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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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

 

Spring decorating

A beautiful day in the woods today!  Warm temperature, hardly any clouds or wind, and later in the day the warm sunlight backlit new green leaves as if they were jade charms dangling on delicate bracelets.

This week the purple violets and tiny white flowers were the most abundant flowers, decorating the trail’s edge and tucked in and around tree roots.

More green leaves and grasses have grown up since last week in some parts of the woods, and parts of the trail have become more defined as a soft brown suede path surrounded by light green growth.

I heard several woodpeckers and managed to glimpse a flying pileated woodpecker (possibly), and saw a smaller downy or hoary woodpecker through the trees, but they were too fast to be observed for long.  Also there were mourning doves calling in the woods, and at one point along the trail I looked up to see a pair resting on a branch just above me, two fluffy doves on a narrow branch.   I heard and caught sight of two bright red male cardinals moving about some branches making noise. And at the end of my trip, while wondering what had become of the barred owl we saw three weeks ago, I was searching the branches in the vicinity of that old owl tree, when I suddenly saw this fluffy little owlet perched quite calmly on a branch out in the open.  What a cute owlet, casually snoozing as the sun was setting.  I wondered if there had been plenty of woodland critters available to feed this owl.  And there were still a few squirrels nearby going about their business.

Trout lily leaves have sprouted between the trees along the creek.  A few yellow trout lilies have opened!  The marsh marigold leaves provide a soft looking ground cover, and this week other plants have grown up through the cover to different shapes and heights.

A bright green iridescent beetle with a long body and bulgy eyes was crawling along the trail and stood still for a second as I peered down at it, then it flew away.  Not a familiar sight, I wondered what this insect was doing in the woods (perhaps it wondered the same).

Sunlight shimmered throughout the woods today, spiderwebs outlined in the sun, a stream reflected golden sunlight off its surface, and translucent flowers and leaves gleamed as the sun set behind them.   A folded leaf on a low growing plant caught my eye, although I nearly rushed right past. It turned out to be a lone jack in the pulpit, unassumingly growing right next to the trail!  Discoveries every week.

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A cluster of Mayapples
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Spiderwebs catch the light
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Delicate flowers decorate these sturdy roots
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Fern fronds stretching for the light
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No flowers here yet, but a good root system for something to call home
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This stretch of marsh marigold now has other plants growing through it in different heights and shapes
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Trout lily leaves near the creek (and two yellow lilies)
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Trout lily
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Two mourning doves!
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This Owlet was snoozing not too far from the trail

 

More photos to share throughout the week in separate posts.

 

Gems, part 3

Continuing to post photos from this past weekend.  Today’s rain should bring more green growth and flowers this weekend.

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New fern fronds unfurling!

New leaves and signs of spring.

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The ends of this grassy plant release pollen dust.
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Meadows of marsh marigold take over the leafy ground and change the color palette
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A trout lily emerging
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Flowers surprise!
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This hungry red bellied woodpecker worked its way up the tree searching for snacks

Until next time!

Gems in the woods

It was a beautiful day in the woods yesterday. A blue sky with warm sun and cottony clouds, and gusty winds. The air was cool and fresh, and the woods had the aromas of spring: earth, humid air, and occasional faint flowery scents of pollen.

It was the day after a full day of rain. Although the trail was quite dry and walking was easy, there were signs of additional water in the leaf-filled gullies, and a few muddy spots on the trail.

The Barred Owl was not in his tree this week. I scanned swaying treetops but no sign of him or the hawk along my route.

New greenery arrived on the scene since last week. New green stubble emerged in patches along the forest floor in some places, the ivies are creeping up the trees, and young trees are unfurling their new leaves.  Mosses appear glowing green.

Small flowers had popped up along the forest floor. Where last week there were small clusters of flowers, this weekend there are many more clusters and colonies of flowers dotting along the trails and off into the woods filling in around the trees and fallen logs. Yellow marsh marigold and purple periwinkle flowers and newer flowers this week confidently faced the sky. With their delicate petals fully illuminated by the sun, they looked like gems scattered around the woods’ floor.

The small white flowers from last week have appeared and opened more around the woods. And some new plants are here. Purple and green spotted leaves had grown up along the trail near the creek, threading themselves up through the pillowy cover of marsh marigolds. As I knelt to take a closer look, I happened to be looking at a slender stalk with a long yellowish flower bud. It was a type of trout lily. Based on the other spotted leaves emerging, there should be a beautiful show of yellow flowers before too long.

