Weeds needed

AMRO F nestbldg

Save some weeds for me!

One species’ weeds is another species’ nursery.

Songbirds need grasses, twigs, bark, leaf litter, pine needles, lichen and all manner of new and old growth to make their nests. For many species, their needs are specific. Chickadees and titmice use moss. Flycatchers add bits of snakeskin.

Overly manicured yards and gardens make it hard for breeding pairs to find nesting material in their race to build nests, lay and incubate eggs, and raise young.

So leave things a little messy. And save some dandelions for the bees.



fiddlehead ferns IHpond OR

Spring walk in the woods

A hike in the Maryland Piedmont — upland woods and streamside bottomlands.

A dozen Eastern Tiger Swallowtails flew along the trails. Only one paused long enough for a photo. They over-wintered here in chrysalis form and have just emerged. I haven’t seen so many Eastern Tiger Swallowtails in one day in years.


Eastern Tiger Swallowtail – a female by the blue wash on hindwings

Many wildflowers are in bloom and others are emerging. A reason to return.

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A particularly showy Rue anenome

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Bellwort recovering from overnight rain

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Dwarf Ginseng

Dwarf Ginseng doesn’t share American Ginseng’s medicinal properties, so isn’t threatened by overharvesting.

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Wild blue phlox

I’m told that yellow and white Trillium are not native to these woods, that these are descendants of flowers planted generations ago, probably when the little pond was built. Someone had the forethought to plant spring ephemerals.

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Trillium grandiflorum

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Yellow Trillium

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Mayapple foliage pushes through a dead leaf

In sunnier clearings…

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Pinxterbloom azalea

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Wood sorrel

And from a wetland walk earlier in the week…

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Trout lily

Tree swallows return

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Tree Swallow

The first few Tree Swallows returning from their winter grounds in Mexico and Florida could be seen high above the tree tops in mid-March. Each week their altitude dropped and their number increased.

Last week Tree Swallows paired up and started checking out nestboxes. This week, nest-building is underway along with cursory chattering and swooping at their curious nestbox monitor.

TRES straw for nest

Tree Swallow carries nesting material

Tree Swallows are acrobatic fliers, swooping and soaring to feed in flight. Their legs are so weak that nestboxes routinely include tiny ladders of wire mesh or carved into the interior wall so fledglings and weary adults can reach the hole.

Yet, at this time of year, I’ve noticed they perch on branch tips — whether fatigued by the long migration north or part of courtship, I don’t know.

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A Tree Swallow pair enjoy the view

TRES pair perch preen

As good a place as any to preen in the sunshine

If the weather and food supply hold, soon there will be nests in the nestboxes with eggs, then young to launch another generation.

Spring is for bluebirds

After a few mild days free of wind, rain or snow, nesting has begun. Bluebirds and tree swallows could be seen at work along the nestbox trail.

EABL pair F flight

Female Eastern Bluebird heads to nest while her mate guards

This pair was defending its nest from tree swallows, which will likely nest in a nearby nestbox.

Here’s a closer look at brilliant male and subdued female plumage.

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Eastern bluebird pair

A 15-foot high hunting platform was installed this year to aid bluebird foraging. Their eyesight is sharp enough to spot insects from that height.

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Bluebird hunts from new platform

Coming next… the Tree Swallows return!

Spring beauties

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Spring Beauties living up to their name

Spring wildflowers — and wildflower seekers — persevere amid changeable spring weather. Between Thursday thunderstorms and Saturday slushy snow, there were wildflowers to see in Maryland’s Piedmont.

A week earlier, these woods were full of Bloodroot in bloom, their blossoms now lost to the cold and wind. But a few late Bloodroot emerge from beneath the leaves.

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Bloodroot bud emerges

Until yesterday, I had never seen Saxifrage. I was happy to find a large stand of Early Saxifrage in its typical habitat — on the steep slope of a rocky hill.

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Early saxifrage

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Early saxifrage flowers

Mayapples are sprouting. Only plants with two leaves will flower and bear fruit.

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Mayapple flower bud between leaves

Cut-leaved Toothwort and common violets in varying shades add to the show.

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Cut-leaved toothwort

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Common violet

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Rich woods, rocky slopes

It was a bit of a trek into the woods along the river valley to find one of the best spots for early spring wildflowers in the Maryland Piedmont — rich woods, rocky slopes being the preferred habitat for certain wildflowers, according to the field guides. Following a trail sometimes rocky, sometimes washed out, the hike into the designated wildlands was worth every sore muscle.

The woodlands yielded Dutchman’s Breeches, various shades of Rue Anenome and the closely related Hepatica, Bloodroot, Pennywort, Spring Beauty, violets, skunk cabbage and more. The area will soon be blanketed with Trout Lily, but only the foliage was evident this day.

