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Wednesday, 03 May 2006 00:00

A brand new world

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Anyone who hasn’t been to the woods in the last month would swear they’re in a different world. In a sense, they are. At the end of March most anything above 2,500 feet still looked like winter. A hike today presents quite a different picture.

Some spring ephemerals like trout lily and bloodroot are already waning. But the forest floor is alive with wildflowers. Trilliums, bellwort, spring beauty, foamflower, geranium, violets and a host of other wildflowers are now in bloom.

A walk through the woods in March would have provided more or less unobstructed views through the understory. Today the green curtain is falling fast as shrubs and brambles begin to leaf-out. The canopy is also beginning to close in.

Summer tenants are beginning to reclaim their niches in the forest condos. At ground level, chipmunks and groundhogs are busily foraging for food and setting up housekeeping. Vernal pools are full of tadpoles and stream banks are once again wriggling with salamanders.

To a birders’ delight, neotropical migrants have left their southern wintering grounds and are falling out of the sky across their northern nesting range. I have been monitoring the return of neotropicals at Balsam Mountain Preserve, where I conduct an annual migration survey, since the first of April. A few birds had been trickling in but nothing major. All of that changed by last Sunday (April 23). Almost all the nesting neotropicals at BMP had returned by April 23. The two most notable exceptions were Canada warbler and veery and they have probably made it in since that date.

That Sunday (April 23) the contests for nesting territories and mate selection were at a fever pitch. Almost every stop there were at least two conspecific males vying for dominance. Consider that there could be eight or 10 species present and you get the idea of what kind of raucous morning it was — you might have two hooded warblers, two northern parulas, two American redstarts, two blackburnian warblers, two black-and-white warblers, two blue-headed vireos and two scarlet tanagers all within earshot at the same time. And while the forest is definitely leafing-out, good views are still to be had. At one stop I had two male hooded warblers and one male American redstart in the same brambles about 12 feet in front of me at eye level.

Butterflies are irrupting. Isabella, my 4-year-old daughter, and I took her butterfly net out into the backyard for a little while yesterday (April 25) afternoon. We scooped up and looked at seven specimens before sending them back on their way. The seven represented six species — eastern tiger swallowtail (we had the yellow and the black form), pipevine swallowtail, West Virginia white, silver-spotted skipper, spring azure (pretty sure) and one other skipper that I believe was a golden-banded skipper. Other species seen but not netted included cloudless sulphur and eastern comma.

The butterfly odyssey came to a screeching halt when Izzy discovered a small toad, which she scooped up and carried around until I convinced her to let it loose in the garden where we could visit it from time to time. After releasing the toad, she turned and squinted up at me through the sunlight.

“Daddy is it time yet for those ring snakes?” she asked.

She meant “ring-necked,” and they will appear soon.

(Don Hendershot can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. )

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