After weeks of cold weather, this past week has seen temperatures of 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit above average almost every day. Tuesday, there were palm warblers and field sparrows, small-flowered buttercup (Ranunculus abortivus) in bloom, and warbler reports a-plenty (if you want a good list from the East Woods, take a look at Jay Sturner’s eBird report from his Saturday tour). Friday I heard American toads calling. Sugar maples have gone from buds about to emerge to leaves fully out, drooping curtainlike, and leaves on their seedlings are overtopping and nearly as long as the cotyledons. Catkins are out on the ironwood (Ostrya virginiana), musclewood (Carpinus caroliniana), birches and many of the oaks. Leaves on the red oak (Quercus rubra) seedlings are about an inch long. Bloody butcher (Trillium recurvatum) is in prominent bloom everywhere, and false mermaid (Floerkea proserpinaca) is calf-high and has gone to fruit. There’s almost too much to keep track of.
In Maple Grove Forest Preserve Sunday morning, tiny Poa annua was blooming along St. Joseph Creek, and reddish poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) leaves were nearly an inch long. Wood nettles (Laportea canadensis) are ankle-high. A wood thrush was singing from the woods beside the road that follows the railroad tracks. Several woodland sedges were in full bloom: Carex blanda and its cousin white-bear sedge (C. albursina), C. radiata, the soft leaves of C. hirtifolia and the dense, grasslike clumps of C. jamesii. Carex woodii is already producing fruits. Almost all of the trout-lily (Erythronium albidum) have gone to fruit and their fruits are swelling up, stigmas attached like tiny adder’s tongues (which is, as you may know, one of its common names). Fruits are turgid on the bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) and almost concealed by the leaves, which give the impression that they are still growing. Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria), large-flower bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora), and false rue-anemone (Enemion biternatum) were still in full flower (they had been the previous weekend), while spring beauty (Claytonia virginica) flowers had mostly given up, capsules ripening in the bases of the persistent sepals, and a few toothwort (Cardamine concatenata) were producing the slender siliques that remind us they are mustards. Downy yellow violet (Viola pubescens) and blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) had come into full bloom. Large-flowered trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) were beginning to bloom. The first flowers of wild ginger (Asarum canadense) were resting beneath the foliage on the forest floor, and a few cleavers (Galium aparine) were in flower. I found one Geranium maculatum flower. The first floral buds were evident on the may-apples (Podophyllum peltatum), which in our yard seemed to gain an inch or two over the course of the weekend. Floral buds were evident on great waterleaf (Hydrophyllum appendiculatum) and Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum). Carrion-flower (Smilax) had come up from nowhere to be suddenly calf-high, but I can’t tell you for sure which species. Inflorescences were developing on the choke-cherries (Prunus virginiana). Near the end of my walk, the cloudy morning opened up and the woods were sunny for a minute. A great-crested flycatcher called from above and white-throated sparrows started singing from the woods behind the neighbors’ homes.
This morning at the Arboretum was perfectly clear. I started walking from the edge of Meadow Lake about 15 minutes before sunrise. In order, I noted chipping sparrows, a muskrat, red-wing blackbirds, a pileated woodpecker (right overhead!), great-crested flycatchers, blue-grey gnatcatchers (everywhere, hopping like mad, insatiable), towhees, red-bellied woodpeckers, the casual, almost lackluster call of the blue-winged warbler, white-throated sparrows, eastern phoebe. The red oak leaves are short but pendulous. Along the main trail, Loop 2, Dutchman’s-breeches has all gone to fruit. Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) has appeared from out of nowhere and is already in flower, stigmas apparently receptive while the anthers are on the verge of opening. Woodland sunflower (Helianthus strumosus, I believe, though see notes here and here) is above the tops of my boots, and carrion-flower is up here as is in Maple Grove, only with floral buds about to open. Fronds of a fern I take to be Cystopteris are almost fully open at the base of a sugar maple, as is the fern-like foliage of Osmorhiza claytonii. Virginia creeper leaves are up. Early meadow-rue (Thalictrum dioicum) is in full but very subtle flower, and rue anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides) is forming beds of beautiful, full-faced blooms. Nightcaps (Anemone quinquefolia) is in flower throughout the woods. Wild onion or meadow garlic (call it what you will: either way, it’s Allium canadense) is in floral bud, as is starry Solomon’s plume (Maianthemum stellatum). Missouri gooseberry (Ribes missouriense) is in full flower.
I reached the pond by Parking Lot 14 and followed the road that plunges north through Heritage Trail. As I stood beside the pond, the sun illuminated the brush on the west side of the pond, and it was a sudden riot of song sparrows, field sparrows, and goldfinches. An oriole was tearing at the catkins in the top of a red oak and piping at full volume, not obviously claiming territory or looking for a mate, but just eating and singing for all his might. Tree swallows were darting around the field. A yellow-rumped warbler, a yellow warbler, and a common yellowthroat (no joke!) darted around the brush collecting insects. Beside them, at the top of a white oak, a blue-grey gnatcatcher collected insects beside some other warbler with a yellow belly and breast and a bluish back… I’m a novice, and I’ll look this up later (any ideas?). Behind me, a towhee started calling, just eight feet away. I pivoted to watch him, then there was an indigo bunting in the ironwood above me on the other side of the road. It was a kind of pandemonium.
And then it was over. I walked north toward the intersection of the road and the Heritage trail. Two mallards settled into the pond in the field, and a red-tailed hawk called. Phlox divaricata was in bloom. Shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) is already going to fruit. Atop the moraine, Geranium maculatum is in bloom. A black-throated green warbler started calling from the south, but otherwise it was quiet. Jacob’s ladder (Polemonium reptans) is ready to bloom, a couple of floral buds tipped with blue. Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica) is in full bloom, and woodland bedstraw (Galium circaezans) is about five inches tall. I walked past the visitor station to the intersection of Loop 3 and Loop 4, just north of the spruce plot. A grove of Trillium grandiflorum is in full bloom there. In the spruce plot, wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) is putting up inflorescences, and wood fern (Dryopteris carthusiana) fronds are uncoiling. On the walk back to the work, I find that the purple has gone out of the patch of Galium aparine I had my eyes on a week ago, and the shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) buds have opened.
I realize this is a woodland blog, not a prairie blog, but I did end the morning with a drive out to our experimental prairie on the west side, to find a few things in bloom: Jacob’s ladder here is in full bloom, at least a few days ahead of the woods. Vernal sweetgrass (Hierochloe odorata), Viola pedatifida, Zizia aurea, and shooting star (Dodecatheon meadia) are in bloom. Pretty nice: out of 127 species planted, we have 5 in bloom now in this experiment. Just a reminder that while the prairies are great–I do love them–the woodlands win it hands down when it comes to spring blooms and birds.