Summer arrives in the woods

After several weeks away, it was time to visit the woods with a good long walk. Happy to be back on the trails, but not prepared for…summer!

Yes, summer has arrived, bringing a combination of high temperatures and humidity which gave this walk the first challenging conditions of the year. After a few weeks of relatively mild weather, a heat index of nearly 100 degrees was exhausting! Snacks and supplies to rehydrate and reenergize, while always welcome on walks, are more necessary now during the summer.

A few minutes into the walk, a low buzzing at first sounded like distant landscaping equipment, but it droned in and out. Cicadas! The sound of summer, and a sign to bring extra water.  Robins accompanied us along the trail as usual.  A couple of pieces of robin’s egg were visible near the trail.

The squirrels and chipmunks were busy running around collecting food and darting about in the corners of the woods. They scampered along logs and up tree trunks and dove through the leaves.

A portly chipmunk was too fast to photograph, but a couple of smaller chipmunks skillfully froze in place long enough for a few photos.

Along the trail, vines continue to stretch high and into the trail and grow around each other.  New tree saplings were establishing themselves on the ground.

Other signs of summer were evident during the walk. The woods appeared in need of rain. Soil was dry and cracked on the trail, and some of the stream beds and gullies were dry.

Mayapplies were yellowed and flopped over.

At the end of thorny stalks raspberries were ripening into bright oranges and reds.

Large white Mushrooms had emerged from the soil with papery white scrolls hanging over pink frills underneath; and mosses and lichens spread over the ground and logs.

The wintergreen plants seemed to be past their flowering stage for this year. They are quite common on the hillside where we spotted the first flower buds a few weeks ago. Now their long flower stalks have round green berries on the ends.

There were signs of insect damage and webbing in several places.  A tree trunk appeared damaged where patches of bark had been chewed at different heights on the tree. Other leaves showed tent like webbing and leaf damage.

At a bend in the trail descending toward the creek, along a dry streambed there was a fluttering sound as a black, orange and white bird preened its feathers. The bird perched in a bush on a low branch for a minute or two, fanning and fluttering his disheveled feathers. Across the streambed a female cardinal had also stopped to preen her feathers, and a bright red male alighted on her branch for just a moment before disappearing back into the green canopy.

A grey catbird hopped along over debris near the creek, posing for a moment to watch a visitor take its photo.

The main creek was actually quite clear and fish were lolling and basking in the sun or cruising in the shadows of the rocks. It was nice to sit and rest by the creek but there wasn’t much air moving. The creek and shade didn’t offer a cool enough location to retreat from the heat.

Next to the creek a mimosa tree was in bloom with white and pink brushy flowers. The tree fanned out over the creek with a slight flowery fragrance.

The heat began to take its toll on the trip home. Frequent breaks and a slower pace help prevent overheating. Unfortunately, the water in the creeks and streams are completely off-limits due to human pollution. Summer visitors must carry water and refreshments.

 

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Summer trail

 

 

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Vines continue to stretch onto the trail; the soil was dry and cracked
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An obliging chipmunk posed for a photo
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At the end of thorny stalks raspberries were ripening into bright oranges and reds
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Conopholis have all but disintegrated, leaving black seed casings on the ground
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White mushrooms

 

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Webbing and leaf damage
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Chipmunk darting about in corners of the woods
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Something new
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Wintergreen flowers have passed; now there are green berries at the end of the flower stalks

 

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Catbird posed on creek debris
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Mimosa tree and fragrance fanned out over the creek
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Creek fish were lolling and basking in the sun
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Towhee fluttering and fluffing its feathers

According to the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences online, mimosa tree (Albizia julibrissin) is native to Asia, and considered an invasive species due to its ability to grow in various soil types, to regenerate when cut back, and to reduce sunlight and nutrient availability for other species.

Eastern towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) – According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology online, Eastern Towhees are birds of the undergrowth, where their rummaging makes far more noise than you would expect for their size.

Back in Early June: Late spring in our step

In early June the woods were leafy, dark, and green!  Back after a couple of weeks away in May, we walked the trails looking for what’s new.  There was so much growth from the ground cover plants which had emerged just a few weeks prior.  It seemed that these plants had set in for the summer, on cruise control to grow and deepen in color as the temperatures rise.  The trail was dappled with sunlight.

Looking for anything new or unusual, we spotted many chipmunks, nearly half a dozen in just 30 minutes. They squeak and sprint through rustling leaves or along a log, then freeze and disappear from detection until they squeak and sprint again.  Numerous, and apparently new, holes show that subterranean excavations have been underway in the woods.  Could these plump chipmunks be any happier?

A large grey bird of prey lifted itself up from the ground and flew into the canopy.  It may have been waiting for a chipmunk snack.

