April 27, 2014

Signs of spring a breath of fresh air

Spring is coming slowly, but I’ve checked off lots of the signs I look forward to.

The big birds are back — a heron in the minnow pond last week, and six turkey vultures overhead in the woods Saturday.

The wildflowers are slowly braving the cool temperatures — Trillium and Dutchman’s breeches are out of the ground and showing flower buds. Ramps are up but not big enough for digging yet. Insects are hatching on quiet pools in the woods and peepers are calling on the warmest evenings.

I saw pussy willows at the edge of a little wetland that gets good sun. I’ve heard four or five warblers and plenty of rowdy red-winged blackbirds. Porcupines and raccoons and skunks are making the rounds of their respective terrain.

In most years, the wildflowers are well out of the ground by now and livening up last year’s brown leaves with pretty spring colors.

So far the green is coming very slowly, but this week I did notice a bright orange scarlet cup fungus. This little fungus catches my eye in the way a piece of litter would — standing out with a bright, almost fluorescent orange-red. It grows on woody branches on the forest floor and is nibbled on by small mammals.

Finding small treasures is a way to learn what is in the forest.

When I take children into the forest I sometimes use a checklist like a treasure hunt.

At this time of year, scarlet cups, fiddleheads, garter snakes, mourning cloak butterflies, salamanders, crayfish and chipmunks are all good for young or beginning naturalists to hunt for. And keep your eyes open for hellgrammites in the river bottom.

Much as I love the fun of this kind of treasure hunt, it has a purpose, too.

Showing young naturalists to look closely and to notice special features in the forest is a starting point for future writers, scientists, foresters, surveyors, rangers, wildlife managers and other outdoor professionals.

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