Sunday, April 26, 2015

Two Weekends of Wildflowers

Everything's changing so quickly outside now! Last weekend, I went into the woods behind our house to check out the wildflowers, and I was pretty well astonished by the variety of blooming plants I found just in this little sloping area. A bunch of these flowers were ones I'd never encountered before!

The Cutleaf Toothworts (Cardamine concatenata) were fully open:

I seemed to have missed the peak blooms on this Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides), which was holding onto only a few flowers:

Twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla) flowers danced on long stems next to the plant's strangely shaped leaves:

Patches of Rue Anemone blooms showed up in pale pink and white:

The pink blooms were very pretty:

But I especially liked the white flowers:

It seemed like this Spring Beauty was trying to be extra beautiful with its bonus petals:

I haven't been able to identify this small yellow violet that was blooming by a stream, but it was quite a lovely flower, named or not:

Speaking of yellow flowers, after seeing tons of Trout Lily leaves, I was happy to find a few plants in bloom! These are some of my favorite spring plants:

Small beetles (Asclera ruficollis, I believe) were also enjoying the Trout Lily blooms, apparently munching on the pollen:

A few other insects were out and about on this sunny day, including this Green Stink Bug:

Although most of the Bloodroot blooms in the woods had faded, this amazing patch lit up a corner of the yard:

When I went out exploring again yesterday, I found almost an entirely new cast of characters. Well, the Trout Lilies and Spring Beauties at least are still going strong; our yard is practically carpeted with Spring Beauty blooms, which is quite a lovely thing to see:

Jack-in-the-Pulpit leaves and flowers are starting to pop up all over the woods:

Big patches of Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) are just starting to open their bright blue flowers:

And I'm so, so happy to see Large-flowered Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) with its billowing blooms. These plants are scattered all through the woods, and one gorgeous patch even came up right next to the house:

Spring is in full swing now, and I'm excited to see what creatures and plants will show up next!

Friday, April 24, 2015

A Bed of Brown Snakes

Late last Friday afternoon, I was walking through the yard when I saw something rustling under the dry leaves in a flower bed. It was a warm sunny day, so I guessed there was a snake moving around under there. When I flipped over a leaf to investigate, though, I wasn't expecting to see two snake faces looking back at me:

Ahh, Brown Snakes (Storeria dekayi) are maybe the cutest little snakes I've met, and I'm very happy to have them in the yard. These guys didn't seem inclined to move, so I shifted another leaf to get a better view, and hey, three snakes! (Or maybe even four?? It's hard to see how those looping bodies all connect.)

I've read that Brown Snakes sometimes hibernate in groups, but this might also be the right time for mating activity. So I'm not entirely sure what I uncovered, but I just love these snuggly little snakes with their friendly faces:

I like having a flower bed full of Brown Snakes. :)

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Phoebes Are Moving In

A pair of Eastern Phoebes has been hanging around our house recently, and a few days ago I figured out why. They've been building a nest under the deck on the back of our house! Actually, I've read that it's the female who exclusively builds the nest, while the male accompanies her. It's a lovely little moss-and-mud structure, set on top of a light fixture:

We've been keeping our distance from our new neighbors to let them work, but I was able to pay a brief visit the other day without disrupting their routine too much. Here's (I assume) the female on a break between trips to get nesting materials, with mud on her beak:

She's found a nice spot in the yard to gather moss:

It's so cool to see this structure coming together! New material comes in by the beakful and gets nicely incorporated:

The male even flew over at one point to check on her work (or maybe to provide encouragement):

Here's a brief video of the female making her nest happen:

I think the nest's just about done now, but incubation hasn't yet started. I'm super excited to have these phoebes as neighbors! They're joining an already great cast of local avian inhabitants.

It was a treat to see this male Northern Cardinal belting out his song in a blooming Red Maple the other day:

Sing it, Mr. Cardinal:

This afternoon, I saw a male cardinal munching on the flowers from another tree:

I didn't know flowers were food for cardinals, but this guy certainly seemed to like them!

Blue Jays are constant -- and very handsome -- neighbors, but they almost never land as close to me as this one did. What a gorgeous bird:

Chipping Sparrows are recent arrivals, and I'm happy to see these cute little birds hopping around on the ground again:

We've got such great and diverse wildlife around here. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for baby phoebes in the next few weeks!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

First Woodland Flowers!

Yay! I've been watching the woods behind our house for growing things ever since the snow melted a few weeks ago. There's been a lot of eager waiting. Now all of a sudden -- in just the past few days, really -- little plants have started sprouting up all over the forest floor. And while I was wandering in the woods this afternoon I finally got to see my first wildflowers of the year!

