Friday, March 26, 2021

A Great Day of Firsts!

What a great day it was for "firsts," this  past Thursday!  The first day this year the temperature reached past 70 degrees. The first day this year to hear Wood Frogs croaking in a woodland pool along the Spring Run Trail in Saratoga.  The first time this year to find American Hazelnut shrubs in bloom, with both male and female flowers.  The first day to find Speckled Alder's golden catkins swaying in the breeze. And best of all, the first time in months since my friend Sue Pierce and I,  now both of us fully vaccinated against Covid, could hug each other, ride in the same car together, enjoy a nature walk together, and have lunch together inside a restaurant.  A day to celebrate! Let our post-pandemic life begin!

Here's Sue trying to capture on video the distinctive duck-like "quacks" of some amorous, only recently thawed Wood Frogs in that Spring Run pool.  We could hear them as soon as we neared this site, but of course they fell silent as soon as we approached their pool.  But just wait!  If we stand here silent enough and long enough, they will start their spring chorus once more.  And so they did!  A sound of spring like no other!  We did hear other spring songs this day as well, all from the birds that happily inhabit this woodsy and watery spot:  Red-winged Blackbirds, Goldfinches, Chickadees, Red-bellied and Pileated Woodpeckers, Winter and Carolina Wrens, and one full-throated Song Sparrow -- all announcing that spring is here at last!

Here are both the male and female flowers of American Hazelnut (Corylus americana), one of our earliest native shrubs to bloom.  The golden dangling catkins won't lift their scales and shed their pollen on the breeze until after the tiny red pistillate flower have been fertilized by pollen wafting from neighboring shrubs. This is the hazelnut's strategy to avoid self-pollination.

Here's a closer look at that tiny American Hazelnut female flower, all pistils and no petals. It is rare to find strictly wind-pollinated flowers so brightly colored, since this flower has no need to invite insect pollinators by its color.  I'm glad for its color, myself, since otherwise it would be very hard to detect among the twigs, it is so very small.

Numerous alders -- both our native Speckled Alder (Alnus incana) and an introduced European Black Alder (Alnus glutinosa) -- thrive in the wetlands along the Spring Run Trail.  I am not sure how to tell them apart, since their flowers look very similar.  Both alder species produce dangling male catkins that lengthen and turn golden with pollen in spring, the catkin clusters surmounted by the reddish-scaled female flower buds, which are held higher on the twigs to lessen the chance of their own shrub's pollen dropping down on them.

Neither sex of the alder flowers in the above photo was quite mature enough to offer or receive pollen, but both appeared to be close to maturity.  When ripe, the male catkins will turn more uniformly golden and shed yellow clouds of pollen at a touch, and the female catkins will sprout tiny bright-red pistils.  I have a photo, taken on another occasion, of what those female alder flowers will look like when they open to receive that air-wafted pollen:

The female flowers will eventually form the small brown cones that persist on the alders' branches long after they have shed their seeds.  As this photo reveals, last year's alder cones were still abundantly present, even on shrubs that were readying to reproduce once again, as these dangling golden catkins would attest.

1 comment:

Jenny said...

Thank you so much! I was walking on Spring Run today and wondered what the heck - so many ducks in that pond behind the bushes :). So it’s frogs! I always enjoy your postings.