With the emergence of the first Spring beauty and its attendant Spring beauty mining bee, the signal is clear – winter has ended. It was a long one; many days of slogging on wet muddy trails, trying to protect our young tree plantings from buck rubs, while every windstorm brought another big dead ash tree crashing down.
Though “homage” seems a rather uppity word to me, if ever a plant deserved one it is the elegant understory shrub Lindera benzoin, also known as Spicebush. And if you haven’t noticed it before you may at this season, when Lindera’s leaves illuminate lowland forests with a lemon-to-gold glow.
It’s finally fall in the Ohio River Valley, and very early yesterday morning a whole load of avian travelers dropped into in this little forest. It’s the late fall/winter gang – lots of “butter-butts” (Yellow-rumped warbler), Hermit thrushes, Golden-crowned kinglets, Flickers, White-throated sparrows and at least one Ovenbird. And what were they eating you may ask? Quite a few were feasting on the berries of many people’s least favorite plant – Poison ivy.
Like a guilty lover I must confess – there is another forest fragment. My heart is now divided between the urban forest of some 70 acres I that grew up with and work in, and eleven acres of Appalachian Southwest Virginia. The towering Chestnut oaks, Red oaks, Red maples, Hemlocks, Tulip trees and magnolias of this new forest stand 3000 feet higher and 360 miles by road from the little fragment in the Ohio River Valley. And unlike the urban forest surrounded by city, the eleven acres adjoin hundreds more, and are close to thousands of National Forest acres.
It was just another day. Way too humid, mosquitos abundant, the forest already feeling like the Ohio river valley swamp jungle it becomes every summer. I was prowling around as usual off the trail, hand pulling invasive Garlic mustard and Stickseed. And then a large, slender insect caught my eye, its shiny wings glittering as it danced around a tall stump. Something long was dangling behind, and when it landed on the stump I realized it was a large ichneumon wasp of a species I’d never seen before.
The blogger has been derelict in her blogging duties lately, due to the demands of work, and a little piece of land in the mountains of VA (more on that later). But yesterday’s surprise was too good not to share with you. Though invasive plant management in an urban forest is generally not a gratifying job, it has its moments. And I stumbled upon an unexpected reward while hunting down the invasive vine Porcelainberry at the edge of the forest.
One evening last week I was fortunate to be there when a baby Barred owl emerged from its cozy nest cavity, deep in an old ash tree. For the owlet, it must be a liberating feeling to see the big world for the first time – but it’s also a time of danger. The parent owls must now be much more vigilant, since their big footed ball of fluff is in no way independent.
As always, spring dashes by too fast while this blogger is occupied with such mundane but necessary tasks as cutting and spraying invasive plants. In order to keep posting, I will adopt for now a journal style to at least share with you a smidgeon of the amazing life of this tiny forest.
The blogger apologizes for the dearth of blog posts lately, but she has been busy with the important work of wildflower revival. Which is of course one of the topics that makes this blog worth writing. The Spring beauty, Claytonia caroliniana wildflowers in the above image were settled into their new home last spring, moved from a place where they had much company to a site that was quite lacking in spring ephemerals.