And I won’t tell you where it is, so why do
I tell you
anything? Because you still listen, because
in times like these
to have you listen at all, it’s necessary
to talk about trees.
And I won’t tell you where it is, so why do
I tell you
anything? Because you still listen, because
in times like these
to have you listen at all, it’s necessary
to talk about trees.
I recently encountered Wood Frog tadpoles. Last year I thought I had seen them: a clump of loose greenish eggs around a stick in mid-April. But that clump was solitary, it would have fit (dripping) between two hands. This year, an early spring, I saw Wood Frog eggs twice in mid-March. They were so green with algae (to help the eggs absorb oxygen) that they looked like an actual film of algae over the pond surface. They were also in clustered groups, covering easily 10 square feet of the surface of each pond- all together and nowhere else in that body of water. Oddly, shallow areas were chosen both times, and some of the tadpoles were already dead on the surface of their still moist but no longer underwater eggs. Why did the frogs choose a shallow part of the pond instead of a deeper one? A question for another day.
I could not resist scooping up some tadpoles for a better look, and of course I encountered many a mysterious invertebrate larva. How I would love to see what they all turn into. Some were almost certainly going to be mosquitos, so that love might be tempered. But it only occurred to me yesterday when I was writing about insects that I do not think that mosquitos were flying around laying their eggs in February. I do not think the aquatic larvae were hatching and finding lots of yummy food and temperatures conducive to growth in early March. So. All those lovelies must have been overwintering in their larval state! That means, if I am guessing correctly, that every single mosquito in Maryland right now is a little larva in a pond, waiting to mature and suck some mammal blood and lay some more larval eggs to grow up and bite all the summer campers in July to then lay some more eggs to turn into larvae in the fall and hang out over the winter all over again. Am I right? I don’t know, but I never tire of thinking about overwintering. In the insect world, I have said it before and I’ll say it again, with the exception of our glorious migratory Monarchs, every single insect you have ever met is also here in the winter, unseen and unmoving, suspended in one life stage or another. Walk around outside in a blizzard and think of that one day: they are all here, beneath snow and ice and mud and bark, waiting, like us, for spring to come again. Try not to gloat, but you are pretty lucky to be enjoying that long awaited season right now.
Even before March ends…
Well, people have been saying that this spring is so wildly early. Other springs I remember them complaining it was late. Usually those were springs when I spent March and April working outside, practicing being fun AND safe, rain soaking through my rain gear at temperatures that wouldn’t quite dip below freezing. And I sometimes still long for those times.
Somehow this most magical and fleeting spring of 2016, a spring I am happy to experience on this good Earth, has started to seem perfectly normal to me, early or not. Perhaps that is because the momentum has shifted, there is no stopping it now. Everything is only speeding up, I can no longer revel in one small discovery at a time because each thing is followed by another, and each thing is a part of every other. This rhyme applies to everything I can think of: the spring ephemeral wildflowers and the baby leaves being birthed can hardly be separated from the insects that are coming out of them. Indeed, many insects lay their eggs in and around tree buds so that the larvae can be born right along with their food source. And all of those spring ephemerals exist precisely to be pollinated. Some, as a second choice, might self-pollinate before the flower dies, but given their druthers they will take advantage of the genetic mixing offered by the many specialized species of native bees and flies spreading that DNA around. And indeed when I was out today I couldn’t stop watching the insects, wondering what they were, and where they were going. They didn’t want me to watch them. They were good at losing me. And that makes sense too. My other friends, the birds, are avid insect watchers, the better to eat them. And indeed most of the birds that are currently plotting their migration to the North from their warm winter homes left precisely because they require insects to eat. The insects have got to be good at escaping those beautiful predators. And the birds have got to pay attention, and get their return timing right. So this particular moment is really just a wild and uncontrollable escalation, like an nuclear reaction. No stopping it now, but instead of destruction it is a bringer of life.
Of course this would not be an everycreepingthing post if I didn’t mention to you that I am very busy and have not had all the time my heart desires. Today that means that I have not looked up sweet or confirmatory details about the Hop Tree or the Ironwood or the other lovely plants that I would like to share with you now. I meant to, as it has now been a couple years since I took a plant class. Perhaps I will update this post tomorrow. But tomorrow will almost certainly bring so many more exciting new things.
Hop Tree Fruits on my old mystery ID Tree
Toad Shade, a Trillium, growing in the same spot as last year! But 24 days earlier.
An Ironwood Tree covered with what I am calling catkins until I look it up.
Spring Beauty blossoming and getting some love from an early season pollinator of unknown identity. Honey Bees are not great at pollinating many of our native species- in fact many plants have insects that specialize in pollinating only their particular flowers. One Trout Lily leaf growing in the background. To bloom, a Trout Lily is said to require two leaves. Perhaps another one will grow here, or maybe this plant will store energy created by that leaf and grow a second leaf next spring.
I cannot resist a Redbud in bloom. I kept a branch in water in my office last week and it bloomed already. Today I took the dying branch outside in a paper bag which I brought upstairs to my kitchen to re-use for lunch tomorrow. Inside were a hundred little pink presents! I love having a North-South lifestyle that takes me over an hour North on a very regular basis. As the Redbuds near me are finishing, those at a house I dearly love are peaking, and those near the Farmer are just getting started- unless this warm year accelerates even that usual timing
Baby leaves in the Maple Family, I believe Red Maple. Always something Red on this very adaptable friend.
If you have seen the cover photo on this blog, you know what I am into. If you have ever met me and taken a look at my wrist, you know what I am about.
So it should come as no surprise that Big Night is basically my own personal witch’s New Year. The world is getting renewed. Get your life.
