Monday, April 18, 2016

Documenting Spring's Progress

What a marvelous stretch of bright balmy days we have had!  It's wonderful to just step out the door and move freely through the day without numbed hands when I want to take a picture, or to plunge into any puddle or stream and not worry that my wet socks would freeze to my feet.  So yes, I've been out each day, surveying all my usual nature haunts to check on signs of advancing spring.

On Friday, I walked around Mud Pond at Moreau, noting that the low water had risen slightly, but that it was low enough still that I could keep close to the water almost all the way around.  The first thing I noticed was that the beavers were building a new lodge further out from shore, in order to have an entrance below water level.

The pond was vibrating with many different kinds of insect life:  tiny spiders that scooted across the water so fast you really couldn't see them get from here to there; Predacious Diving Beetles rapidly paddling beneath the water, kicking their hind legs while grasping air bubbles that allowed them to breath underwater; and the whirling, spinning Whirligig Beetles setting the surface in motion with circling ripples.

At the south end of the pond, where low water uncovered a series of muddy ridges, it looked as if every Painted Turtle in the pond was basking in the day's sunny warmth.

Rounding the back end of the pond, I noticed mats of green growth on the water's surface near the shore.  I assumed at first that they must be rafts of Common Duckweed.

But a closer inspection (resulting in wet socks) revealed that these mats were instead made up of masses of the chubby little floating liverwort called Ricciocarpus natans.

When I moved up into the woods to complete my circuit, I kept noticing flashes of bright orange on the air.  Aha!  I thought:  that must be an Eastern Comma Butterfly, one of our native butterflies that winters over as an adult and emerges in early spring.  What a tease it was! I would just see that flash of orange out of the corner of my eye, but when I turned to follow its wafting flight, it would just disappear.  That's because when the Eastern Comma lands, it closes those bright-orange wings and turns the color of a brown dead leaf. (But then you can see the white curving mark that gives this butterfly its common name.)

Here's a photo from my files that reveals that lovely color.

On Sunday, my friend Sue came down and we went to the Skidmore Woods.  Sue lives less than 20 miles north, but she swears that our spring is weeks more advanced down here in the tropics of Saratoga Springs.  I wasn't too sure we'd find much in the woods as yet, but we hadn't gone far before we spied a beautiful patch of Bloodroot, its shimmering white petals centered with bright-yellow sunbursts.

The Red-necked False Blister Beetles had also discovered the Bloodroots' ripening anthers and were feasting away on the pollen.  Soon, they will also find their way to the thousands of Trout Lilies that will soon carpet the forest floor out here, and then the Trout Lillies' anthers will be stripped of their pretty red pollen.  On Sunday, we found very few Trout Lillies had come into bloom, but the ones we did find were gorgeous!

Yes, indeed, the spring-wildflower floodgates are pushing open!  The Wood Anemones were already bearing some pinkish buds that will open very soon to pristine white blooms.

The Mayapple parasols were already pushing up through the leaf litter, the two-leaved plants bearing green flower buds, which were peeking out from between the unfolding leaves. As the plant matures, the leaves will surmount the single large white flower, which will bloom beneath the shade of the large flat leaves.

An oh, the Hepaticas!  We saw them almost everywhere we looked.  Most were white, or such a pale shade of blue or pink that they appeared to be white from a distance.  But here and there we found a few in unmistakably vibrant color.

Even with all these purple sepals (Hepaticas have no petals), this wee little flower was even smaller that its bracts. Hepaticas come in quite a variety of colors and numbers of sepals.

I had always assumed, because of the limey substrate of the Skidmore woods, that all the Hepaticas that bloom out here were of the sharp-lobed variety.  But count on Sue to find the fascinating!  Exploring the woods beyond the edge of the path, she found a whole section of forest floor where all the Hepaticas were of the round-lobed variety.  This is not the variety we usually associate with calcareous soils. But there they were!

Here's a plant of the sharp-lobed kind.  The differences between the leaves are subtle, but better detected when placed side-by-side.

Accompanying us on our walk through the woods was another of our early spring butterflies that winters over as an adult:  the gorgeous Mourning Cloak.  We never had a chance on Sunday to photograph this butterfly, since it would not land, but one year we did have a wonderful chance to take its portrait.  And I found its photo in my files.  So lovely!

On our way home, we stopped by a roadside patch of English Violets and picked a little nosegay.  I don't feel too guilty about picking violets, since the more you pick them, the more blooms they produce.  And would you believe that a tiny little bouquet like this will perfume a whole room?  They sure do live up to their scientific name of Viola odorata!


Woody Meristem said...

Spring's further along up there than it is here and we're quite a bit further south.

threecollie said...

Turtles! Hooray! You are weeks ahead of us too. We were up in the woods yesterday and it was pretty bare.