The chorus frogs may be done, but the spring peepers are still going

I reached the Arboretum a bit after 5:00 this morning. The day was cloudy and warm and a bit damp. Just inside the Finley gates I found that I had been wrong about the frogs earlier this week: it must have been a bit cold for them on Monday, because peepers are still going strong today. There was perhaps a chorus frog in there as well, but under the noise of the blackbirds and interstate I was unsure. It was dark under the trees, and something raced across the drive where it turns west. Stopping to look for it, I found instead a fallen red oak that I hadn’t noticed previously, leaves from, I assume, last year still hanging on. The oak had broken off at about 10 feet above the ground. Was this the tree I heard go down in the storm earlier this year? I doubt it, but it may have gone down at the same time. All around are seedlings of Ostrya and basswood. Who will take off in this gap? At the ephemeral pond in the north central portion of the woods, the peepers were going full tilt. At the field south of Big Rock, the American toads were trilling and birds were warming up: a song sparrow called, a field sparrow went halfway through his song and stopped, and I thought I heard the soft call of a towhee in the grasses.

I locked up at Parking Lot 15 and settled on a bench to watch the morning wake up. By 5:30, a towhee was singing in earnest, chickadees were singing full tilt, a white-throated sparrow was warming up, a mosquito landed on my knuckle. By 5:40, the mosquitoes were getting pesky and a couple of dragonflies patrolled through the ironwood overhead. At 5:45, a goldfinch flew overhead. Even with the clouds, it was light enough to do some real looking. A few minutes earlier I had heard what I thought was a tufted titmouse downslope and to the west, so I ate a little breakfast and left my backpack under the bench.

I walked past the brambles and geraniums at the edge of the trail and came to an opening filled with little seedlings, most obviously some Carex. I realize I am at times of overly attentive to sedges, but I think that in this case, anyone would consider the sedge seedlings to be abundant here. The sedges filled an oval about 1.5 m x 1 m, which bothered me. How was the seed spread? I pulled a couple up to make sure they were seedlings. No perigynia were attached at the bases, so I couldn’t say what the species was. I ruled out a few common woodland sedges: based on leaf width, coloration at the base, and texture, these couldn’t be Carex woodii, C. blanda, C. tribuloides (and C. projecta if you think that’s creeping around out here), C. hirtifolia, perhaps C. jamesii (not dark enough green, though I don’t know what the seedlings should look like), C. grisea, C. sprengelii (though that I’m not so sure about, because while it should have slightly broader leaves, they are not that broad, and the fibers at the base of the plant wouldn’t show up on seedlings I don’t believe). All that remained as likely contenders were C. rosea, C. radiata, and C. cephalophora. I am fine with this: I’ll come back and see later this season what this thing is. What bothered me and bothers me still is that I cannot see how the seeds came to be so evenly spread here. I’ve seen little clusters of sedges coming up together where a single plant has fallen and dropped all its seeds together. But this looked as though someone had taken a handful of seed and sowed it in one area, evenly. Ants? I would expect them to deposit seeds they cared about in a single cache. Erosion? Maybe, and there definitely seemed to be waterflow in this area, but would have been a very orderly sheet of water. Another thing to chew on.

There were several nice-sized patches of Carex woodii in the woods here. They were all spread out, long-creeping, shoots separated from each other by 3-5 inches of rhizome, fresh with beautiful red bases. One colony was near a rotten log with a huge ant mound at one end. I gave the mound a little push with my foot, and the ants scrambled, repairing and moving leaves around. I leaned down to watch them. Did you plant those sedge seeds? There were flowering plants of C. blanda with perigynia starting to swell and fruits on the spring beauty. I found a discrete patch of flowering garlic mustard about 8 feet in diameter. I took a few minutes to clear it out. There were plenty of first year plants left in there, though, that will be flowering next year. Maybe the fire will be timed right to take them out a year hence.

Along with a number of Jacks-in-the-pulpit (including one that was flowering but still attached to its seed, barely holding onto the ground, that I propped up with wood chips to try to get it through the summer) was a single stem of its cousin, green dragon (Arisaema dracontium), which I don’t run into often. The plant was almost knee-high, foliage at the top of the stalk forming a rubbery green tiara. I would not have expected to find it here, but it fitted nicely with the Carex woodii, both plants I learned in wet woods of Wisconsin that find more upland woods here in clayey DuPage County perfectly acceptable. The plant has been collected several times in the East Woods. Further on were beautiful big patches of Cystopteris and Botrychium virginianum, the latter starting to produce fertile fronds. I kept running into these two this morning. More plants I hadn’t realized were so abundant here.

By 6:40 it felt like midmorning. I had been walking within sight of a stand of planted arbor vitae, and I took a detour through it to get back to my bike. In contrast to the diversity I’d been walking through, here it was all arbor vitae above–the trees are I would guess about 20 feet tall–and two shrubs beneath: honeysuckle and something that I did not recognize, with alternate leaves and buds that almost completely encircle the emerging branches. I am certain I should know this shrub. The arbor vitae here are evenly planted in 16 straight rows of 21 to 23 trees each, bisected by a little-used trail. There is a bench underneath inscribed “TNT”, set in 2006. Who was TNT? Who sits here? There is a little fort of sticks under one of the trees, and a ring of rocks around another one. The diversity may be low, but I can see why someone would like to sit here.

Between the arbor vitae and the trail lies a highly degraded old field, reverting slowly to woods. There are daffodils growing in the ditch. This must have been a plowed up at one point or heavily grazed or someone’s yard. Abruptly, I was out of it again and back to the white oak woods I’d been enjoying the rest of the morning. From the trail, I looked behind me at the field and calibrated my eyes to what the field looks like from the wooded trail. I’ve passed the arbor vitae and this field dozens of times and never noticed them.

Back at my backpack, I wrote up these notes and found a tick crawling across the keyboard. It’s that time of the year. As I finished this up, the tufted titmouse that had stopped singing before I started looking for him, that I didn’t hear sing the entire time I was walking around, started up again.

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