Tag Archives: spring

Wondrous Woodcocks

Roosting Woodcock
American Woodcock. NYSparks.com.

 

They are inconspicuous and well camouflaged for living on the forest floor, old fields, or wet spring meadows. Their eyes are nearly on the back of their heads, giving them the ability to see not only what is in front of them but what is behind them. Their bills look too long for their body; but this elongated bill helps them eat their weight in earthworms and other small invertebrates like spiders, beetles, and ants each day. And, in spring, males do an incredible “sky dance” at dusk and dawn, a mating display that is a highlight to any evening walk in springtime.

Who are they? They are American woodcock (woodcock), also known as the timberdoodle and Labrador twister. Woodcocks are mourning dove sized birds.  They have short necks and tails and large heads and beaks. They are one of the few shore birds that have adapted to living in the forest.

For many people, the mating “dance” of the male woodcock is a sure sign that spring has arrived. The courtship ritual starts at dusk with the male sitting on the ground in an opening in the forest or in a small field. He repeatedly utters a distinctive peent call. Next he takes off from the ground flying in a slow upward spiral. As the wind moves through the wings, a whistling sound can be heard as the bird rises. When he reaches 200-350 feet above the ground, the wing sounds become irregular and then cease as he starts a zig-zag descent. He also chirps as he goes down. He then lands silently next to a female woodcock, if she is present, and resumes peenting. The display starts again and will continue well into dark. He resumes the “dance” near dawn and will continue it until sunrise. Listen for them in the evening in wet meadows or fields in March or April, even before the snow has melted.  (Click here to listen to a woodcock.)

Woodcock dance
Diagram by Nate Kishbaugh.

 

After mating, a female woodcocks lays her eggs in shallow depressions on the ground. She usually lays four eggs that take about 21 days to incubate. Once they are hatched out, the young chicks follow their mother, learning what to eat. They grow quickly on their earthworm and insect diet. By the time they are a month old, they are nearly the same size as their mothers.

In mid-fall woodcocks migrate from New York to the southeastern coast. They return to New York once the ground has thawed.

Woodcock nesting
Female Woodcock on a nest. NYSparks.com.

 

Post by Susan Carver, OPRHP.

Join us for a “Woodcock Walk” at:

Theodore Roosevelt Nature Center, Jones Beach State Park, Wantagh, Adult Ed-ventures, Friday, April 10, 7-8:30 pm, $4/person

Sources:

American woodcock, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/american_woodcock/id

American woodcock, New York State Department of Conservation, http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/45448.html

 

 

 

 

Harbinger of Spring: Skunk Cabbage

Walking in the woods this spring, especially in wet areas, you may notice these popping up through the snow. On closer inspection you will notice that it is, in fact, a plant! What you are seeing is the large spathe of the Skunk Cabbage plant. This plant has a very interesting flower structure and strategy for pollination.

Let’s learn about the flower structure first: The large fleshy hood is called the spathe; which encloses and protects the club-like spadix. The spadix is the surrounded by tiny flowers.

spadix
Diagram by Lilly Schelling.

Skunk Cabbage is one of the first wildflowers that emerge in spring. This is possible because the plant produces heat, thereby melting the snow around it. The coloration of the spathe varies from greenish to purple, often accompanied by spots or stripes. Two color variations are depicted below:

lilly photo
Photo by Lilly Schelling.
kelly photo
Photo by Kelly Starkweather.

Notice how the plant on the right resembles the look of raw meat, and if you smelled it you would notice a rather pungent skunky odor; hence the name Skunk Cabbage! These characteristics attract flies which pollinate these plants. You can experience the intense smell by scratching the leaf next time you see this plant in the woods.

Skunk Cabbage can be found in many of our state parks in swamp or wetland habitat. Though the plant has the “Cabbage” in name, it is not edible. The leaves contain calcium oxalate crystals that cause a painful burning sensation in the mouth when consumed. Even boiling the leaves does not rid them of all the irritating crystals.

Post by Lilly Schelling, OPRHP.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Native Spring Wildflowers

Spring is in the air and with warmer temperatures come the spring flowers everyone hopes to glimpse.  Most of the flowers people have come to associate with spring are not native to North America though.  Crocus, daffodils, hyacinths, and tulips, for example, are all European flowers.  There are, however, many native plants that “spring” up at this time of year.

Native plants are valuable for a variety of reasons.  They contribute to the biodiversity and health of ecosystems and provide habitat for birds, insects, and other wildlife.  Also, as they are acclimated to the local environment, native plants are often hardier and require less care than imported plants.

As you walk through the woods this spring, look for native plants growing beneath the trees.  In 1936, Minna Anthony Common made a list of plants that were native to the Thousand Islands Region in the journal she kept detailing her work on the Rock Ridges Nature Trail in Thousand Island Park.  These three were among the native plants that were already growing along the trail when she began to work on it.

bloodroot

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) has white flowers with 8 to 12 petals that are approximately 1¼ inch wide.  The flowers sprout on 3 to 6 inch stems through folded leaves.  The deeply lobed leaves open as the plant grows.  When the root of the plant is cut, it “bleeds” a reddish- orange liquid.  This is what gives the plant its name.  Bloodroot prefers moist soil and partial shade and is often found along the woodland edge.  At the Minna Anthony Common Nature Center, bloodroot can be found in the flower bed along the front of the museum building.

spring beauty

Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica) has small (½ to ¾ inch) pink or white flowers with darker pink veins.  Each plant has a single pair of long narrow leaves.  These flowers also prefer moist woodland habitats.

roundlobe hepatica

Hepatica (Hepatica nobilis) is a member of the buttercup family.  It has ½ to 1 inch wide blue, pink, or white flowers and three lobed leaves.  Hepatica begins blooming in early spring and will continue to bloom into the summer season.  Hepatica prefers partial shade and is often found in woodland habitats.