There were several newly emerged green umbrellas which might be Mayapple plants (Podophyllum peltatum).  On the embankments next to the trail a fern was sending up new fiddle heads, while some other plants sent out flowers or grass like stalks that released dustings of pollen.  Beautiful purple violets have also appeared along the wood floor!

A reminder that things can quickly change in the woods, a great dead tree had fallen across the trail in one location. Perhaps it was related to the heavy rains the day before. Only a very small portion of roots were uprooted, most of the bark from the trunk was knocked off in the fall and some higher branches snapped off.  There are many dead trees in the woods which could fall as this one did.  As the trail was blocked, we had to walk around this tree and over the crunchy leaves. A bright red mite was crawling on a downed piece of wood nearby.

There were some beautiful bird songs from birds too well hidden to be seen from the trail.  At different points along the trail there were different songs; one was sweet and sighing, others were brisk chirps, some bubbly and chattering or complicated melodies, and even the clucking of the squirrels on lookout for travelers coming down the trail.

One small fluffy bird looked like a chipmunk from a distance and sat on a log for a while looking back. It must have been a type of sparrow, with a rusty colored back and wing and a long white stripe over its eye.  A pair of slate blue and grey birds skipped about high in the tree tops.

I heard what sounded like a loud knocking on a door and looked up to see a busy woodpecker making its way up a tree branch and tirelessly working an angle to find snacks. Due to the red coloring on its head from beak to neck, white belly and black and white markings on its back, it appeared to be a red-bellied woodpecker.

With another few days of sun, the woods will continue to add even more brilliant jewel colors.  Photos from this weekend walk will be posted throughout the week.  So, until next week, enjoy!

Erythronium americanum – trout lily

Centurus carolinus – red bellied woodpecker. According to the Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds, this woodpecker eats insects, beechnuts, acorns, and habitually stores food.

Trombidioidea – Red Velvet Mite. According to the online sites InsectIdentification and Whats That Bug, the Red Velvet Mites feed on insects and larva and often emerge after a rain.

The day after heavy rains, water has returned to the woods

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Green mossy patches appear glowing in the sun
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Marsh marigold in the foreground, and the elongated leaves of the snowdrops beyond
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These white flowers dot the leafy floor

First few days of spring

The new growth in the woods adds bright shades of green, white, yellow, or purple to the woods like flags heralding Spring approaching.  With activity among the birds and squirrels, there are nice surprises along the trail.

This past weekend we spotted the barred owl and the Cooper’s hawk (see previous post), as well as numerous robins hopping and shuffling in the leaves and occasionally posing for us with their red chests fluffed out.  A few squirrels appeared to be doing their spring cleaning, clearing out cozy nooks in the trees.  These woods have plenty of tree nooks which look like they would make useful housing.  Although we didn’t see any woodpeckers this time, we heard them tapping the tree trunks for food in a couple places along the trail.  Several red male cardinals chirr-uped aside the trail, sometimes heard before seen!  And we’ve noticed them in the same location two weeks in a row.

Mostly the woods are still carpeted in leaves, but in the places where early spouting and early blooming plants have taken hold, there is new green and delicate colors.  This week I brought my camera to document a few places where these plants have burst up through the leaves.  The snowdrops have been up and flowering for several weeks now, and a few late blooms are holding on.  The ivy and some grasses are more slowly creeping forth, with subtle shades of green.

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Blanket of leaves? No problem for this marsh marigold to emerge waving the Spring flag.
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Male cardinal appears to usher in the Spring. He must notice the changes to the woods, new green vines and ivies
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Most of the woods

 

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Emergence of green in the woods
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A patch of cheery but sleepy daffodils brightening the woods
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Robins keep us constant company, color coordinated with the forest floor
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This colony of snowdrops suddenly sprang through the leaves with beautiful white flowers a few weeks ago; this one in the foreground, and a few in the background, still hold their blooms
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This squirrel was clearing out this cozy nook before poking his head out to take a look.
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Periwinkle patch!
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This could be the work of a woodpecker
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Small flowers brave the changing temperatures to open in the sun.
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One flowering cherry tree in the woods; fewer blossoms this year due to unusually warm weather followed by freezing temps

Until next time!

Owl and hawk

Yesterday’s walk, I brought my camera, hoping to spot the barred owl again this week. The weather was warm, in the 70s and humid, and a mid-day walk was quite warm, no shade in the woods at this time of year.

