lilies poking their mottled leaves up from the ground -- I'm very excited to see what the woods will look like when these flowers are all in bloom.

One last picture for today: I was entranced by this super weird fungus (I assume that's what it is) on this log. I have no idea what's going on here, but it looks almost as if the log were some sort of plaster or ceramic art creation that someone forgot to finish molding and painting. Very weird, but cool!

And once again, the woods are awesome (as expected). Just as I was leaving, an Osprey flew low over my head and across the lake. I would've tried to snap a picture, but unfortunately my in-flight bird photo skills are virtually non-existent -- that's a project for another time!

*Actually, as my mom reminded me recently (and she had photographic evidence to prove it), I did have a close encounter with a wild owl when I was very little -- we found a baby Great Horned Owl in our yard, injured, and a wildlife rehabilitation guy came to take it away. Since I have no actual memory of this event, however, I'm still counting the recent owl sightings as my first real (conscious? documented?) owl-encounter.