Scraggly thin vine tendrils reached and stretch into the air and out into the trail, just searching for something to grab onto.

There was a nice display of starry-shaped plants growing on a mossy embankment.  A single sighting of a small, precious plant just a few inches high and two flower buds bowing towards the ground was a reassuring sign that wild flowers are still working their magic in the woods in this age of vines.

On the way home, we spotted a deer munching on the new leaves and saplings, casually turning its neck to observe the visitors.  Slowly it walked on and then sprang into the luscious leaves.

A blue jay bounced between the ground and a low tree branch before flying off into the canopy.

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There was so much growth from the ground cover plants
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The trail was dappled with sunlight.

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Vine tendrils reached out into the trail
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These are hanging on
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A nice display of starry-shaped plants on a mossy embankment
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A reassuring sign that wild flowers are still working their magic in the woods (Chimaphila maculata)

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A blue jay bounced between the ground and a low tree branch before flying off into the canopy.

 

Chimaphila maculata – striped wintergreen. According to Maryland Native Plant Society, striped wintergreen is a low-growing herbaceous plant with creamy-veined (or “striped”) forest-green leaves, frequently with flowers in pairs.

May Chronicles – Northeast – painted trillium

Third week of May.  A trip to a higher latitude on the East Coast allowed for some walking in the White Mountains, gorgeous and green with the first wave of spring leaves.  A local informed me that the leaves had just emerged within five days of my visit.  These woods are distinguished with an embarrassment of riches among the ground plants spanning the unique window of sunny bare forest and shaded leafy forest.  This was the perfect moment to see the elusive trillium.  After noticing one trillium with a bright white star flower, it was easy to find them just about everywhere with maroon, white, or painted flowers.

Charming mountain streams twined through the woods and tumbled over full round mossy stones forming small waterfalls and cool rippling pools.  New ferns swayed over the fresh mossy banks. The water there is crystal clear due to the type of bedrock and soils.

Birds sang bright warbly songs in loud voices, but hidden from sight.  A female wild turkey strode swiftly through a stand of evergreens.  A local pointed out a moosewood tree striped of its bark, and explained that moose like to gnaw on the bark of that tree.  Another sign of moose in the area – moose droppings!

Gorgeous delicate wildflowers basked in the sun.  Hobblebush was starting to grow in thickly everywhere with snowy white flowers just opening.  Purple violets clustered together by the streams, and tiny white violets scattered around the ground.

The mix of trees on the mountains were leafing out in delicate variety of colors.  From across a serene lake the woods on the opposite shore appeared to be as varied in color as a bouquet of flowers.  I could only imagine these woods in their rich autumn colors and considered a return trip in the fall.

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Mountain streams twined through the woods and tumbled over full round mossy stones
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Hobblebush
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Moose droppings!

Delicate wildflowers

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Trillium sighting
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Painted trillium

 

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Tiny white violets
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Purple violets clustered along the streams
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Moose like to gnaw the bark of the moosewood tree
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Cool rippling pools, new ferns, mossy banks

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The woods appeared to be as varied in color as a bouquet of flowers

Trillium undulatum – or painted trillium; according to Michigan Natural Inventory this rare species is known by three showy, white petals with a dark pink, inverted V-shaped mark toward the base of each petal

Viburnum lantanoides – Hobblebush. According to Northern Woodlands online, hobblebush is a sprawling shrub that has beautiful, showy white flowers in spring, succeeds well at growing in deep shade, using several strategies that keep it from having to declare photosynthetic bankruptcy, despite having very little regular solar income. Hobblebush has an early leaf out, sometimes beginning when there is still snow on the ground.

Acer Pennsylvanicum – Moosewood tree. According to Plant Guide online, the Striped Maple, or Moosewood grows from a shrub to a tree 40 feet high, best always in the shade of taller trees and usually in rocky woods that cover mountain slopes.  The bark appears striped.

Macloskey’s Violet, Small White Violet

May Chronicles – Gone West

Second week of May.  New longitude and altitude.  A trip to the West Coast afforded a few moments to explore the Sierra Nevada.  The woods were still emerging from their snowy winter blanket. At the time of my visit, there was still a good amount of snow on the ground, and the higher altitude road and trails were not completely open.  A local gave me directions to find a mountain rim trail.  The steep mountain, snow pack, and underbrush made for interesting walking, a fresh change after the spring underway back east. It was important to keep aware in all directions to make sure not to get lost.  Snow-melt was generating constant run-off into the streams and gullies, making it easy to stay along a very noisy river to my left.

The woods were thick with trees, evergreen tree branches, and snow, and the air was cool, clean, and pine-scented!  Stopping atop a large sturdy mound of snow, I suddenly noticed the trail ran underneath and off in either direction.  Lichen and mosses dotted the tree trunks, and a thick carpet of pine needles covered the trail.  The trail was interrupted off and on by snow pack, and it took some exploring to keep following and pick it up again.

