Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Yellow Day (Plus)

Celandine poppies first opened yesterday, and are all open today!
The marsh marigolds opened fully sometime this week...
Yellow maple flowers and yellow willow flowers give many trees a spring-green appearance.
Wild ginger's hidden burgundy flowers bloom among the leaf litter.
If this is any indication, my evil plot to have jewelweeds take over my side yard is working!

The most phenologically significant bird sighting I've had is baby goslings. I saw the brown and yellow fluff balls from the driver's seat of the car, however, so I didn't get a photo. But the egret was so close yesterday, I took its picture; and the tree swallow so shimmery in the sun...

Friday, April 29, 2011

Wind in the Willows

First order of business. Thank you to the higher powers. Today was a lovely day, cool but sunny.

This sketch shows willow sticks at various stages of their bloom, both of which are present now. The sketch was too tall for the scanner!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Are You There, God? It's Me, Naomi...

(Any of you people remember that book? I must've read it 10 times. Loved it. Not relevant.)

This is my plea to whatever higher powers are governing my universe: Can we please please have some sunny-and-60 spring days soon? I believe it would be good for humanity in general. I mean, if you're testing our patience, we lose. I think it's pretty clear looking at our instant gratification culture of fast food and fast internet and fast everything that we're not patient. If you're testing our endurance, I'll concede there, too. Heated houses, cars, trains, and buses to carry us around... we're wimpy. I admit it. Now, can we get on with the nice part of spring already? Before people start getting hurt? (I mean, more than they already have in the floods and tornadoes that, thankfully, have not affected this area too terribly.) All this chilly rain, they say it's the result of...

La Nina. The little girl. It sounds so benign, friendly, even. But let me tell you, I am really getting tired of the pesky little brat. La Nina occurs when Pacific Ocean water temperatures are lower than normal in the region surrounding the equator. Though thousands of miles from here, the water temperature there affects the jet stream, which carries our weather, and, in the end... though not as severely as if we lived further west, La Nina is making our spring cooler than average. Also rainier. And honestly? I'm ready for some warm dry days!

On to the less complainy portion of the post. This morning I had the pleasure of watching a coyote trot along the trail next to me for a while, seemingly oblivious to human presence. And I sighted another low flying, single sandhill crane. They must be nesting somewhere nearby. All over I see that faint green haze that appears to hover around newly leafed-out trees in the distance. I haven't really been reporting on leaf0outs this spring, but they are happening... tiny, translucent leaves are emerging on several types of tree and shrub... lilacs and crabapples, birches and willows and aspens. Buckthorns and box elders and honeysuckles. It's slow and it's late, but spring marches on.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Cedar Waxwings

Suddenly, they descend upon us in large flocks that adorn the trees for a short while, and then take leave.

Monday, April 25, 2011


Starting today, I noticed yards dotted with yellow...

Sunday, April 24, 2011

In My Yard...

Bloodroot is blooming. I am pleased -- there are 7 flowers in 3 bunches, all doing very well despite the aggressive campaign being waged against them by creeping charlie.
Now, normally I wouldn't put a photo of what I just sketched. Besides being redundant, it only serves to highlight the inaccuracies in my drawing. Especially this sketch... I had to sit farther away than I prefer from the plant -- I like to be able to touch it, move my head around to different angles, etc. But I didn't want to crush a bunch of other stuff, like baby mayapples or uvularia or wild ginger or trout lilies, or even the Dutchman's breeches foliage that I found in 3 places in the yard but none with any hope of flowering this year. Anyway, to get to the point... a bee landed on the flower while I was sketching, and I got a picture of it, so I included it. Also the same bee landed on a clump of hepatica.

Also blooming in my yard...

spring beauties and Greek anenomes. A lot of fiddleheads are poking up, too... I tried to sketch the spring beauties, but only proved what I've known for a while and re-discovered yesterday. I can only do one sketch a day. Or at least without a significant break. I don't know what gets tires, my brain or my hands, or what, but the second one is always terrible. And usually incomplete. So, it's not here.

NOT yet blooming in my yard are marsh marigold or bluebells.

Saturday, April 23, 2011


Ephemeral. Fleeting. Our spring weather has been ephemeral this. Thursday, after snow and rain, we had a lovely spring day... to be followed by a cold and wet Friday. Today was, again, lovely, but by Monday we're supposed to be back to three days of chilly rain.

Today we walked at the gardens. The spring ephemerals were in full bloom. (Being 20 miles south, they are a couple of days ahead of us. Being professional horticulturists, they are probably another couple of days ahead of us.) As proof of point, I can't even get Dutchman's breeches (sketched above) to grow at my house. There it grows in huge clumps of feathery leaves.
Their bloodroot was actually on it's way out...
Trout lily.
Spring beauty.
Bluebells, just starting to bloom.
Marsh marigold.
This magnolia is from the exact tree I sketched last year on April 1 last year. It is, perhaps, a little further along in its lifecycle. But not much.
Prairie smoke. (OK, those last aren't ephemerals, but whatever.)

