4/23 Battle of Wits

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image: Fritz Rohmer Reynolds

Once upon a time, Solomon’s Seal Polygonatum biflorum, dangled its creamy bell-like blooms all over this forest. Then came Bush Honeysuckle and deep shade. Even then Solomon’s Seal bloomed along the trail where light could reach it. Then came deer and no more flowers. Like discerning foodies seeking the perfect meal, whitetails parse the forest floor and they don’t miss much. A better common name for Solomon’s Seal would be “Deer Asparagus” (it’s closely related).

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4/16 Sleepers Awaken

 

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Whether it’s the alarm clock forcing you out of bed, or the breaking dawn telling you to sing – everybody has to wake up sometime. If you’ve been sleeping for six months in the earth, I imagine it might be a little harder. But for at least one Box turtle in our forest today was the day. Look closely at the pic above, it’s more than just mud. Read More

4/9 Big Woodpecker

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“Does that big woodpecker still live in here?”, a forest visitor asked me last week. By amazing coincidence we were standing almost at the spot where, a few days later, I was lucky enough to see one up close. Though sometimes elusive, Pileated woodpeckers can be surprisingly easy to watch since they often forage near the ground. North America’s largest woodpecker is definitely at home in this forest; both bird and forest have made a comeback in the last half century. Read More

4/2 Here But Not There

 

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Tout lily about to bloom, surrounded by Privet, Japanese Honeysuckle and Wintercreeper

Much as I appreciate a fine spread of early spring wildflowers, I used to think of them more as the icing on the cake. A pretty face, here and gone, no match for the gravitas of old trees. And it’s hard to get intimate with spring ephemerals; don’t touch-don’t-pick-stay on the trail. The most helpful thing we can do is keep our distance. I want to get in there and crawl around, experience them up close.

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3/23 Burden of Snow

 

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male Spicebush flower bud starting to open

Have you ever wondered why plants have such varied architecture? Among the selection pressures shaping the planet’s flora, heavy burdens of snow have been major. This past week’s spring surprise, though very brief, showed how differently the plants in our forest handle this kind of stress.

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3/21 Early Herps

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Early spring trilling of frogs is not to be heard in this forest anymore, despite acres of temporary wetlands. But thankfully other herps have managed to survive the various uses this land has been put to, and its increasing isolation from other fragments of habitat. Box turtles find our moist lowland forest has everything they need, and I was lucky enough to witness the very early emergence of this male turtle on a warmish day over a week ago.

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3/12 Ephemeral

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Fleshy leaves sheltering a cluster of flower buds – Cut-leaved Toothwort, Cardamine concatenata, has already emerged on 3/5. “Spring Ephemeral” is not the best term for these hardy little early bloomers. Though their flowers are brief, they’re very long-lived. As the first to come up from the warming soil, they’re also well-adapted to any radical swings of temperature March may offer up. But early spring has its advantages, mainly a sunny leaf-free understory (when the sun is even out). Spring ephemerals are not “shade plants” when they’re blooming.

Going dormant early, they survive by storing energy in corms and rhizomes for most of the year. Their long absence definitely makes my heart grow fonder. Read More

3/1 Runoff

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This post is more of a rant, born of frustration over a situation (all too common) that affects this little forest fragment. When it comes to storm water, out of sight means out of mind. The useless old culvert pipe in the pic above once drained the area of Creason Park’s maintenance barn. The pipe was long ago undercut by the torrent of storm water that gushes from the culvert above it. Among the misfortunes of this forest – being situated on one side below a large area of pavement and parking lots that pour stormwater down its steep slopes with every heavy rain. Read More

2/22 February Forest

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an earthworm ventures out in the wet warmth

Got a taste of the new February this past Sunday. 52 degrees and waves of Sandhill Cranes surging north, the forest filled with their ancient shrill croaking. Once you’ve learned this call you won’t forget it; you’ll always look up when they’re passing overheard. As the flocks moved over the forest they were flying low and circling, seeking a better stream of wind to ride on. I could barely focus on anything else; the sound of cranes is one of my gateways to an altered state of mind. Read More

2/14 Survivors

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The oldest Black walnut I’ve found in this forest

Trees, like people, need to dodge a lot of bullets to get really old. The shade of other trees, browsing animals, insects, disease, wind storms, buck rubs, people with chain saws, and just plain bad luck. So many ways to lose out, it’s amazing that any tree makes it past 100 years. Even more so in this little fragment of forest, that has endured a succession of anthropogenic impacts over the last 200 years. There are just a few older trees left here; these survivors have been witness to the gradual fading of a remarkable landscape. Read More