At some point the snow overtook my ability to follow the trail, so I retraced my steps back and down the mountain back to where I started, river to the right.

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The trail was interrupted off and on by snow pack
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Lichen and mosses dotted the tree trunks
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 and a thick carpet of pine needles covered the trail
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Moss

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the air was cool, clean, and pine-scented

 

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Evergreen branches, and snow

 

Arctostaphylos patula – known also as greenleaf manzanita. wildflower.org says it grows in open, coniferous, mt. forests; 2000-9000 ft.

May Chronicles – Spring Showers

May is a busy month in the woods.  People too are suddenly busy in May.  It’s more of a challenge to take regular walks and organize photos when the month is filled with travel, weddings, friends visiting.  These May Chronicles entries are a look back at the walks throughout the month.

First week of May.  Rain!  A day with light rain can be a wonderful day to walk in the woods, after the springtime leafy canopy has grown in. The tree branches and leaves naturally reach to catch sun rays and fill open spaces at any height, providing incredible coverage over the ground below. The leaves and flower petals are positioned to catch just about every drop of sun, and catch every drop of rain as well.  The gentle sounds of rain falling on so many leaves is soft and lovely to hear, instead of the noise of a crowded city.  The light is low, not great for taking photos, but fine for a walk.  The foliage surfaces are shiny and some bead with raindrops.  The sounds of the birds are slightly amplified by all those rainy surfaces, or does it just seem that way?

There had been heavy rains the day before our walk, the trail was waterlogged, and  run off had carved channels near the trails.  After heavy rains the rivers and creeks turn brown, from erosion of soil from the urban yards and woods.  There are a few muddy patches and small streams to cross as we go.

Ground covers have been growing under these conditions of rain, warmer weather, and filtered light.

A male and lady cardinal fly across the trail and were visible singing on a low branch.  The ever present robin bobbed along over the wet leaves keeping an eye on us.  A chipmunk is spotted running start and stop through the leaves too quickly and too well hidden for a photo.

Two groups of deer drifted through the darkness of the woods chewing mouthfuls of fresh green leaves.  They were unhurried, but their eyes watched the trail as they chewed on leaves from fallen branches.

The Conopholis sentry have turned a rusty red color and shrunk back a bit, however still maintaining their posts!  The leafy carpet takes on richer hues in this rainy weather, and ferns and moss are glowing green with all the moisture.

A final discovery before returning home, dozens of tiny orange spiders in a nursery web just next to the trail.  The light was fading and the only way to get this cozy scene into focus was to use the flash, which created a black background.

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Small streams to cross as we go
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Foliage surfaces are shiny with rain
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Leaves beaded with raindrops
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Deer drifted through the woods chewing fresh green leaves.
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Gentle sounds of rain falling on so many leaves is soft and lovely to hear
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Springtime leafy canopy has grown in

 

 

 

 

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Leafy carpet
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Spider nursery

Sun rays through the rain

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Springtime disorientation, part 3

The trees have been making the most of the warm weather and rain.   Oak tree beards and tulip poplar flower pieces had fallen to the ground decorating the trail and adding texture to the forest floor.

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Silky purple violets with fallen fuzzy oak tree beards
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Fallen orange-y petals contrast with the violet flowers.  Low light in the woods.

 

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A tulip poplar dropped its green and orange flowers

Springtime disorientation, part 2

Several new arrivals were seen during this week’s walk.

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Delicate mushroom growing on a fallen tree trunk.
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These tiny yellowish cone like structures appeared to be parading along the forest floor. They are not fungus, but Conopholis americana
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In the dim light of the woods, this bright yellow slime mold growing on a rotting log was like a neon sign.

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Conopholis americana – According to gardenforum online, the yellow cone-type things are Conopholis americana, non-photosynthesizing parasitic plants which rely on the roots of mainly oak or beech trees for food.

Fuligo septica – a slime mold with a bright yellow stage which grows on bark or mulch after heavy rains.

Springtime disorientation

For the past couple of days the temperatures, humidity, and pollen counts have been high. Tree pollen has been very high, and today’s walk showed evidence that the trees have been producing much more than just leaves.

Today, just before I turned onto the trail, we noticed the sound of masses of leaves rustled by swells of warm humid breezes and thought it was the first time this year to have a walk with that lovely sound! However once on the trail the air was actually quite still, the trees not whooshing around. A hazy cloud cover prevented direct sunlight from coming through the woods, and the woods seemed dark.

