When the cat came in this morning, his back was wet and he seemed cold, and I promptly put on long underwear. This turned out to be unnecessary: the robins were singing en masse when I left the house at 5:20, and there were cardinals calling before I even reached the Arboretum. Song sparrows and red wing blackbirds were singing from the wetland just inside the Finley Road gate. The chorus frogs were singing excruciatingly slowly. I locked up at Parking Lot 10 and ate my breakfast at the bench just uptrail. The woods were burned yesterday between P8 and P10, and I had hoped to find glowing embers this morning, but all was dark and quiet as I ate breakfast and on my walk west to the oak and maple collections.
Wood ducks squeaked from the pond at the entrance to the woods on the west boarder of the maple collection. A towhee called. Spring peepers called from Bur Reed Marsh. Yesterday on my walk in, a few bluebirds were feeding from low tree branches in the woods on the west edge of the marsh. They would perch a few moments on a branch or the thick ridges of a bur oak about 3-4 feet above the ground, drop to the leaves to pick up an insect, then return to another perch. Are they really able to see anything in the leaf litter from that height? Phoebes were moving around low in the brush. Galium aparine is just starting to scramble over the top of the leaf litter, the best-developed annual I see in the woods right now. Carol Baskin1 reports that there are 96 (!) winter annuals in Fernald’s brilliant 8th Edition of Gray’s Manual of Botany, but I know of only two in our woods: G. aparine, or cleavers, and false mermaid (Floerkea proserpinaca). Perhaps there are others. The cotyledons are paired on long petioles, with blades about 1 cm in diameter. Taylor (2001)2 writes that every population of the species has individuals that germinate in autumn as well as individuals that germinate in spring, but I don’t know if this is true in our area (Taylor was writing in England). These plants are very well developed for annuals and have dark green foliage that looks to me as though it got an early start this spring. My suspicion is that the cleavers grows earlier on than false mermaid does, and that we are seeing first growth following winter.
West of Bur Reed Marsh, I tramped over the hilltop to the main road and caught the main trail east again. It was getting light out, gradually, still cloudy. This is the kind of morning you climb uphill into, not an erupting-into-birdsong kind of morning. Chickadees were calling by now, and as I neared Big Rock Visitor Station, a great owl called from up near the Heritage Trail. A ruby-crowned kinglet called from the opposite side of the trail. I walked past Virginia bluebells just coming up (perhaps a week behind the bluebells in Maple Grove Forest Preserve) to get my bike. On the ride into the office, I passed three wood ducks taking off, and floral buds swollen just to opening on an American elm in the living collections (1053-28*2). Two male robins were fighting in the parking lot.
1 Baskin CC, Hawkins TS, Baskin JM. 2004. Ecological Life Cycle of Chaerophyllum procumbens variety shortii (Apiaceae), a Winter Annual of the North American Eastern Deciduous Forest. The Journal of the Torrey Botanical Society 131: 126–139. [PDF]
2 Taylor K. 2001. Galium aparine L. Journal of Ecology 87: 713–730.