Friday, April 22, 2011

April 22

Happy Earth Day!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

In Memoriam

This morning, not far from where the mourning doves were sitting on the nest that I photographed on the March 24 entry, I found a dead baby mourning dove. It had probably frozen to death, whether before or after leaving the nest, I don't know. We gave it a proper burial; its nutrients will return to the earth and make a strong prairie this summer.

It serves as a reminder that while we complain about the unseasonable cold, whine about the constant chilled rain and about having to change all our plans, moan about what a bummer of an Earth Week this is... we can come in from the cold, and change all our plans. For most out there, this is a matter of life or death. It's more than an annoyance. It is certainly not unheard of or even rare for us to have a cold day in April, or a snowshower. But I believe this extended cold and wetness this late in the year is unusual, and it is hard for the critters out there.

(I heard this morning that we have had 3 times our normal April rainfall already this year, and we still have more than a week of April left. With a lot of rain predicted in that time. All I can say is, we better have some really pretty May flowers.)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Earth Week Begins in Cold

"Behold! It is the spring-tide of the year.
Over and past is winter's gloomy reign."
These words are sung as part of our Seder, but this year, they seem, somehow... inaccurate. We awoke this morning to 2-3 inches of wet snow which even now isn't completely melted. It isn't uncommon for a spring snow to cover our daffodils... just the last one I recorded happened on April 5 -- a lot earlier in the season. I just hope this is the last!

But things are still moving forward... the yellow blur in the middle of this photo is a goldfinch. Key word: Yellow! That's summer plumage.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

DON'T Let it Snow...

We capped off a few days of chill, including a long, steady, cold rain, with some SNOW! Lucky us. It didn't stick or anything.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Pasque Part 2

Today I sketched my pasqueflower. First I drew the flower from a regular view (on the right) and I was pretty pleased with the flower part. The stem and leaves, however, were so hairy that they a) required too much patience, and b) were too difficult to really capture. There's so much fuzz you can hardly tell what shape the leaves actually are! If it were a common plant, or a weed, I'd stick my finger in there and move them around and get a better view, but I didn't want to hurt my plant. For the second (left) sketch, I bent over more to view it right from the side, sort of like how it was photographed yesterday. The sun was shining through the petals, so the places where they overlapped appeared really dark, while the places where they didn't appeared bright white. Same problem with the leaves.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


"There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot.

"Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the question of whether a still higher 'standard of living' is worth its cost in things natural, wild and free. For us of the minority, the opportunity to see geese is more important than television, and the chance to find a pasque-flower is a right as inalienable as free speech..."

Pasqueflowers always make me think of Aldo Leopold. They secured an honored place in the second paragraph of the forward to ASCA... probably the most important and influential phenological document ever, not to mention one of the 2 most "impactful" environmental works ever written (and written over 60 years ago, so it's amazing how current its themes still seem. The other impactful book, by the way, is Silent Spring, this according to the American Nature Study Society). And so to me they have special significance. With their early bloom, they remind me that spring really will win over winter. Their rarity drives home the message of Leopold's book. Their diminutive size, almost hidden among last year's litter, tells us that beauty and wonder can come in small packages.
So, yea!! My pasqueflowers are blooming. I have no idea why they are so terribly pale, but I am thrilled that they came back. I've had a terrible time with them, never getting one to come back more than once. That includes this one, as we just put it in last year. Perhaps they only live for two years, though that doesn't seem right... And they're so hard to find, this is my last effort!

Other good news: my ephemerals did, indeed, come back. At least most of them. Shown below are bloodroot, mayapple, and a trillium, all behind last year's pace but there nonetheless. Shooting stars are also well along, and wild geraniums, and spring beauties, and wild ginger, and marsh marigold (one) and bluebells. The only things that didn't return to my yard are my red baneberry and my Dutchman's breeches.
These hepatica are in my mom's yard. They are a lot happier than mine. (Actually, my one that bloomed the other day isn't looking good at all. I suspect that was it's final attempt at productivity before expiring. I have two others that look like they'll be more like this, but they haven't bloomed yet at all.) My mom also has a Dutchman's breeches about 1.5 inches tall.

Oh, and we are having a major creeping charlie problem, which we may have to fight using drastic measures or we risk losing most of the aforementioned wildflowers.

Monday, April 11, 2011

April Flowers

I put 3 daffodils in a dragonfly frog-vase. I endeavored to sketch them. I thought it would be simple. Such a familiar trumpet shape... not so. They were quite difficult. I'm not entirely satisfied with the results, but I suppose you can judge for yourself.

I thought this photograph made a simple pussy willow catkin, newly green with pollen, look rather grand. Imposing, even.

Forsythia (below left) provide quite a pop of color... though they're not my favorite flower or shrub, they are definitely noticeable. Not like the diminutive flowers of the elms (below right), whose purple anthers are so dark as to seem brown and whose small stature renders them unnoticeable.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Everybody's Out...

...enjoying the beautiful weather. Yes, we finally got one of those days -- one of those weekends, better yet -- when you can sit outside, unmoving, and feel warm. When the temperature feels like summer although the colors are still early spring. A day that smells like sunscreen. One of those days when the slog through winter seems worthwhile, because we got to this, and it's marvelous because we waited so long for it.

And everyone is out enjoying it. We saw about 20 turtles, sitting on a log and soaking in the day. As we approached, they one by one plopped into the water, and then re-emerged, the sunbathing too enticing and the people too distracted by the little skull they found:
(About 3 inches long, non-rodent, not a lot of teeth... present or originally, for that matter).

Dragonflies were out, too... happy day!!! I first saw him as a flash, just that, that disappeared into the trees, but I knew that nothing else shimmers the same way in the sunshine. When we stood still and watched the pond, we were able to see several darting past, soaring and diving. They were male green darners and none alighted long enough for a photo op, but that's OK. We've got months of odonata watching ahead of us.

Snakes were out, although the only one I saw disappeared quickly into the grass. Frogs were out, also, calling loudly but there was also a froggy plop, animal unseen, as we approached the water.

The bugs were out, flies and gnats swarming... yesterday I saw my first wasp, and today I saw several more. First mosquito, too, although it is no more.
This tick (left) hitched a ride on my pants but didn't make it to my skin, thankfully. I also took a picture of this velvet mite, a much friendlier little arachnid, because the red dot caught my eye.

Spring ephemerals certainly aren't out in strength yet, but...

this hepatica decided to grace us with a bloom today, and violets are in full force. Others are just leaves yet, spring beauties looking like grass and trout lilies barely distinguishable from soil. But soon, soon... we're behind this year. Hepatica flowered on April 2 last year, and I still haven't seen even the leaves of mayapple or bloodroot poking through the soil (which were also noted on April 2 last year). I hope this isn't because mine are dead! But I feel like every year, I think they've died and every year they do eventually show up. Fingers crossed...

In the garden, carrots are planted now, and almost our entire front yard is covered in cardboard meant to smother the turf grass. We're putting in another native garden. Best, I still had time to sit outside and read lazily before the clouds rolled in and the winds became annoyingly strong a few minutes ago. I think I just heard thunder. Perhaps time to go close all the windows and doors? (I guess that's the beginning of the cold front, as today's 85 degree high is supposed to be followed by the 50's tomorrow.)

Friday, April 8, 2011

"It's Like We're In the Arctic. Naked!"

This is how a kindergarten student described the weather this morning. Admittedly, this is a major case of hyperbole... or perhaps just a lack of understanding of how cold the arctic really is... but it was a rather chilly morning. Plus, it was raining. Which means that all the kids are wearing their rain coats and rain boots to stay dry, neither of which have any insulation at all.

It was also the first worms-come-onto-the-sidewalk-because-the-soil-is-saturated day of 2011.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Baby Pictures and Other Updates

Spring marches on, and here are some of the floats at the parade today...
Some buds are starting to do more than just swell, they're turning green and scales are splitting. Above, serviceberry (left) and lilac.
Some plants are popping up green shoots, like the rattlesnake master babies shown on the left. And early flower-ers are getting ready. Shown here, prairie smoke buds (photo taken on 4/3) show their pink color. Pasqueflower buds are brown and fuzzy and I'm keeping an eye upon them.
It is a good time for hazels of all sorts. Here is an American hazel twig with its catkins (male flowers) swollen and enlarged, almost blooming. Two tiny female flowers are also visible in the background. Meanwhile, witch hazel is in full bloom, and the bushes are surrounded by a cloud of perfume... a sticky sweet scent that almost makes me dizzy. Sigh... the internet is good, but there are some things you still have to experience in person...

I found this egg shell today which we believe to be a mourning dove egg based on size, color, and timing. It wasn't especially near a nest of any sort (that I could find).
And finally... our first daffodils! These are extremely precocious, as it were... most are about 6 inches tall with no hint of flowers opening yet. Some are significantly shorter depending on sun/soil conditions. These blooming ones are right next to a building, which perhaps provides them with heat? (My uncle, 30 miles south, within an urban heat bubble, and steps from the shore of Lake Michigan, reported seeing daffodils over the weekend. My dad, in England... so thousands of miles to the east, quite a bit north, and under the influence of some ocean currents that obviously don't bless us here... sent pictures of daffodils over a month ago!)