Monday, April 21, 2014

Spring Has Sprung

Illinois is the Prairie State, but if you're lucky enough to have access to a wooded area, this is the perfect week to explore it.  Spring ephemerals are in their prime, and, as their name implies, their beauty is short-lived....

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Hepatica is in full bloom right now.  I love this wildflower especially, not just because it's an early treat, but because they come in so many colors -- white and pink and purple and blue -- sometimes all right next to each other.  Bloodroot is also in full bloom in the woodlands, its large white flowers standing out against the brown of last year's leaves and green of emerging leaves.   It's leaves -- themselves an interesting shape -- are still curled around the stems; the stems show the red liquid inside that gives the plants their name. 

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Just starting to bloom are trout lilies -- their splotchy, trout-skin leaves are all over -- spring beauties, and anenomes.  

May apples and trilliums have not yet flowered, but their unique foliage is popping up.  

If you only have access to prairies, there are some early flowers there, too.  Pasqueflower is in full bloom right now, with its purple flowers and fuzzy stems.  This is always one to which I look forward; Leopold's quotations makes it seem significant to me.  I know I quote him each year at this time, but I'll still remind you of this passage from ASCA: "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."

Prairie Smoke is also starting to bloom!

Also... the first tick of the season was seen a week and a half ago, but they're out in full force now.  I pulled several off kids today.

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Spring Beauty
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trout lily
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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Crazy Weather = New Normal...

The snow that fell on Monday (4/14) still lingers in shady places this morning, reminding us that we are still firmly in winter's grasp.  On the weekend, we saw through her fingers, tasted what it will be like when we are relinquished from the cold's hold... it was over 70 for 2 consecutive days -- for the first time all season... (I think it was the first time over 60!)... but then on Sunday, it dropped from the upper 60's in the morning to the lower 40's be late afternoon, and we were back to winter.

Of course, we often have an April snowshower.  The difference is, it's usually falling on daffodils, and comes after periods of spring-like weather, so that it seems like an anomaly, not more of the same.  This year, it's the spring that seems to be the oddity...

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Cherry blooms
I actually missed most of the warm weather here in Illinois.  I experienced it on Washington, DC (where it didn't end on Sunday).  I went for the National Service Learning Conference, but incidentally, I also got to experience one of the nation's most famous phenological phenomena -- the peak bloom of the cherry blossoms.  
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Jefferson Monument through cherry blossoms

Monday, April 7, 2014

More Data...

Alder Catkins
Alder catkins have swollen and are giving off lots of pollen -- I touched them and my fingers came away with a fine green-yellow powder all over them.  

Silver maples are in full flower right now.  

Goldfinches have turned gold again.  (These birds don't leave -- but since they turn brown, no one notices them in the winter...)
Silver maple flowers

Saturday, April 5, 2014

A Happy, Mournful Sight

This morning, though it was just above 40 degrees, I saw my first butterfly of the year, a mourning cloak.

I also saw a pair of Sandhill Cranes, here as though possibly they'll stay, not just stop over on the way north.

Chorus frogs are chorusing...

There are also many interesting looking ducks migrating through... but I tend to see them while I'm running, which means it's hard to ID them -- not only do I have no binoculars, but I'm not willing to stop and study.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Ice Off and More

The ice is off Lake Leopold this morning.  (Ice off date probably 4/2/14, not 4/3...)
Looking at the dates for the past 8 years, we're just about where we were at last year... but last year was late. Interesting... 
2006 -- Mar 10
2007 -- Mar 18
2008 -- Mar 31
2009 -- Mar 9
2010 -- Mar 18
2011 -- Mar 18
2012 -- Feb 22!
2013 -- April 4!

Also, the vernal witchhazel is finally starting to flower!  (I noticed it yesterday, 4/2.  It's behind schedule -- this typically happens in mid-March and in 2012 it happened in late February.)  The flowers are diminutive, but lovely and fragrant if you get up close...  The flowers are yellow-orange and have 4 petals that I think look like streamers/party decorations (for a very tiny party)... Happy Spring!

(Another notable... crocuses in our yard flowering this week -- we noticed on 3/31!  Snowdrops have been flowering for a while -- probably since the snow that was covering them melted!)

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Welcome, Sun!

The snow flurries are flying and there are ice-fishermen on the lake... but today at 11:57 am local time, the sun will be directly over the equator, and then... we welcome the sun back to the northern hemisphere!  Or more accurately, we celebrate the fact that our northern hemisphere is, once again, tilted toward the sun (because if course, the sun didn't change anything...)

Equinoxes and solstices have been celebrated in cultures throughout the world since ancient times; we join in a long human tradition as we recognize this day!

Other things to note (besides the snow flurries)... I wish I had more to report on this first official day of spring! 
Silver maple flower buds are very swollen. 
RWBBs are all over!
In my yard, bulb plants (daffodils, crocuses) have emerged from the soil... 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Almost Spring?

I wrote this March 18, but never published it:

Ah, it has been a long time since I've written on here... But the winter of 2013-14 has been phenologically significant (to the point where phenological occurrences are a topic of everyday conversation among everyone, not just the nature nerds out there).

It has been, and still is, a particularly brutal winter.  The month of January brought more snow than our annual average.  We cancelled school four times -- not due to snow, but due to the extreme cold temperatures brought on by the "Polar Vortex."  I don't have data for this, but it seems like we have had more extremely windy days than usual.

And it's been long.  Apparently the average temperatures for early March in this area are in the low 50's.  We have hit the low 50's once or twice, and had a handful of days in the forties.  But those are still rare treats, between days like yesterday, which stayed in the 20's, and today, which might hit freezing.  Might. So those of you mathematically inclined readers out there will see that we're not average.  We haven't gone above the low 50's at all -- which we'd certainly need to do to average out there...

It's hard to believe that the equinox is this week.  And spring break is next week.

We are still waiting for the first crocus to penetrate the frozen (and partly snow-covered) ground.
We are still waiting for the vernal witch hazel to flower.
We are still waiting for catkins to swell, and water to open, and sun to feel warm on our faces.
Please come, spring!

Monday, March 17, 2014

There Are Signs!

A few updates:
1.  Sandhill Cranes are flying north... This afternoon I heard their unmistakable, primitive call, and felt a shadow as they flew between me and the sun.  I looked up to see a "v" of about 40 of them.
2.  I heard a red-wing black-bird, but I couldn't for the life of me find it.  (By the next day -- Mar 18 -- they were all over!)
3.  Plants are starting to do things, too... slowly, to be sure, but there are some aspen catkins emerging.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

That's right...

Amid a snowy and icy world... this: