Worth the wait

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Eastern Black Swallowtail male on Golden Alexander

On May 19, two Eastern Black Swallowtail butterflies emerged after wintering over in chrysalis stage.

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Eastern Swallowtail female ready for take-off. The female has less bold yellow than the male, and her hindwings are washed with blue.

Back in early November, I had collected three caterpillars threatened by a deep freeze, placed them in a butterfly enclosure, supplied the cats with plenty of fennel — they are hearty eaters, and kept their enclosure clean. When they formed their chrysalises, I moved the enclosure outside for them to winter over at nature’s pace. More than six months later, two of the caterpillars emerged as beautiful butterflies.

Black swallowtails eclosed today

Black swallowtails leaving enclosure. Note remaining chrysalis on right.

The fennel, dill and native Golden Alexander (Zizia) in the garden attracted numerous Black Swallowtails last summer, but it wasn’t until the late fall generation — the third and final generation each year in the Mid-Atlantic — that their caterpillars escaped the birds and small wasps that feed on them.

Black Swallowtail caterpillars grow through several stages, called instars. Here’s the progression.

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Black Swallowtail caterpillar early instar

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Black Swallowtail caterpillar “saddleback” stage

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Black Swallowtail caterpillar 3rd instar

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Black Swallowtail caterpillar late instar

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Black Swallowtail chrysalis ready to winter over

Two out of three to date. Here’s hoping the third will be flying soon.

Update:  On May 23, the third Black Swallowtail emerged from its chrysalis, gathered strength and flew off.

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Newly eclosed Black Swallowtail, pumping its wings, readying for first flight



An Eastern Towhee singing his heart out brightened a dreary day. Listen to his drink-your-tea! song by CLICKING HERE. (Turn up your sound.)

Towhees are ground-foraging birds, hidden in woodland and field undergrowth as they scratch for food. It’s unusual to spot a Towhee like this atop a small tree.

But it’s spring and he’s a songbird. Time to sing and find his mate.

Cinco de Mayo

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Five perfect Eastern Bluebird eggs. On the 5th day of the 5th month. Cinco de Mayo.

Weeds needed

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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.



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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

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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.

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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.

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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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