Amazingly, our barred owl was perched in the same hidden spot we found him the week before, sleepily resting in his tree. I quickly and quietly captured a few photos using my Coolpix point and shoot. Here is a shot of the tree without any zoom, along with some close ups using the full zoom. This owl was observing me again this week, didn’t budge. I will make sure to look for him there again.

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View of the barred owl from the trail
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Barred owl viewing us from his branch, on super zoom
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Barred owl

While observing the owl, we saw a hawk flying in the distance and out of sight. It wasn’t until further down the path and almost out of the wood altogether that I happened to see this Cooper’s Hawk perched nice and tall on a low tree branch surveying the ground below. It stood still while I took a few photos.

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Cooper’s Hawk visible from the trail
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Cooper’s Hawk from another angle

These two birds of prey were the highlights of the walk.  Photos of other birds and plants from this same walk will be shared in a separate post.

Barred owl – Strix varia

Cooper’s hawk – Accipiter cooperii

 

Wearing of the Green – and a sleepy owl

The day after St Patrick’s Day and the woods were wearing a mantle of new green!

Since last week, fresh green grasses have sprouted up adding new green hues to the woods’ floor where just two weeks ago the only color variations were the browns and tans of the leafy carpet dropped last year. Green ground covers continued to creep forth, deep green English ivy, and the pachysandra and periwinkle had fluffed out and filled in extending along the path and into the woods.  More periwinkle flowers had opened and were dotting and floating throughout the lively green ground cover.

There were a few small patches of snow that hadn’t melted, but the meltwater that had seeped into the ground had brought some changes to the woods. A small trickle was flowing down the ordinarily dry stream bed, and the path was muddy in lower areas and printed with shoe prints, paws, and an occasional deer hoof.

About flowers: the daffodils have been blooming for a second week adding a bright sunny yellow to the forest floor. Some daffodils are still unopened including a clump of daffodils which have bloomed first in previous years. The snowdrops which dazzled the woods two weeks ago have mostly gone by. A few clusters could be found with fading snowdrop flowers still hanging on, however most of the short thin leaves are now blending in with the newer green growth among the fallen tree leaves and along the path. Quite a change from just two weeks ago when the snow drops sprang out of the brown leafy ground with bursts of slender green leaves and pure white delicate bell flowers. Colonies of hundreds of snowdrops cascaded down the wooded hillsides, lighting up the forest floor after a long winter.

Today was beautiful weather, cool air, blue skies, and a warm soft sunlight. It was a good day for bird-watching as the branches are all still bare and there is increasing busy-ness among the birds at this time. There were many robins here and there shuffling leaves aside to look for food and hopping along the path ahead of us. Many birds were singing in the trees including small grey birds. We heard and watched a lovely pileated woodpecker knocking on a fairly low branch looking for snacks, with a bright red feather cap! And a male cardinal was visible far in the upper most branches of several tall oaks, he was singing away quite loudly as we walked along. I was scanning the upper branches on our way back looking for the hawk I saw perched high up last week, I think it was a Cooper’s Hawk. I spotted an unusual wide circular shape high on a branch of a tall thin tree which had been enveloped in a leafy green climbing vine. It was difficult to see what it was, whether it was branch, or plant or animal, but it was a roundish shape and looked fluffy. The round-headedness of it seemed owlish and there was a hint of two possible eyes and a vertical beak. A passerby noticed it as well and remarked that it might be the great barred owl he heard calling a week ago along this path. What a thing to hear an owl calling along the woods’ edge! By this time the owlish face was more prominent as the great bird had woken up and was now staring at us with dark curious eyes! It seemed to be measuring us as if to determine whether we were a good size for it to eat. When it began to turn its head from side to side we knew for sure it was an owl. I had never before seen an owl in these woods, and still an hour to go til sunset. It was wonderful to be able to share and enjoy this rare sighting. Eventually the owl must have gotten annoyed by our staring and flew to a neighboring branch with its back to us. It was then out in the open and we could clearly see this large beautiful bird looking out over the woods from its high perch, and sending disapproving looks at us over its shoulder every few moments. As we continued along the woods’ edge path, we then saw far above and ahead of us a hawk soaring over the treetops before it disappeared beyond the farthest branches. An excellent day for bird watching in the woods! And just a short walk today.

Snowdrops – Galanthus

Pileated woodpecker – Dryocopus pileatus

Barred owl – Strix varia