Monday, March 29, 2010

Into Every Spring a Little Rain....

The Bernheim Naturalists in Training take a stroll on the last Sunday of each month. Yesterday, it was our turn to "lead" a bird walk, but the weather forecast was not encouraging. Guess we used up all the sunshine on Saturday. I've learned not to discount the birds at Bernheim just because of a little rain though, so off we went with one other person. My reading of the radar map made me optimistic, but I put a raincoat in the car anyway.

As we drove in, we spotted a Red Tailed Hawk in a tree. Stopping in middle of the road, we hopped out and grabbed binocs and camera from the trunk. Yep, it's a Red Tail, but the palest hawk I've ever seen! We watched it circle around, and its back was very light in color too. Maybe this is the Kentucky Pale Male.

For the most part, the woods still look like winter. No leaves or buds are on the trees, but if you look closely, you start to see small shoots working their way through the leaf litter.
Near the Education Building, we heard noise, and located a pair of Flickers staring each other down. They would stare and squawk, then chase each other around before round two began. At first we thought they were two males, but changed our minds when it started to look like courting behavior. Eventually another pair of Flickers joined in the fun. Magnolia trees are blooming on the hill, and we spotted what appears to be a Red Shouldered Hawk's nest in a hemlock tree. There was no bird, but we always hope!
Tree Swallows examined the nearby Martin houses, while Field Sparrows called from the Big Meadow. Then it started to mist, followed by light rain, and then a downpour. Thank goodness I had that plastic raincoat to keep my camera and binocs dry as we hiked back to the car.
Twenty minutes later we got out of the car and started down the Rock Run Loop -- the best trail for wildflowers at Bernheim. The trail runs along the steep sides of a creek, and each side has a different environment. The side that faces west gets more sun and the flowers are much more advanced. We saw lots of beautiful Blood Roots there, filled with rain water. Last year I didn't start looking at flowers until the Blood Root were finished, so I truly enjoyed these. Each bloom only lasts a day.
The fairies will be out tonight to swim in their new pool - a shelf fungus full of rain.
The side facing east is filled with Trout Lily leaves, but we found only one Yellow Trout Lily actually blooming. Come back after a few days of sun and you will be overwhelmed by them. The Lilys hang down in umbrella mode while it rains, but will raise up to face the sun.
I'd forgotten how small these wildflowers actually are. I always try to get close up photographs, and they look bigger than they actually are. Compare them to the brown oak or beech leaves on the ground.
Fuzzy green Common Mullein catches the raindrops and holds them like sparkling diamonds.
What is this black stuff? It looks like moss that has been invaded by a fungus or mold. It's soft, and doesn't rub off on your fingers, nor does it have an odor.
The Visitor's Center grassy roof hasn't started to green up yet, but it shouldn't be much longer. A pair of geese grazed in the yard. They have been known to nest on the roof, a great protection from predators, but the goslings have to get to the ground before they can actually fly.
The Visitor's Center staff does a great job of collecting and identifying the current blossoms. As I read the captions for the others, the sun broke through briefly, turning these daffodils into liquid sun.
Some Chipping Sparrows serenaded us as we returned to our car to come home. "Come back to see us again!" they called.

Oh, driving home on the Interstate, as we crossed the Salt River bridge, we saw a Bald Eagle heading downstream. Some good Beckham birders spotted a nest of Bald Eagles at the Falls of the Ohio, not far from the Osprey nest site. They even got pictures, and she is sitting on the nest, so this will be an exciting year at the Falls!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

First Wildflowers of Spring

Last week, I took a walk at Creasey Mahan Nature Preserve to see how spring was progressing. The answer was -- not much. I saw very few signs of growth, other than the Poison Hemlock sprouts, but the birds were singing loudly.
Yesterday, I took another walk (after a frustrating time trying to get the printers to work on their computers) and saw that spring has really arrived. The maple trees are among the first to bloom. We seldom think of trees blooming if they aren't showy like dogwoods and redbuds, but I think the little maple blossoms are exceedingly delicate! Our friend Bob at Bernheim pointed out that the blossoms with white or yellow stamens are the red maple, while the blossoms that are entirely red are the silver maple. You would expect it to be just the opposite.
The hillside along Little Huckleberry Creek at Creasey is wildflower central. This week the trout lilys are sprouted up and down the slopes, and even the sessile trillium are starting to bud. I'll have to start reviewing all the wildflower pictures I took last year so I'll remember the names of them all! This twinleaf looks like it just poked through the leaves this morning. YAWN! it seems to say as it stretches up.
I don't think of moss as flowering either, but I love the little sprouts on it. They look like duck heads!
Harbinger of spring does just that. It's one of the earliest bloomers. When it's in full sun, it doesn't get large. This one was in the woods, and is much bigger than those in the meadow.
This is the first rue anemone of the spring....
...and the first Dutchman's Breeches. They don't last long, and I missed them all together last year. To really see the progression of wildflowers, you need to visit your favorite spot at least every week, if not more often.
The sliders love a sunny afternoon, and come on the shore of Frog Pond to enjoy the warmth.
Creasey Mahan started a Bluebird Trail this year. People sponsor a Bluebird house and we paint their initials on the "love shack." We plan to have hikes along the trail for the Nature Fest in late May, when we should be able to open the houses and see the babies. Of course, you don't always get Bluebirds in the houses. House Sparrows think they should be called Sparrow houses!
This female Bluebird checked out one of the houses, and seems to be satisfied with it. I heard her commenting to her mate about the neighborhood though. She is amazed at the growth of the Bluebird Subdivision. "It wasn't like this last year!" she says.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Spring Comes Marching In

The Beckham Bird Club had another good outing on Saturday, but all the birds we saw were too far away for a good photo, even to me. We saw a beautiful Red Shouldered Hawk soaring across a grassy field into a tree. He bent over and at first we thought he might be eating lunch. Then some one's sharp eye noticed that he was meeting with his sweetie for an early spring tryst, serenaded by the spring peeper chorus. Looks those two will be building a nest in the neighborhood soon!
Disappointed with having no photos, I decided to drive back to Perrin Lake in Jeffersonville, IN, which was closed last week due to the dusting of snow. The weather was wonderful by the time I arrived at the feeding station in this family park. Two girls had five gallon buckets of dog food which they tossed to the ducks and geese by the handfuls. I wonder if these birds get avian diabetes from overeating?
Redheads are diving ducks, of course, and as I tracked one with the camera, it dived just as I clicked the shutter. I have deleted at least a dozen pictures of the water splashing where the duck just went under!

Finally, I decided to get smart and just take a movie of one slipping under the water. The male bounces up like a cork, and what do they do then? Stay on top and start preening, of course! They are beautiful though, and I don't often see Redheads this close.
We have all seen aggressive geese in the spring. We used to take our young children to Cave Hill Cemetery to feed the geese, and one time the kids got chased by the gander when they got a little to close to the nest. With the abundance of food floating in the water, you wonder why these guys chase each other around - unless it's just spring hormones... One small island in the middle of the lake had at least six Wood Duck boxes stuck in the mud around it. I saw a variety of ducks, but only one pair of each, hiding under an overhang, including some Wood Ducks, and these Hooded Mergansers.
I love the iridescent quality of duck feathers. This Mallard looked almost neon in the sun!
Signs of spring are all around this weekend. The call of Sandhill Cranes flying north. Spring Peepers calling from a marshy area. And finally, my neighbor's spring flowers - the first I've seen blooming so far! I'm certainly ready!