HZ Dutchman's Breeches crop

Dutchman’s Breeches

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Rue Anenome in a pink shade

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Rue Anenome

HZ hepatica lavender crop


HZ pennywort crop

Pennywort (Obolaria virginica)

HZ star chickweed crop

Star Chickweed and violets

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Spring Beauty

The trail ran along the Panther Branch and the Gunpowder Falls (“falls” being an old colloquial for river). Here’s a peek.

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Moss-covered roots cling to streambed

HZ Panther Branch

Panther Branch



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Good morning, spring

An early evening visit to the woods revealed Bloodroot flowers beginning to bloom. By next morning, the woods were sprinkled with Bloodroot and Spring Beauty.

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In the days when people paid close attention to the life growing around them, Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) was named for its red root and orange sap, which was used as a dye, especially in basketweaving. The Bloodroot leaf is distinctively shaped and can be noticed on the forest floor well after the flowers have faded away.

Overnight the Spring Beauties appeared. So well-named.

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Spring Beauty

Delicate and pretty, Spring Beauties (Claytonia virginica) are a sure sign of spring.

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See the Bloodroot leaf’s distinctive shape.

Even the Mayapple foliage popped up overnight. Flowers and “apples” to follow.

Mayapple foliage LR crop


A chorus of toads provided a soundtrack for the morning’s walk. You can hear it here. Several Eastern American Toads (Anaxyrus americanus americanus) were found along the trail, making their way to the wetland breeding ground.

Toad LR

A particularly contemplative Eastern American Toad


Spring takes a step

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Cut-leaved toothwort growing along a stream bank

Finally! My first native wildflower of spring.

It took a couple visits into the woods to see this small stand of Cut-leaved toothwort finally in full bloom. The close-up came with wet feet too. But certainly worth the effort.

Seeing the first violet of spring took much less effort — just a few steps out the front door. Such pretty, cheery little flowers, violets are the host plant for the caterpillars of 21 different species of Fritillary butterfly found in different regions of North America. I’ll never understand why anyone eradicates violets from their yards.

first violet

First violet of spring

A flutter in the woods, delightfully, was a Mourning Cloak butterfly — an early butterfly of spring and certainly no cause for mourning. It has hibernated in these woods, perhaps under a piece of bark, and emerged with spring. This species is among the longest-lived butterflies, up to ten months. It will breed in summer and its offspring will overwinter here too.

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Mourning cloak butterfly after a winter’s hibernation

A pair of Eastern Bluebirds foraged on the ground and perched in trees, appearing at times to supervise the installation of new nestboxes on the bluebird trail. Nesting will begin within a few weeks.


Eastern bluebird alert for a meal

Spotting little Northern brownsnakes — no thicker than a pencil — sunning on rocks in the garden has become part of spring. For a few years now, we’ve discovered two seeking warmth in the exact same location, having over-wintered in the front flower bed. This year three brownsnakes! They will travel to spend the summer and breed elsewhere in the yard. We’ve never seen them leave or return, but we’re glad to see the cycle continued.

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Northern brownsnakes seek warmth among rocks


And how can it be spring without spring peepers? Click here to listen as a few spring peepers warm up after a chilly March morning.


geese Feb 2011

Canada geese wintering on Maryland’s Eastern Shore

An unmistakable sign of Spring along the Atlantic flyway is a noisy V-formation of Canada geese heading northward. They are headed now to their summer breeding ground in far north US and throughout Canada.

See and hear Canada geese heading north here. The honking is a sound cherished by many.

But why are Canada geese so noisy during their long migration? What can be the benefit of expending so much additional energy during such a long flight right before breeding?

There isn’t a definitive answer, but there are theories. One holds that Canada geese are communicating to maintain their aerodynamic V-formation. Another is that honking is a form of encouragement.

I question whether these provide the complete answer. After all, flocks of many other species migrate even greater distances without burning precious energy by constantly vocalizing. What makes honking so important to Canada geese?

My unexplored personal theory rests in the unusually strong family ties of Canada geese. Canada geese mate for life (and their lives can span more than a couple decades). First-year young, born in the north, remain with their parents for at least a year. Migrating flocks are made up of groups of families. Not at all intending to anthropomorphize, there may be a survival strategy in keeping tabs on and encouraging family members.

Canada geese are garrulous and social while they winter-over here in the Mid-Atlantic. So social, have you ever even thought of Canada geese in the singular? Canada goose?

Goose dam edge resident

One of Maryland’s year-round population of Canada geese, descendants of geese bred here for hunting. They didn’t learn to migrate north to breed.


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