The morning is cloudy, ca. 55 degrees at 5:00. When I arrive, red-winged blackbirds, song sparrows, robins, and a common yellowthroat are singing from the wetland next to Finley and I-88. I lock up at Parking Lot 10 and hear a towhee, a chipping sparrow, a house wren. For a moment I think I hear a chorus frog, but I suspect it’s in my imagination only. Have twice wrongly declared that the chorus frogs seem to be done for the year, I’m wary. Last night they were singing beautifully along Park Street at about 8 p.m., and last week they were raising a ruckus out by Ware Field. It may be that chorus frogs just switch to singing later in the day when mating season is past. I’ll make no more declarations today.
I recognize a depression by the trail’s edge first by the mat of yellowing false mermaid in a pool of swamp buttercup (Ranunculus hispidus). There is a patch of wild ginger, one of geranium, scattered Solomon’s plume (Maianthemum racemosum). A mosquito lands on my cheek. A field sparrow has just started singing. It’s 5:20.
South of the trail a little further on is a sea of trout lily. The carrion-flower is in bloom. I just started noticing Joe-pye weed this week, about thigh-high. Further in, a light-green patch of lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) is full size, and nearby is a clone of Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica), a nearly perfect circle about 1.5 m in diameter, nearly the same color as the lady fern (remember that I am color-blind, so take this for what it is worth), exceptionally wispy in texture. There are a couple of little advance units moving out from the edge into the woods. Why has this conspicuous colony formed here and not elsewhere? There seems to be no difference in topography, no difference in shade or anything else. I presume the sedge just got here first.
It’s almost 5:30. Chickadees are singing from a few directions, and I hear a tree swallow in the field between the trail and the Arboretum drive. Five minutes later, a phoebe starts calling. Jack-in-the-pulpit fruits are beginning to develop. There is a stand of woodland sunflower about knee-high. Just past them there is a lower wet area. A few trout-lilies are still in bloom here, while most of the rest have gone to fruit; I noticed a few in flower in the lawn out by the daffodils on the west side last night, as well. A patch of Carex hirtifolia is well behind the rest of its colleagues, prominently staminate. An ovenbird calls from a honeysuckle thicket about 30 feet away. It’s my first of the year. I listen for a bit to make sure it’s not just wishful thinking, and there he is again. I walk to Parking Lot 10 past a flowering Carex grisea, debate taking the trail toward the spruces to see if the thrush is singing again this morning, but decide in the end to walk through the oak collection.
It’s nearly 6:00 and the woods are bright, every bird waking up. A blue-gray gnatcatcher is picking at the catkins in one of the giant, spontaneous white oaks at the entrance to the oak collection. I think I hear a yellow warbler twice, then I don’t hear him again and I don’t see him either. I don’t think it could have been anything else, but I’m not certain. The oaks are mostly leafing out. Numbering among the few exceptions are a few little southern trees whose marcescence was so conspicuous this past winter. They are a couple of blackjack oaks and a couple of post oaks, and their leaves are still hardly bigger than the first segment of my thumb. These are southern oaks: why aren’t they leafing out early? I’m going to have to ask Christy Rollinson and Bob Fahey about this.
In the marsh, the Carex lacustris perigynia are well along. There are more fruits than I expect: in a ca. 2m x 2m patch right by the boardwalk, I count 23 fruiting culms. I am counting quickly and just leaning over the railing, so likely my count is off by a few, but typically I don’t find more than a few fruiting individuals in an entire colony of this species. On the north side of the boardwalk, Carex stipata and Cardamine bulbosa are flowering. A common yellowthroat calls from the edge of the wetland, and the red-winged blackbirds are chasing around the treetops. At west end of the boardwalk, Osmorhiza claytonii is in flower, the first I’ve seen. The plants in the woods haven’t flowered yet that I’ve noticed today.
It’s 6:30, and I’m now almost as far from my bike as I could be. I truck down the trail only to be stopped in my tracks by an exceptional stand of Camassia scilloides. The first plants are in flower, and Cindy Crosby reports the first flowers this week. There are more to come. Further on in the marsh, Ranunculus flabellaris is flowering, and foliage of Cicuta and Plantago is several inches out of the water. On the north trail leading back toward Big Rock Visitor station, Viburnum prunifolium is blooming. Black-throated green warblers and wrens are singing here and there. By the time I cross the bridge, it’s 7:15. On the ride into work, there are geraniums in abundance along the roadside, Prunus americana in bloom, and some little warbler with white tail patches that dives into the shrubs and refuses to come out again. Birds.