A short note — nighthawks and the first flowers on green dragon, hog-peanut running around the woods

When I arrive this morning, the wood peewees and indigo buntings are going strong. Mosquitoes are lethargic but persistent. About 5:10 a great crested flycatcher lights in a tree above me and starts screeching. 5:20, the light starts to creep down the trees on the west side of the field by P10. I walk the same path as always, the same way, clockwise round the field to P8. Hog-peanut (Amphicarpaea bracteata), not visible a week ago, is now bounding over the wild ginger, Impatiens, and Ranunculus hispidus at the southeast corner of the loop trail. One is creeping up a single stem of wild onion (Allium canadense), which is just on the verge of opening. It strikes me as particularly insidious. This is how one gets its start, then suddenly there is a carpet of the stuff bouncing around the understory. The leading stems are downy-pubescent, and I find on putting one under the scope that the hairs are of two lengths, long spreading hairs and shorter, slightly deflexed hairs. There is some variation, but it really seems to be hairs of just two main lengths. Why do such a thing? Ground hairs and guard hairs I thought were a mammalian trick… maybe they do something useful in the plant world as well.

Along the south leg of the trail there are a yellow-throated vireo and wood thrush singing. It seems we’re all the way into summer now. Saturday night, my older son and I made a late-night run to the grocery store for cat food, and the nighthawks were out. I learned nighthawks in 1994, the year I graduated, took ornithology, worked up at the Apostle Islands, came back to Madison and started working as a ranger. My wife Rachel and I have always considered nighthawks to be our bird: they marked the start of all our summers together in Madison, and when I hear that splattery sound for the first time each June I am back there watching the birds darting back and forth high overhead, slurping down insects, perched on top of old factory walls on East Washington, singing us to sleep. Nighthawks tell me summer has officially begun.

Galium circaezans is in bloom along with first flowers of common cinquefoil (Potentilla simplex), the sinuous spathes of green-dragon, flowers of Sanicula odorata. Maianthemum stellatum is going to fruit, and M. racemosum is in flower throughout the woods. I find a few fruits on dying Enemion and on Ranunculus quinquefolia. There is moonseed along the trail, climbing up the sunflowers. Two weeks ago I realized that I didn’t understand the distinction between Helianthus strumosus and H. divaricatus. After looking at the specimens and talking with Jerry Wilhelm about this, I see that we’d have to call much of what’s in the East Woods H. divaricatus. Today, walking through, I think I am seeing both, and a gradation between the two. This will take some looking to get clear in my head.

On the walk out, I pass through an area where the red oak catkins carpet the trail. I come again through the woods where the Virginia bluebells are so thick, and I realize what is so odd about this area. It is as open as the woods I kicked around in when we lived in Leeds in 2004, where there was no shrub layer that I can remember and the forest was more parklike. It’s a strange area, now filled with bright green touch-me-not. It is nice today, this openness.

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