Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Trillium Cove

We had frost last night but today is a glorious sunny, spring day with temperatures in the low 60s. I had to get outside as soon as it warmed up.

On our land, there is a steep hollow or cove. The only time I go there is in the third week of April to check out the trillium. Today, I realized I hadn't done so so I went, thinking I was too late to see the blooms.

Photo: April 30, 2008

I spotted a Large Flowered Trillium right away.

Photo: April 30, 2008

A Tiger Swallowtail was busy feeding on the nectar on this pink-colored trillium flower.

As I ventured further up the hollow, I realized I had gone at the perfect time---more trillium than I ever remember seeing. They lined both sides of the cove, maybe several thousand but way too many to count. I don't know if this was a good year or if I had just timed it perfectly.

Photo: April 30, 2008

It is hard to see from this photo but the trillium carpet this slope.

Photo: April 30, 2008

Coming back, I walked by this moss-covered log with a large mushroom growing on it, the same type of mushroom that has grown on it for several years. Sophie, our rather large cat, posed with it so you can get a good idea of how big it is--the cap was a good 9 inches in diameter.

Photos: April 30, 2008

The mushroom does not have gills--more like sponge underneath. If anyone knows what type of mushroom this is, please let me know.

Monday, April 28, 2008

An Emerald Find and More Spring Wildflowers

Today is cloudy and rainy so it's a good time to post. For the past week, I have been getting out any chance I can to look at the rapidly changing forest. The weather has been warm with intermittent showers, mostly in the evening, which has spawned an explosion of green.

Photo: April 23, 2008

I found this metallic green bug slowly crossing our driveway. It's the Tiger Bug (Cicindela sexguttata). Sexguttata refers to the six white spots on the perimeter of the half-inch long body. He eats other insects smaller than himself including larvae. Luckily, I didn't touch him as I read he might bite.

Photo: April 25, 2008

The Wood Anemone (Anemone quinquefolia) is in the Buttercup family and flowers about the same time as the non-native Buttercup which is abundant in the wet pastures. I spotted the first flower on April 21.

Photo: April 25, 2008

Another member of the Buttercup family is the Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) which likes to grow on rocky hillsides. The appearance of the buds coincides with the arrival of the ruby-throated hummingbirds, signalling me to put the feeder up.

Photo: April 25, 2008

Last year, I removed a stand of the non-native garlic mustard in front of our machine shed. In its place this year grew a thick stand of May-apples (Podophyllum peltatum). They are welcome to stay.

Photo: April 28, 2008

Virginia Bluebells or Virginia Cowslip (Mertensia virginica) line both sides of Walker Creek. This plant is in the Forget-Me-Not family rather than the Bluebell family. The flowers have been blooming for a week already.

This afternoon, I ventured outside after the rain stopped (we received 1-1/2 inches since last night!).

Photo: April 28, 2008

Some of the May-apples are already blooming. Mostly, they bloom in May and bear their "apples" in June. Maybe they should be called June-apples around here!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day Resolutions

Since we don't really celebrate New Year's Day on January 1 much, I decided my real New Year's Day will be Earth Day every year. My resolutions are at the end of this post.

On Sunday evening about 7:30, I went on an evening walk. Right away,I heard a familiar bird song. It was so beautiful; what was it? Then, I looked closer at the bird and recognized the Wood Thrush. They had returned! The thrush was loud and calling to another who returned the call. They both filled the woods with their lovely songs, sounding like many more. I wonder if they are the same birds as last year or if we get new Wood Thrushes every year.

With several inches of rain in the past week, our woods have greened up quickly with the Yellow Poplar trees leafing out. Red bud are in full bloom.

Photo: April 18, 2008

Mayapples have formed thick stands in the woods. This Mayapple, though, seemed to prefer being alone.

My Ten New Earth Year Resolutions:

1. Continue my nature and environmental blogs.
2. Use my solar oven for baking and cooking some.
3. Use my clothes line more for drying clothes.
4. Use solar energy more for recharging batteries.
5. Replace more lights with LED lights (having already replaced incandescents with CFLs).
6. Investigate more use of solar and wind for our electricity use.
7. Grow bigger vegetable garden.
8. Buy local meats and vegetables more.
9. Make less car trips.
10. Be a good land steward to provide a good home for wildlife.

Happy Earth Day!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Phlox and Finches

Frost was on everything for the last two nights but the days have been warm (60 degrees). Today, it will be well above 70 degrees, prompting everything to grow fast.

All day, I hear the finches. I tried to count how many there were at the feeder--about 30 American Goldfinches and 25 Purple Finches. Besides the finches, there are Cardinals, Woodpeckers (Downy, Hairy, Red-Bellied), Carolina Chickadees and Wrens, Tufted Titmouses, Chipping Sparrows, and White-Breasted Nuthatches. On the ground, we still have Fox and White-Throated Sparrows and Dark-Eyed Juncoes. I never know which day these winter visitors will disappear. The Eastern Towhee made its first appearance about a week ago--yesterday there were 3 males but no females. Not at the feeders, I have seen the Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker at a hickory tree and Pileated Woodpecker in black cherry and oak trees.

Last week, I was sitting on our back deck not far from the feeders when I heard a Tufted Titmouse sound an alarm call. I looked around for my cat, thinking she was near but instead, a Sharp-shinned Hawk came flying by, no more than 5 feet off the ground. He was not successful, the birds having fled because of the alarm call. Who said living in the country is not exciting?