These Bloodroot blooms are such a welcome sight, like brilliant beacons among the dead leaves:

Once I noticed one Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica) plant in bloom, I started seeing these dainty little flowers everywhere:

I love the pale pink veining on these little flowers:

Some of the Spring Beauty flowers were much paler, and still very pretty:

It's so exciting to get to discover the plants that live on this wooded slope. Every new appearance is a surprise! I was happy to see these Mayapple plants pushing their way above ground:

Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum) leaves are now scattered across many areas of the forest floor; these leaves are still some of my favorite spring sights:

This small patch of Ramps was an exciting discovery! I'll be sure to sample a couple of these onion-related plants in the next few weeks:

Big clumps of what I think are Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) have sprouted up seemingly overnight. I've never encountered these plants before, and I'm very curious to see them when all those blue flower buds open up:

Cutleaf Toothwort (Cardamine concatenata) plants are abundant in these woods, and they're on the brink of blossoming. I really like their jagged silhouettes:

Outside of the woods, a male Yellow-rumped Warbler (the first warbler I've seen this year!) was looking especially fancy among Red Maple blooms yesterday afternoon:

And not quite on the topic of flowers, but still related to the changing seasons, I was happy to meet a singing Brown Thrasher along our driveway:

I plan to check on these woods every few days; updates on the progress of our local flora will certainly appear here. Hooray for spring!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Airborn Deer

This past Sunday, while I was out wandering in the yard late in the afternoon, I crossed paths with a small herd of White-tailed Deer. I was getting closer, and the deer noticed:

This one deer (the leader?) cautiously moved toward me, stomping a warning signal to the other deer as it checked me out:

I must've been pretty threatening, because this deer bolted, signaling a retreat with its raised tail and loud snorts. Look at that cloud of snot!

Deer jump really high when they're running away! (Flying deer alert!)

The deer made their escape into the woods with leaping strides and flying fur:

Problematic as high deer populations are, it's still just so cool to see these big graceful mammals out and about. :)

Friday, April 3, 2015

Salamander Night!

Last night was incredible. It was our first warm and rainy night of the year, the time when many salamanders and other amphibians emerge from their subterranean hiding spots to head to a place to breed. Warm and soggy and dark: basically the best conditions for a creature who lives in burrows and under logs to make a trek across land.

I've read about such early spring amphibian movement, but this is the first year we've lived in a place where I can actually wander around the yard at night without worrying about neighbors thinking I'm crazy. So when the rain paused last night, I grabbed a flashlight and my iPhone for a camera (I didn't want to risk getting my actual camera wet) and went to see if anyone was out and about.

After only a few minutes of careful walking -- there were earthworms moving all over the ground -- I did indeed find an amphibian! Yes!! A hefty Jefferson Salamander (or possibly a member of the complex involving genes from this and other related species) was making its way across the yard:

It's just so amazing to see this creature out and active. The only other times I've encountered salamanders (besides newts) has been when they're resting under logs or rocks, and I always feel a little guilty for disturbing them in their hiding places. How cool to meet this creature instead when it's wide awake and walking around. Is this not just the cutest and friendliest face?? :)

And this was just the first creature I met. Other amphibians were also taking advantage of the warm and wet night. A medium-sized American Toad was hopping across the driveway and it paused long enough to let me take its (rather dramatic) portrait:

Spring Peepers were calling loudly not too far away on our neighbor's property, and even though I couldn't go look for them en masse, I did meet this tiny individual who was probably heading off to join the raucous breeding party:

Paul came out to enjoy the night, too, and with the extra pair of eyes and extra flashlight, we started finding even more creatures. We saw this much smaller Jefferson Salamander with its beautiful blue speckles:

And maybe most exciting of all, a big Spotted Salamander was trekking across the grass!

I haven't seen a Spotted Salamander since I was little, and I've been hoping for years to come across one. I mean, what an amazing creature! Those yellow spots are just unreal. Here's a video of this salamander as it made its way through the yard:

At this point, it didn't seem like it was going to start raining again, so I went and got my actual camera. I still haven't quite figured out the best way to take pictures in dark conditions, but I couldn't not try with so many wonderful creatures around! Spotted Salamanders are especially photogenic, even without the best photographer:

I was just wondering aloud how many Spotted Salamanders might be living in this area, when we turned around and saw a second one just a few yards away! Ahh, so cool:

Then we ended up in an area of the yard where there were salamanders practically everywhere we looked. Two Red-backed Salamanders passed each other without seeming to notice (see the head on the left and the tail on the right?):

And this strange salamander that I can't quite identify came practically running by:

Something must've happened to this salamander's tail at some point, but the salamander certainly seemed healthy otherwise. This creature was a bit bigger than the other Red-backed Salamanders we saw, but I suppose it could have been a dark morph of that species; or perhaps it was a similar-looking Ravine Salamander (a species that would fit perfectly with this habitat).

I'm so happy that I got to see so many of these usually hidden creatures! Here's hoping they all made it safely to their destinations, so future generations of amphibians can keep invading yards around here every year on warm and rainy spring nights. :)