Natural events, April 2016

Overall, April was a glorious month; it usually is. The temperatures and precipitation were moderate and unproblematic most of the time. One very big exception was the night that dipped well below freezing; our porch thermometer read 21ºF prior to dawn. As a result, we lost most of our tree fruit crop.

apr_natural_frozen_blossomsThese photos show Asian pear blossoms (left) and apple blossoms (right) that got killed by the freeze on the morning of April 9. The warm preceding weather meant that blossoming was ahead of a sensible schedule. We tried to provide some protection by wrapping trees or branches in row cover where practical, but this seems to have provided effectively no benefit. We might have considered spraying water for protection, but as we were teaching a long-ago scheduled birding class that morning, we couldn’t stick around until temperature rose above freezing, so our options were limited. Guess we’ll plant extra melons this year.

The cold also seemed to affect the redbud blossoms, which ended up having a kind of dull year, and they were just starting to bloom when the cold hit. However, most wildflowers were unaffected, and the overall wildflower display has been quite spectacular this year.

apr_natural_flowersLeft: Large Bellwort, Virginia Bluebells, and Dutchman’s Breeches in a stream-side location. Dutchman’s Breeches carpeted a north-facing slope (middle) in the highest concentration of this flower we’ve ever seen in bloom. Phlox and larkspur (right) put on a nice show towards the end of the month.

We also found a patch of Wild Hyacinth (Camassia scilloides), which we don’t recall photographing before.

apr_natural_flower_seedpodsIt’s easy to get in a rut of photographing spring wildflowers year after year. In an effort to branch out, I’ve been trying to restrain myself on the straight-up flower photos and instead document other aspects of the flora, such as leaves and seedpods. Clockwise from upper left: Spring Beauty, Bloodroot, False Hellebore (leaves and last year’s flower stalk), Cut-leaved Toothwort, and Indian Pipe (seed head from last year).

apr_natural_fallen_treeDead trees continue to fall in the woods. This one came down sometime during April (and a photo of this specimen in its still-vertical position appeared in the February natural events post). A few days after we found this one on the ground, we heard another come crashing down, though we have yet to find it (surprisingly, since it sounded big).

An abundance of dead trees means an abundance of substrate for fungi. Conditions were great for fungal fruiting: warm-ish and moist-ish. These photos are from our deeper woods. We didn’t find a single morel this year, in spite of conditions seeming right. The greenery on the forest floor got thick fast, making it harder to scan for mushrooms growing on the ground. The oyster mushrooms in the upper left photo were a nice consolation prize, contributing to several nice meals. These were about 6 feet off the ground on a dead oak and very easy to spot from a distance. Not sure of the ID on the others.

apr_natural_butterfliesButterfly activity picked up nicely in April. Left: Some kind of duskywing (Erynnis sp.). Right: Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta).

apr_natural_heronA trail cam on our stream photographed this Great Blue Heron. Tracks were evident at the edge of one of the deeper pools, as well.

april_natural_hognoseThis snake announced its presence in an audible manner. I paused, looked around, and saw a patterned brown snake emerging from the vegetation where I had heard the rattling sound. From about 10 feet away, I strained my eyes to look at the tail. Then it puffed up its head, conjuring up a menacing cobra. Oh, relief: a Hognose Snake. And even better, I had the camera with me. This is only our third sighting of one in nearly 10 years here, and I failed to get a photo of the others. I hollered to get Eric’s attention, and we enjoyed watching it for a few minutes. After its initial bluff didn’t scare us away, it shape-shifted its head to a triangular form, more reminiscent of the rattlesnake that I had initially feared. It even moved in a sidewinder fashion, a master impressionist. The one trick we didn’t get it to do was to play dead. The round pupil is absolute confirmation that this one was nonpoisonous. Certainly a really fascinating creature to have around, though they are predators of toads, and we like to have high populations of toads–which we’ve confirmed through observation to be predators of squash bugs.

Cute youngsters with a quarter for scale: The Chinese Mantis on the left hatched out of an egg case that Joanna brought into the house for observation. The idea was to put it in a jar, but it sort of got left on the table longer than intended. Lots of mantises hatched. As you can see, they are very cute! This baby Western Painted Turtle showed up in a pan of water that we had put out for a rooster who was being ostracized by another rooster. The turtle probably hatched last year but just recently emerged from its nest for the first time.

apr_natural_mosquitoes_etcHere are some odds-and-ends photos that can be tied together with the theme of mosquitoes: The pool of water in the tree (upper left) was squirming with mosquito larvae. Frogs and dragonflies can be mosquito predators. (Blanchard’s Cricket Frog, upper right, and Common Green Darner–we think, lower right). Lower left: Mosquito food.

April is a month when many invasive plants stick out like a sore thumb in the landscape. Autumn olive, multiflora rose, bush honeysuckle, and other woody invasives tend to leaf out well ahead of the native plants. It seems that they pop up in new places each year. Sometimes they seem unstoppble; it is easy to imagine the future here as a dense, impenetrable thicket of these relative newcomers. That future doesn’t even require much imagination; a trip into many parks and neighborhoods of Columbia will do the trick. But then again, are they unstoppable? Nature has its check and balances, and domination of one or a few species rarely persists long. Perhaps some natural control is starting to happen. For example, autumn olive, upper left, was hit heavily by deer this spring. Maybe that has more to say about an overabundant deer population than anything else, but at least it is a minor consolation prize. Multiflora rose, upper right, suffers from a virus spread by a mite; this reportedly can kill the plant over time. Bush honeysuckle seemed immune to everything…until we found a partly shriveled plant last spring, and we’ve found more with these symptoms this year (photo lower left). We’re not sure what the cause is, whether pest or disease, though the presence of ants (photo lower right) suggests that a release of sap may be part of the story. Can natural control slow the spread of these plants? We hope so. In the meantime, every spring, we feel compelled to spend time cutting, pulling, and cursing (but NEVER herbiciding) invasives.

2 thoughts on “Natural events, April 2016

  1. What a neat story about the Hognose Snake. Your trailcam has a very decent capability. That’s a great shot of the Heron!

    Always nice work.

  2. Love your natural events! Thanks for your efforts. Years and years ago we saw a hognose snake (not knowing what it was then) that circled and circled around itself and then looked dead, so we moved it away from the house. Hours later we went to look at it and it was gone. Was just pretending!