Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Why is Sawdust Falling from the Sky?

Jeff thought he saw some snowflakes falling from the sky the other day, but the 80 degree temperatures suggested otherwise.

Looking up, he was delighted to see a Chickadee spitting out sawdust from a tiny hole up in a snag.

He wasn't just spitting it out as he excavated the hole...

...but carrying it away, as well.

Surely this little birdy didn't start this hole. It was most likely started by a Downy Woodpecker, but this lil' fella thinks he's gonna finish it. I knew Chickadees liked to use cavities for their nests, but I didn't realize they did any excavating.

Carrying the sawdust away...

Back for more, he (or she) was working extremely quickly, always in constant movement.

I must say, that's a neat picture.

I think it looks like he's base jumping, stepping off the edge like that.

"Now, where should I sprinkle this sawdust, maybe on top of Jeff's head..."

"Hey! Whadda you lookin' at?"

Sunday, March 25, 2012

More of What's Blooming Now: Trees

Alleghany Serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis), just about ready to bloom, earlier in the week.

By the middle of the week, they were in full bloom, feeding all kinds of tiny pollinating insects.

Each flower, if pollinated, will transform into a small sweet berry by June.

Serviceberries make excellent substitutes for Bradford Pears in the landscape, and are especially lovely combined with Redbuds. The fruits are edible and resemble blueberries both in appearance and taste, however I gladly share mine with the birds.

Dogwoods (Cornus florida) are beginning to open now and should be peaking next week, if this weekends rain doesn't foul them up.

I love how the buds look like little presents to unwrap.

A Dogwood, backlit by the sun Friday morning.

Another favorite of the bees, our young "Prairie Fire" Crabapple was also beginning to bloom.

I did nothing to alter the color of this photo, the blossoms really were that bright in the rising sun on Friday morning. Normally I don't care for such gaudy color, but I really love this tree. As of Saturday afternoon, the flowers had faded to a nice soft medium pink thanks to the rain.

You may not recognize this one, give yourself extra credit points if you do!

These are the cute little flowers of a Sassafras tree (Sassafras albidum). Another favorite of mine, they also have excellent fall color and are a host plant for the Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly. Double extra credit if you knew that too!

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Building of an Eastern Phoebe Nest

The Phoebes are back! Mark it down- March 19. They've been using this light fixture as a base for their nests for over a decade. Not the same exact birds, silly, that would prolly be a record, but perhaps returning generations of the same family.

Adding some moss...

Shape it with the belly, wiggle-wiggle...

Pump the tail a bit, like Phoebes do...

Now for some mud...
Pack it in tight...

Stick the moss to the mud...

Again, more mud...

"Not bad for a days work! We should be done in no time!"

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

What's Blooming Now, Spring is Bustin' Loose!

Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis) Grade A pollinator magnet
Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis) Not visible in this photo are the millions of bees swarming these blossoms!

Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) Pretty when fresh, but can look a bit ratty in no time.

Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica

Violets, simple and common, but they make me smile.

Blueberry, forgotten variety, maybe Northland

Weeds! Purple Dead Nettle (Laminum purpureum) and Hairy Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta)

Pennsylvania Sedge (Carex pensylvanica) I am really liking this cute little plant...

Pennsylvania Sedge (Carex pensylvanica

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Have you ever seen a Trout Lily?

   They are definitely worth seeing, if you can find them! This diminutive native wildflower, also known as Yellow Adder's Tongue, is blooming right now in our woods. Although Erythronium americanum is native to much of the country east of the Mississippi and considered quite common, I wouldn't be surprised if you've never seen it in bloom, if at all. The Yellow Trout Lily is quite small, reaching the average height of only 6 inches, and the yellow blossoms don't exactly stand out against the tan and brown leaf litter on the forest floor.

It's much easier to spot the 4-8" spotted green lanceolate leaves, which resemble orchid leaves or a Spotted Trout, hence the name.

Supposedly it prefers moist rich woods, however I know of it occurring (particularly here) in quite dry, well drained soils as well. It just doesn't form huge colonies like it might in richer soils.

Don't feel bad if you've never noticed them before. As you can tell by this photo, although this trail has Trout Lilies lining both sides, they are definitely difficult to see!

*Thank you Jeff for the photos!*

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Seedstarting Update: Echinacea and Monarda

   On February 2, I sowed two packets each of Echinacea purpurea (purple coneflower) and Monarda fistulosa (wild bergamot), one inside on my grow stand and one outside in the elements. I wanted to compare the germination rates and growth habits between the ones started early indoors, and the ones sown directly outside. Obviously the seeds started indoors have a head start on the ones outside, but I didn't realize they would be this far along so early! To my surprise, the seeds I started inside sprouted just a week after planting, and the photos below represent approximately 4 weeks of growth. I'm so excited! These are two of my most favorite plants and I'll have no trouble finding places for them. The seeds I planted outside haven't even germinated yet. This was so easy to do, the seeds needed no pre-treatment, and I made use of all the nursery pots and trays I saved from all the plants I bought last summer. Although I used grow lights you could get similar results with an inexpensive shop light and "grow" bulbs- just remember to keep the lights just a few inches above the leaves. (I raised the lights here just to take the picture) I highly recommend these two varieties for beginners to the world of growing plants from seed.

My 4-5 week old Echinacea and Monarda seedlings

More Echinacea and Monarda, and some yummy Basil also grown from seed

Close up of Echinacea babies

Close up of Monarda (on the left) and more Echinacea (right)

Tell-tale hairs on an Echinacea leaf

One of my favorite characteristics of Monarda fistulosa, the purple-y undersides of the leaves