Photo: April 18, 2008

The bright yellow of the American Goldfinch is striking.

Photo: April 16, 2008

The Red Maple trees have already borne fruit. It seems pretty obvious now why they are named Red Maple--red leaves in the fall, red flowers, red fruit, red twigs.

Photo: April 14, 2008

Blue Phlox (Phlox divaricata) was blooming at the edge of the woods along several old logging roads.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Wildwood Park Wildflowers

Today, I went on the last field trip for the Virginia Master Naturalist 07-08 class. As part of the training committee which organized this year's course, we chose Wildwood Park in Radford, Virginia because it is a great example of a park smack inside of a bustling town. Popular with dog walkers, bicyclists, joggers, and nature lovers, the park probably owes its protected status to the fact that it on an unbuildable site (notwithstanding the major road that park proponents stopped years ago). A creek runs thru the narrow strip of land with steep hills on both sides.

Our field trip was led by Frank Taylor, who teaches biology at Radford High School and David Garst, wildlife biologist from West Virginia. Frank can bring his students right outside to a nature wonderland and great outdoor lab because the school is just uphill from the park.

The north hillside was covered with wildflowers growing on rich soils.

The Large-Flowered Bellwort was particularly striking, growing 15 inches in height with flowers over 2 inches long.

Dutchman's Breeches created a great looking ground cover.

Wild Ginger was a hard-to-find treasure. I have learned to spot it by looking for the leaves which have the texture of velvet (think velour).

The Wild Ginger flower hides at the base and underneath the leaves. Gnats pollinate and then lay eggs in the flower but the Wild Ginger has its own pesticide which kills the gnat larvae so the flower can go to seed (source: Wildflowers of the Blue Ridge and Smokey Mountains). What a tricky flower!

Another tall plant was the Spring Larkspur. On the walk back, some naturalists used binoculars to see Dogtooth Violets on the steep south hillside, too far away for me to photograph. These flowers are pretty so I am glad they are in such a remote location because gardeners might be tempted to dig them up.

At the entrance or exit of the park, I photographed this most unusual road cut. Water flowing over the cut has created a menagerie of colors, shapes, and textures from the algae, moss, and iron in the limestone.

On the drive back, I noticed the trees on the hillside were just beginning to leaf out. The light green color with the purple of the blooming redbud reminded me of Easter.

What a great spring day!

For more information about Wildwood Park, go to:

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Rain much needed --- Flood not so much!

We received 2.5 inches of rain Friday and Saturday night. Our intermittent stream was flowing for the first time in ages. Peepers were loud in the valley Saturday evening.

On Sunday, I drove to town and when I tried to return, Walker Creek had flooded over the road. Although I was only about a mile from the house, I had to make a big detour on another road, going 10 miles out of my way. Usually, that amount of rain would not cause a flash flood but perhaps there was a lot more rain further up the creek which originates in North Carolina, flowing north into the New River (which also flows north).

Walker Creek: April 7 (one day after flood)

This is normally a riffle with exposed rocks.

This view shows a little of Rye Hollow Road. I was surprised how fast everything turns back to normal.

On another note, I bought a macro lens which arrived yesterday so I took a few pictures to see how it works.

Spring Beauty: April 8

This tiny bee or fly? was just the right size for the 3/8" size flower. One thing I noticed about this photo is that two areas are in focus--the flower in the foreground and the leaf behind the second flower. Why is that?

This is my first macro lens so any tips on using a macro lens with an SLR digital camera will be appreciated. So far, I like it because it will inspire me to look closer at nature's wonders.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Chris's watercolor

The Chicago Nature Lady (Chris) has done a watercolor painting of a photo I had taken in January of birds waiting for the feeder. Check it out:

Eeny Meeny Miny Moe

I loved the painting and am looking forward to getting a print next week. Chris--I love watching how you get inspiration from nature.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Bloodroot and Spice Bush

Today is another sunny, warm day (although the temperature went down to 38 last night). I love it but we could use some rain.

Last Thursday (March 27), I spotted Bloodroot on a steep hill on the side of the driveway. I couldn't get a photo then. Yesterday, at the bottom of the driveway, there were lots of these beautiful spring flowers.

Photo: April 1, 2008

Bloodroot (Sanuinaria candensis) is easy to find because its flower is large, almost 2 inches across. The orange juice of the stem was used by native Americans as a dye, hence the name Bloodroot.

Right across from the blood root, I spotted a Spice Bush.

Photo: March 26, 2008

Spice Bush flowers are small but with so many on the shrub, they provide a nice display in the bare woods. The leaves of the shrub taste spicy and are the host plant to the Spice Bush Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar. We have hundreds of these shrubs throughout the woods but mostly lining the old logging roads and our driveway. No wonder I see lots of Spice Bush butterflies all summer.

Spice Bush is better to use for landscaping than the more common Forsythia and Burning Bush shrubs (invasive in the area) because it is native. It is great for wildlife (already mentioned the butterfly) but the birds love the red berries in the fall and early winter. The leaves turn bright yellow in the fall, providing nice contrast to the maroon red of dogwood leaves.

As I was driving down the driveway last Thursday, I also spotted some deer. I got out of the car and the three deer just stood there.

From what I learned on a recent naturalist field trip, these deer live in our hollow all year, with their territory only being about a mile. Since I saw a herd of 6-8 last fall, I am assuming that the hunters harvested most of this herd. I have to rationalize this--we don't have severe problems with deer as do others.

The temperature is rising (50 degrees) so I must get outside!