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Blog Nature

Spring along

Mid-April and the local birds have already started nesting, odes are flying, caterpillars munching, flowers blooming, and fruits fattening.

Red buckeye is in full bloom along the path from the Dino Trail to Bird Viewing.

Red buckeye in full blossom.

Common whitetail numbers are increasing daily. They’re a common and widespread dragonfly found near just about any body of water. Their ubiquity, though, doesn’t make them any less fun to watch.

Female (left) and male common whitetail.

Gray catbirds arrived last week and they’ve already begun to nest. Hear their melodiously squeaky song throughout the outdoor loop, especially near the Main Wetlands Overlook in Explore the Wild.

Gray catbird sings.

Ranger Molly wins this year’s GRHE Award (GRHE is the official 4 letter alpha code for green heron) for spotting the first of the season green heron in the wetlands. It was in high breeding plumage.

The first of the season green heron in high breeding plumage (note red feet and legs).

Later that same day I saw another green heron, just missed the prized GRHE Award.

Second green heron of the season (note pale legs).

Mahonia, a non-native plant in the barberry family, grows on the sides of the path on the Dinosaur Trail. It produces blue/purple fruit which have a bitter taste but can be made into jam. We don’t harvest the fruit but the local birds devour it wildly, especially catbirds. This has been an exceptional year for mahonia and its fruit. The birds will probably do well this year too.

A very fruitful year for mahonia.
Big, juicy mahonia berries ready for the birds.

Brown-headed cowbirds were active this past week. These birds evolved on the American prairie following the herds of buffalo as they moved across the open countryside eating grains and seeds as they went. They also consume beetles and grasshoppers stirred up by the moving buffalo, or the cattle and horses with whom they now share the landscape.

How does a bird species nest when they’re constantly moving from place to place? They lay their eggs in the nests of other bird species leaving the job of raising their young to the host birds. There are over 140 species of bird documented as to have been the victim of cowbird nest predation.

Male brown-headed cowbird.

Mulberries are near full leaf-out and were flowering during the past week. Their fruit’ll be ready to eat soon enough

Female mulberry flowers.

There are two northern cardinal nests on the Dinosaur Trail. Both have eggs, though I can’t see into one of the nests well enough to tell just how many eggs. It appears to be 3 in one nest and 4 in the other.

Cardinal nest showing 4 eggs.
Female dutifully sitting on eggs.

Two hours later and one of the eggs has hatched.

Hatched as I write.

Tent Caterpillars are at it again, tenting and munching in our cherry trees. Look for them crawling over the paths in the next few days or so as they climb down out of the trees and seek safe places to pupate.

Tent caterpillar “tent” in center of photo.

These caterpillars build a tent in the crouch of a tree and only venture out to consume the leaves of the tree, and of course, when they finally leave the tree in order to pupate.

Close look at tent above.
A new tent with recently hatched caterpillars.

The wetlands is a great place to stroll and have a look around. I do it every day, many times a day. It’s often a new experience each trip through the area. If you happen to see me out there and have a question or would like to point something out to me, please stop me and do so.

The wetlands, a great place to stroll and gaze.