Spring ephemerals are just that — ephemeral. They appear for a few days or weeks, then disappear. For some, a few leaves remain as a reminder.
Rich woods before the trees leaf out, near a stream, is the best place in Maryland’s Piedmont to find spring ephemerals.
They are still springing up. Here are a few of the earliest blossoms.
One might think that Cedar Waxwings were named for their overall glossy feathering. In fact, Waxwings are named for the red wax-like substance that forms on wing feather tips of some older birds. The purpose of this unusual secretion is unknown. Cedar represents their favored cedar berries. The Cedar Waxwing is the rare songbird that feeds almost exclusively on fruit. Even nestlings grow on a diet of fruit after a first few days of insects.
Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) are social birds, feeding communally. Look for flocks feeding among berry trees like wax myrtle, black cherry and of course cedars. Cedar Waxwings have been known to experience a drunken state after consuming quantities of old, fermented fruit.
These Cedar Waxwings were observed feeding in late March at a waterfront park in Harford County, MD. The park is also home to a colony of black-morph Eastern Gray Squirrels. It is thought that the black morph squirrels in Maryland are escapees from a number of black squirrels brought to a local zoo from Canada, where their black fur is needed to absorb sunshine and better protect from the cold. Too cute not to share a photo.
We noticed an Eastern Bluebird watching us from a nearby tree as we made our way making pre-season repairs along the park’s nestbox trail. When I circled back after our work was done, pairs were already examining the real estate.
Bluebirds feed mainly on insects and spiders from the ground. Nestboxes provide convenient perches for hunting, although bluebirds can spot crawly things in a field from high up a tree. If you spot a bluebird, take a little time to watch it repeatedly swoop to the ground and return to its perch.
Soon nesting will begin and before long this pair will be busy bringing caterpillars and insects to a nest full of young in these boxes.
Hours of sleet from Tuesday’s winter storm gave way to an afternoon of dark clouds mixed with sunshine and snow showers. Big flakes floated from the sky. And a few bejeweled my Border Collie’s fur.
Today’s snow and graupel in this crazy, mixed-up winter followed yesterday’s sunshine and 70 degrees when little bits of blue played across the meadow in the warm March wind. The season’s first brood of Spring Azure (Celastrina ladon) butterflies are beginning to emerge.
Spring Azures overwinter in chrysalis form in meadows, old fields and woodlands. A common and widespread butterfly in North America, Spring Azures are almost indistinguishable from several other Azure species. They are one of the earliest butterflies to emerge each year.
Maybe too early this year. I don’t know their fate in the week of sub-freezing weather ahead. Perhaps they’ve already started laying eggs for the next brood.
Ospreys that breed along the east coast of the United States are returning now from their wintering sites in remote areas of South America. Ospreys breed for life but migrate and spend their winters separately. Remarkably, pairs return to previous nesting sites to reunite, rebuild their nests and breed in the spring.
For years, ospreys have successfully nested on a road sign over a busy main route across Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Ospreys have adapted well to man-made structures — channel markers, docks, purpose-built osprey platforms — located on the water or shoreline. What makes this spot different is that it is located over the highway.
I suspect this osprey is waiting for its mate to return. Because active nesting had not started, I determined it safe to pull to a side road and snap a couple photos — still at a distance and from behind a structure. Breeding birds are to be respected always.
Creeks and tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay are nearby to provide fish for adults and young. And the nests have been successful over the years. Observant travelers can see parents feeding their young, and growing nestlings peering out of the nest and eventually venturing from the nest.
The location has been so successful that other breeding pairs have built several more nests along the same stretch in the past few years.
How many hundreds of thousands, millions of people have passed under these nests and enjoyed the activity — or missed it entirely?
For a closer look at an osprey nest, view and support a Chesapeake Bay osprey nest cam maintained by the Chesapeake Conservancy and follow the informative and entertaining companion blog by the tireless Crazy Osprey Family.
From the first to bloom to the last to bloom, a little bit of winter color on a winter’s walk.
The first wildflower of the season to bloom in Maryland’s Piedmont — Skunk Cabbage — is emerging now along streambeds.
Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus), a relative of the better known Jack-in-the-Pulpit plant, has the capacity to warm and thaw the earth around it, allowing it to emerge months before other wildflowers. The flower will die back, and big, skunk-scented leaves will unfurl to become an unmistakable mainstay of a thousand classroom trail walks.
But Skunk Cabbage is still subtle in early February. Here are other views of its reds and greens.
I had hoped and expected to find Skunk Cabbage in February. What was a surprise was discovering yellow still clinging to an American Witch-Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) that bloomed in the fall.
This is how the same native Witch-Hazel tree looked last autumn.
While we wait for the blossoms and colors of spring, there’s beauty to discover in winter.
In late November, four Snow Buntings (Plectrophenax nivalis) were spotted in a park along the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay. Snow Buntings are considered scarce this far south, and worth braving a cold wind to see.
Snow Buntings breed among rocks and crevices in Arctic Canada and Greenland. They migrate south to winter in Canada’s southern provinces and across the northern US. Every so often, a few venture farther south.
Even in their winter plumage, they are a very pretty little bird.
Our visiting Snow Buntings chose an old earthen pier habitat that provides large rocks for concealment from predators and protection from the elements as well as grasses that supply seed for foraging. They are well camouflaged amid the rocks and grasses.
Despite their name, Snow Buntings are more closely related to Longspurs than to familiar buntings.
Time will tell whether the four visitors will stay the winter or move to another shoreline or field.
The full Hunter’s Moon rose over a chilly, windy beach a couple weeks ago. Even though I didn’t see the Monarch migration I’d hoped to see, there is always something interesting along the Maryland seashore.
The full moon and wind made for extreme tides.