As we started onto the trail, a man was walking out of the woods towards us wearing a large heavy wool overcoat, on a 90 degree day, which was odd to say the least. Trails close to urban areas draw in drifters and people looking to take advantage of the cover of the woods to remain unobserved. It can be good to keep aware of surroundings, keep in sight of other walkers, and realize that in the warmer weather various people will enter the woods.

Also at this time of year, it’s possible to get a feeling of disorientation along favorite paths. The changes happen so quickly, and after months of bare trees and long lines of sight through the unchanging winter months, the woods suddenly seem to confuse and become unpredictable.

Even after memorizing the trails in the long patient winter, our minds are truly forced to work harder to interpret this copious fast-growing greenery. Plants we found two weeks ago, have passed and disappeared or been overgrown, as we look for them wondering how something so obvious is now nowhere to be found.

Trout lilies are gone without a trace. Marsh marigolds have yellowed and become threadbare. The fluffy periwinkle patches have been subsumed by a riot of leggy vines and other scraggly looking growth. Tree trunks, large stones, or other landmarks change shape as plants overtake them, sometimes abruptly altering your points of reference!

At times I find myself forming questions – “Don’t I know these woods?” Sometimes the woods will surprise you with rare beauty, sometimes it will surprise you with a reminder of life’s difficulties.

A few fungus type things caught the eye today. A small white mushroom forming from the side of a downed tree. A bright yellow foamy substance on a different log. And short yellow cone-type things which had popped up out of the soil in small groups and clusters around the woods. At one point along the trail there were many clusters on one side of the trail but not the other!

There were just a few flowers this week. A few violets caught our eye, but my camera didn’t capture their deep purple well. A few white flowers this week. One appeared in several locations, varying heights, and looked very similar to wild strawberry plants. Also a bush that appeared to have azalea flowers bloomed and past; and another bush with tiny white bell flowers.

The low lighting made it difficult to take photos. The camera had difficulty focusing, and the exposure resulted in blurry photos. The camera also tends to brighten the photos by several shades, so the woods appear brighter than it was. By the end of the day, a few rays of sunlight came through between the trees and left a couple of golden traces on the ground. It seemed to clear the air and light a bit even though it was getting late in the day.  The woods change!

More in a later post.

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Vines climbing in leaps and bounds, crawling up other plants, and everything overtaking the periwinkle
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We missed these blooms, could be a variety of azalea
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These appear to be a wild strawberry plant in flower

 

Fragaria virginiana  – Virginia strawberry or wild strawberry

 

 

New leafy canopy, and deer

After nearly two weeks of sun, rain, and fluctuating temperatures the woods look completely different!  Everywhere high and low the beech trees have sent forth new delicate leaves, there are new unruly ground covers, and the flowers have changed.  During my last walk, the bare tree branches still left the trails exposed to sun, cloud, and rain; but now a newly green and leafy canopy has enclosed the trail above and on all sides!   There are now curtains upon curtains of translucent light green beech tree leaves in every direction.

There was a light rain all day yesterday, ok to enjoy the outdoors, but good idea to bring an umbrella just in case.  The overcast sky created a beautiful diffused light. Walking through the woods surrounded by beech leaves was such a different experience from only two weeks ago.  The leafy canopy not only offers some protection from the raindrops, but the leaf cover makes the woods sound softer.  In the rain there was the soft tapping sounds of the raindrops falling onto the leaves; it sounded the same as rain on a camp tent, evoking a relaxing and cozy feeling of tent time (as long as the tent is keeping the occupants dry of course!).

As we approached the area where the owls had been spotted in previous weeks and looked up, we realized the walks with easy bird watching were over, at least until after the fall.  Leaves layer each other and mostly the birds’ presence is only indicated by their songs.

As it was late in the day and the light was fading it wasn’t a long walk.  A distant twinkle from a neighborhood lamp beyond the leaves and it was time to go home.

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Snowdrop leaves
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Curtains of leaves all around

 

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Soggy jack in the pulpit
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Two deer grazing in the periwinkle patch. The little periwinkle flowers have gone.

 

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Flowering dogwood

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Looks like Paulownia tomentosa

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Paulownia tomentosa, also known as Empress Tree – exotic species native to Asia (according to the online Invasive Plant Atlas of the United States)

 

Spring decorating part 2

More photos from yesterday’s walk.

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These jade green leaves stood out like flowery beads strung along looping vines
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These white flowers found a nice spot among the rocks

New flowers and stems are growing up from beneath the marsh marigold leaves.

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Setting sun highlights plants on a rock shelf
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Sunlight on a soft bubbling stream
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This six spotted tiger beetle walked the trail before flying away
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This jack in the pulpit was hidden right next to the trail
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Owlet!

Six spotted Tiger beetle – Cicindela sexguttata

Jack in the pulpit – Arisaema triphyllum