If you are interested in learning more about native plants, visit us at the Nature Center.  We have a many books about native plants in our library and gift shop.  We also have a copy of Minna Anthony Common’s journal available for our visitors to read.  Best of all, we have miles of trails where visitors can see these plants in their native habitat.  The best way to learn about nature is to experience it.

Post by Molly Farrell, Nature Center Director at Minna Anthony Common Nature Center (Wellesley Island State Park).

Sources:

Common, Minna.  Rock Ridges Nature Trail: Record of the Trail, journal kept by Common while developing the trail system

Newcomb, Lawrence. Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide. Little, Brown and Company, New York. 1977.

USDA Plants http://plants.usda.gov (accessed 3/10/2015)

Minnesota Wildflowershttp://www.minnesotawildflowers.info/flower/virginia-spring-beauty (accessed 3/10/2015)

Prairie Moon Nursery www.prairiemoon.com  (accessed 3/10/2015)

 

Spring Tales About Springtails: Friends, Not Fleas!

photo1
Garden Springtail found in New York State. They’re not all this cute, but we want you to like them. From http://bugguide.net/node/view/652904.

Have you even been walking in the woods in late winter and seen a cluster of what look like fleas on the top of the snow?  You’ve probably thought “eww!” and hurried on your way to escape an itchy outcome. The truth is that these so-called “snow fleas” pose no danger to you or your furry pets.  You’re actually meeting one of the many species of Springtails, an order of arthropods that can be found on every continent, including Antarctica.  These incredibly abundant creatures may leap, but they are not biting fleas. They actually consume leaf litter, fungi, and even other smaller creatures.  Despite their tiny size, their existence may provide remarkable benefits that extend to you and me.

Springtails have six legs and antennas, but they are not classified as insects. Unlike insects, they have internal mouthparts and are wingless.   The spring in their step comes from a furcula, which is the springy two-pronged “tail” for which these fascinating creatures are named. It normally lies tucked under their abdomen. When escaping predators, the furcula is released almost instantly, and it vaults them up to 10 centimeters, which is no joke when your size maxes out at half a centimeter in length.

With 100,000 found in one square meter of forest, it is clear that these critters form a substantial base of the food web on the forest floor.  The red eft, the teenage stage of the red spotted newt, considers the springtails an ideal meal for their little mouths.  Even the harvestman, more commonly called “daddy long-legs,” preys upon the springtail.

Red Eft at Thacher -Photo by Lilly Schelling
The brilliant red efts you see on rainy days are prowling about for the Springtails, a little meal just right for their little mouths. Photo by Lily Schelling (OPRHP), taken at Thacher State Park.

Why should you care about these creatures?  They eat pathogenic fungi that can damage many agricultural crops. They also help spread the spores of mycorrhiza (fungi), whose symbiotic relationship with plants allow for an incredible array of plants to thrive, from wheat to beech trees.   The variety of Springtail that is sometimes called a “snow flea” is also a focus of biomedical research.  Scientists are trying to replicate the anti-freeze protein found in those ever-active Springtails in winter, and use it to aid the transition of body organs for transplant from donor to recipient.

We know nature’s ability to relax and soothe us in the midst of our busy lives, with scenic views and outstretched tree limbs. However the next time you take a walk in the woods, take a moment to appreciate the unseen world under your feet as well. It turns out that even the largely invisible, creepy-crawly world of wildlife in the woods may have myriad benefits for humanity.

A mass of live springtails in early spring. Photo by Greg Edinger, NYNHP.
A mass of live springtails in early spring. Photo by Greg Edinger, NYNHP.

 

Post by Liz Wagner, Grafton Lakes State Park.

 

 

 

 

 

Bees in the Butterfly Garden

It may be some time before we get to see bees and butterflies again, but when spring comes, we know that our friends at Fahnstock State Park will be ready to welcome them back with open arms and bouquets of native flowers. Check out this vibrant post from Native Beeology!

Native Beeology

Anne Odell Butterfly Garden – Fahnestock State Park –

In a recent venture to The Hubbard Lodge in Fahnestock State Park, I explored a butterfly garden flourishing with beautiful native flowering plants. The garden was alive with tired butterflies sporting tattered wings, queen bumblebees fattening up for a long winter hibernation, and a diversity of solitary bees finishing up their nests.  This garden named the Ann Odell Butterfly Garden was created in 2003 in memory of Ann Odell, an art teacher and gardener.  The winding paths in this tranquil place is a fitting tribute, inviting those who enter to explore and discover all things wild and beautiful.  Indeed, this garden is much more than a butterfly garden.

DSC_0218 Gazebo near the Entrance to the Ann Odell Butterfly garden

DSC_0222 Joe-pye-weed

DSC_0237 Asters and goldenrods

The most notable feature of this autumn garden is the purple New England asters that stand tall in the…

View original post 577 more words