It was a glorious spring, long and cool as it rarely is in the Ohio valley. The woods were filled with singing birds and families with nothing else to do. Warblers, thrushes and other neotropical travelers rested and foraged, affording a rare chance to see the many birds that don’t nest here.
In May, masses of golden flowered Butterweed (Packera glabella) crowded the sunny wet spots, surrounded by dense young growth of Virginia wild rye. Except for the random dead stump, it’s hard to remember that sites like the ones above were dominated by Bush honeysuckle and little else just ten years ago.
Fluffy cottonwood seeds drifted down and settled on the wetlands, making for an eerily lit scene at dusk. For all the millions of seeds produced I almost never see a young tree; the understory has become shadier than this pioneer species can tolerate.
Spring is the time for stinkhorns, often smelled before they are seen. This Dog stinkhorn’s nauseous odor comes from the sticky brown spore layer known as the “gleba”. It smells great to flies, who alight and then carry off spores on their feet.
Every few days it seemed, a new wave of avian migrants arrived. Many frustrating hours were spent trying to photograph warblers as they flitted about high in the canopy.
Thushes were more accommodating, being somewhat sedentary by nature.
This spring I learned that big-eyed Acadian flycatchers nest here, their explosive “piz-za” call ringing from the treetops…
As well as the familiar Eastern Wood-peewee, who conveniently sings its name.
Indigo buntings seemed to be singing from every tall snag, as this forest increasingly becomes a sunny open woodland. Something else I learned this spring – younger male Indigo buntings look all patchy, quite different from the saturated hues of adult males.
But I’m still flummoxed at times by the muted brown females – with their stout beak and streaked breast they’re vaguely sparrow/finch-like. Usually the males are close by, which clinches the ID.
This fledgling Carolina chickadee had no tail feathers yet, and sported adorable little tufts of baby fluff on its head.
Having landed near the ground, it didn’t have the flying skills to rejoin its parents, who were calling from above. Instead, it hopped on a stout grapevine and hitched its way, woodpecker style, back up to them.
With so many nesting birds there are opportunities for reptiles that like to hang out in bushes and trees. Black rat snakes are abundant here; in spring they’re often spotted sunning by the trail, to some hikers dismay!
Now the heat and humidity have settled in along with the mosquitos, and dense summer growth fills the understory. Most of the birds have gotten quieter, busy with the summer grind of parenting. Almost nobody is out walking the trails, which makes it very peaceful. Life goes on in this little bit of forest.