Last April wildflower walk of the year…and a few other beauties

The spring wildflowers are in their second flush, as the wild plums and bloodroot are nearly finished blooming. The warm weather has brought new hues to the forest, in a crescendo of vibrant colors.

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Trillium are in full bloom, adding a deep red to the woodland forest.
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The red oaks rely on wind for pollination, so their pollen is usually viewed as a radiating golden hue in the tree tops. This small branch was brought down in the wind, allowing me to admire the rich color and delicate leaves more closely.
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No true morels, yet. But we found a large patch of these rusty-eared gnarly beauties, with their untraceable folds and delicate ripples.
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The jack in the pulpit’s green on green provides subtle grace and requires a careful look, before the show-stopping red berries in the fall..
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Bellworts add their bright yellow to the edge of the woodland.
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Emerging Spring

Spring is emerging all around, from the chorus frogs and red wing blackbirds calling from the wetland to the wildflowers emerging in the woodlands.

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Snow trilliums are the first of the spring ephemerals blooming this year. They are as important to the spring pollinators as the pollinators (in this case, a fly) are to them.
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The squil is also just starting to bloom. While not native, it is not posing an invasive problem here. As more of it blooms, it will provide a critical source of pollen for the honeybees.
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The skunk cabbage are just emerging up Bena Brook.

Welcoming 2016

Snow has finally arrived. It has transformed the woods into a magical place full of wonder, and on a more practical note, I haven’t seen a tick in a few days. We’ll ring in the New Year quietly in the forest, celebrating the beautiful natural world around us.

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The clouds are forming.
Bena Brook starts to freeze over.
Bena Brook starts to freeze over.
Windblown snow creates delicate patterns on downed trees.
Windblown snow creates delicate patterns on downed trees.

 

Waldeinsamkeit

Usually I celebrate full moons, eclipses, solstices, and anything else I can think of outside walking with friends, followed by a little fire.

While the browns and greys of tree bark and leaf litter dominate the woodland winterscape, some of the smaller plants stay green all winter in the woods.
While the browns and greys of tree bark and leaf litter dominate the woodland winterscape, some of the smaller plants stay green all winter in the woods.

This season has been unusually hectic between Amazing Space (of which I love every moment, it just takes a lot of moments), the construction of the natural amphitheater, preparing the apiary for 2016, and everything else I normally do.

I've never known it to flood in December before. It is usually a light precipitation month for us, and the precipitation is usually in the form of snow, not rain. But Wood Duck Way and the silver maples in the floodplain are under water, as the Red Cedar River and Indian Creek spill over their banks.
I’ve never known it to flood in December before. It is usually a light precipitation month for us, and the precipitation is usually in the form of snow, not rain. But Wood Duck Way and the silver maples in the floodplain are under water, as the Red Cedar River and Indian Creek spill over their banks.

For this winter solstice, I opted to take a break and enjoy waldeinsamkeit. It literally translates into woodland solitude, and I find it is a beautiful way to connect with myself, and with the natural world around me. I actually had to visit waldeinsamkeit twice, once during the day and once after dark on the solstice. The warm temperatures, moist air, and clouds skittering across the moon were beckoning me back outside. Since English is based on German, why we didn’t we keep that word?

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The unseasonably warm winter and frequent rains are supporting a prolonged mushroom season in the woods.

 

 

Forest Freeplay: What is it?

About Forest FreeplayForest Freeplay is playing outside freely in the forest.  There is no parental agenda, no nature study planned, no journaling required — nothing but playing in the natural space of the forest.

Think “parkday” without the playground equipment.

But what do kids DOYes, that was my first question.

They play.  They explore. They challenge themselves physically.  The discover.  They create.  And sometimes they read a book.  Or even sit by mom and say “When can we go home? I’m bored (or hungry or hot or cold or tired)?”

Sometimes Forest Freeplay means just reading a bookJust like at the park.  But in the forest.  That’s it: Forest Freeplay!

Later this week, I’ll share how I learned about Forest Freeplay & started meeting with other families on a regular basis!

Forest Freeplay is part of our 30 Days Wild!

The Saga of the Shinleaf

Having spent years roaming these woods, there are some plants I can identify, a lot more plants I recognize but can’t identify, and every once in a while, there is the sheer, delightful beauty of stumbling across a plant I’ve never even seen before.

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I took a picture (there was only one, so I wasn’t about to pick the plant). And, in this heat, frequently a “real” specimen is a droopy, crumpled mess by the time I get it home, whereas digital photos can be easily shared, magnified and examined. The flower shape and size looked a bit like the non-native lily of the valley, but the leaves and growth patterns were all wrong. There is a false/wild lily of the valley, but that was definitely not it either.

I shared the picture around the office. Sharing is typically, in my opinion, way more fun than keying plants out (which is always Plan B, and a good skill to have!).  A day later, a colleague at Indian Creek Nature Center told me what it was-the shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica).  She had seen it before backpacking up north, where it is far more common. Like orchids, the shinleaf has strong micorrhizal associations, making it difficult to transplant or spread. So this little beauty has been hanging on in the woods here for a long time, and hopefully, as we continue to remove invasive species, it will spread on its own.

The shin leaf takes its name from its traditional medicinal value. Historically it was used as a poultice for bruised shins and other small skin problems, or gargled for sore throats. But, as it is rare here, its value is far greater as a keystone species for the woodlands.

30 Days Wild

Pet sitting, the wild way

I pet sit frequently, because, on a temporary basis, what’s one more fuzzy thing to feed? And because I truly love animals. People usually ask me to tend things like dogs, chickens, rabbits, turtles, kittens that need to be bottle fed. But this time…

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Prometheus moth, female

…I got moths. This prometheus moth promptly crawled out of the paper sack I had her “secured” in and started laying her eggs on the window screen. The great thing about the prometheus moth as a pet is that as adults, they don’t need to feed. It was a marvelous opportunity to study the tiny feathers and bright colors up close. I’d never even seen one before, because, lets face it, I do not spend a lot of time in the tops of cherry trees at night. Black cherry leaves are what the caterpillars feed on, and night time is when the adults fly.

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Polyphemus moth caterpillars, only 3/16 of an inch long

Today, these little ones arrived in the mail. Eggs and freshly hatched Cecropia and Polyphemus. Unlike the adults, they are voracious eaters, so I went on a nice foraging mission on their behalf for red oak leaves (Polyphemus) and Black Cherry leaves (Cecropia).

 

Cecropia moth caterpillars, hatching
Cecropia moth caterpillars, hatching. They actually refused the black cherry leaves, but have started munching on crabapple leaves.

 

Right now, they are the size of a grain of rice. But the silk cocoons I’m watching from an earlier laying are not small! The cacoons range in size from a tube of lip balm to a mouse, which means I have a lot of leaf collecting in my near future…

If you’re in the area, stop by Indian Creek Nature Center to see a variety of caterpillars (in the sunroom) and adult moths and butterflies (in the hoop house).

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