Thursday, April 10, 2014

First Critters of Spring

Unfortunately, the first of spring's critters I've found as yet (aside from migrating birds), was the Deer Tick I found embedded in my arm this morning.  I must have picked it up on one of my forays this week in search of signs of spring.  Not fair!  Everything else is weeks late in arriving. Ah well, the warmer weather due these next few days should start things stirring in the woods.  But it's going to take quite a blast of warmth to melt all the snow and ice still chilling the ground at Orra Phelps Nature Preserve in Wilton, as I discovered yesterday.

 I had gone to Orra Phelps on the slimmest chance I might find Snow Trillium coming up, a tiny flower that lives up to its name by blooming even while snow remains on the ground.  Saratoga County is way north and east of this pretty little trillium's native range, but Orra herself must have planted these in her woods, and they have thrived here ever since.  I'm assuming I will find them again this spring, but as yet there was no sign of them.

What I did find, though, were long snaky piles of mud deposited on the leaf litter in several swampy spots.  It looks like the Star-nosed Mole is doing its spring house-cleaning.  It's hard to believe that a small furry creature would want to live in such mucky ground, but that's exactly the habitat this species of mole prefers.

There were still a few mucky spots on the trail at Ballston Creek Nature Preserve, which I visited today, but here in this sun-warmed woods the snow was completely gone, and the walking was easy.

If the weather stays warm, we will soon see this woods just carpeted with thousands of Carolina Spring Beauties.  As of yet, there was still no sign of any spring wildflowers.  But imagine my delight at seeing a fluttering flash of orange as a Comma Butterfly flitted about the woods.  Like the Mourning Cloak Butterfly, the Comma winters over as an adult, emerging the first barely warm days of spring to feed on dripping tree sap.

  Obviously, I did not take this photo today, since none of the woodland leaves are yet this green.  I tried and tried to stalk this butterfly and capture its image today, but every time it landed on the forest floor, it closed its wings, revealing underwings the same color as dead dry leaves, and it completely disappeared.   Again and again I lost sight of it, until once again it flew away, revealing its brilliant colors just out of camera range.

I came to this nature preserve today to see if the Great Blue Herons had returned to their nests in a swamp, and sure enough, they had.  Here are three of the seven nests I counted, most of them occupied by a sentinel or nesting heron.

Off to one side of the swamp was a solitary nest, much larger than those the herons were sitting in.  I assumed that this was the nest of a pair of Ospreys, who also return each year to this site to rear their young.  At first sight, though, no Osprey appeared to be near.

Soon enough, though, this pair came wheeling through the air, the one on the right with a bundle of sticks in its talons, which it deposited in the nest before flying away again.

While peering through my binoculars at all this avian activity, I slowly became aware of a distinctive croaking sound off in the woods a ways.  Hey, could that be Wood Frogs?!  I followed the sound through the woods to this half-frozen vernal pool, and there they were!  They seemed to be just warming up their mating calls, since I didn't observe the copulatory frenzy I have witnessed at other times.  Perhaps the ladies have yet to arrive.

When the ladies arrive, these guys will be waiting for them.


threecollie said...

Oh. the froggy goodness of it all. You made my day! Sorry about the tick though. I was wondering if they were out yet, and I guess this is the answer. I am phobic and they do nothing for my enjoyment of the outdoors. Love the bird shots too. What an amazing bounty. thanks

The Furry Gnome said...

Wonderful observations. I'm out every day looking for those signs of spring too, but I think we still have a little more snow than you.