For the record, I haven’t actually witnessed Big Night the biggest way. On the first warm wet night in early spring the Spotted Salamanders, and many other amphibians, make their way into Vernal Pools and ponds for fellowship and f…reproduction. I only saw my first Spotted Salamander last year (a bit later into April) in the daytime, hiding under a log next to a pond full of male spermatophores and eggs. This year I was knocked flat out by the flu for a week when the rains started, and I could do nothing but lie in bed and gaze at the pills that were not successfully lowering my fever. I got better but did not make it out Sunday night when conditions were perfect. The Big Night is when the salamanders can be seen crawling through the woods toward the water. I understand that sometimes there are so many of them that they seem to cover the forest floor. Want a shot at seeing some one day? Protect our lovely eastern forests! Embrace a leaf litter layer in your yard. Let fallen logs lay. That is the habitat they require 360 days of the year, and even during the week or so they spend mating in the water. They return to the woods during the daytime- and that is when I have had luck finding them.
Monday, on my way back from work, as the rain started up again, I returned to the pond that was so popular with my spotted friends last year. The spermatophores were present. A huge area was jam packed with Wood Frog eggs near hatching. The Spotted Salamanders had not laid eggs yet though! Most likely the ladies were waiting to make their way to the pond last night. I will return and report back.
There was a lot of action! Mating Red Spotted Newts, many Red Backed Salamanders, and multiple Spotteds unearthed from their hiding spots. The approved method is to quickly and fully lift a log and scan. If there are salamanders or any other animals there, gently move them out from under the log before replacing it. They will wiggle right back under there I assure you. At least until nightfall. When touching make sure your hands are wet. Placing the salamander on a damp leaf is ideal, as a 98 degree hand could shock their only barely thawed system. Happy New Year!
Bird feeders are my winter dream. I used to want to escape to hot climates and snorkel. Now I want to sit next to a heat source in pajamas and see birds in far greater detail than even my binoculars permit.
I got my Mom a bird feeder this year, and then another (for the Goldfinches), and then she got herself a suet feeder. Things have escalated pretty rapidly. From quiet naturalistic edge habitat sort of yard (with perhaps an excess of non-native Japanese Maples and some unfortunate and divisive Bamboo) to the sort of hippie avian free-for-all that I formerly viewed as a bit eccentric. What I didn’t know is how different the experience is from inside the house! What I also didn’t realize is how different the experience is when you get beyond the suburbs into a more rural zone. There are no Starlings here, and rarely a House Sparrow.
Instead there are multiple species of Woodpecker, many native Sparrows, and lots of singing Juncos and Chickadees and Cardinals. There is a well established group of crows that has traditionally passed through daily, and that now will stop by if peanuts are made available. There is a group of Blue Jays regularly descending with their “jay” calls and their emotive crest raising and lowering.
I have finally seen the reason that the Red Bellied Woodpecker (which at first glance appears to have red only on its head) got its name. Although I think a better name would have been Pale Red Almost Pink Cloaca-ed Woodpecker. That one remains a tough sell. Woodpeckers are still one of my favorite groups. The Red Bellied that visits is a female, and she likes to hang from the trunk of the Locust Tree to the side of the yard and make forays to the suet feeder when the coast looks clear. Otherwise she is our only Woodpecker willing to feed with the browner smaller birds on the ground. Flickers, not around here, are the traditional ground-feeding Woodpeckers, although they are eating Ants, not Sunflower seeds. The male, my Mom says, has shown up on occasion. Where is he the rest of the time? I understand from other birding sources that the male and female Downy Woodpeckers have differing feeding strategies: the male prefers the tips of skinny branches and the female prefers the trunk. Although I honestly may have mixed it up, I haven’t observed this tendency myself clearly enough to verify anything. What I do know is that as with the Red Bellied female, the Downy female is more often at the feeder. Most often, actually. She spent a good thirty minutes there, pecking away at the presumably frozen suet, before I abandoned my post. Sometimes a pair of Nuthatches comes through, almost always together. The male Downy also appears with some frequency. Today things got exciting in a way that relates, finally, to the title of this post (that is also the title of an Animal Collective song I like). The birds appeared far more paired off than they had when I last hung out around this bird feeder during January’s blizzard. The male Cardinal chased the female Cardinal around the yard. The male Downy Woodpecker climbed after the female up the Dogwood Tree, around and around. The Blue Jays are always quite social and no distinct pairs were obvious. But Blue Jays are also migratory, typically flying a bit South each winter. That means that entirely different individuals will be here in the Summer.
This relates to something else I noticed, and was thinking about while reading What the Robin Knows. The birds that breed here in the summer were not seen in great numbers. Two Cardinals, or occasionally another pair. Two Downy Woodpeckers. Two Chickadees (ish). Perhaps more Titmice.
But the birds that are here only for the winter, the White Throated Sparrows and the Juncos, were by far the most numerous, seen on the ground in groups of perhaps twenty. I know that typical birding behavior is flocking in multi-species groups in the winter, for protection from predators while seeking out those life saving calories all day long. This contrasts with becoming territorial in the summer and fighting with members of a bird’s own species. So I wondered, are the differences in the species numbers related to the birds who stay here all winter being a little bit more territorially divided? Like, are the other pairs of Cardinals sticking more closely to their spring territory? Somehow I don’t think that is right- I suspect that in the winter birds have to cover a lot more ground to find enough seeds and berries and deeply chilled insects (perhaps a once beloved Chrysalis) to stay warm enough to survive each night in their own personal down sleeping bag. Maybe there are varying numbers of these species- that is undoubtedly the case. But also, perhaps, the food preferences are a factor too. Maybe the birds that are seen in greater numbers are the most deeply satisfied by the particular seeds and animal fats on offer.
Whatever the case may be, love, in many forms, is assuredly present in our own backyards as we approach Valentines Day. There are lots of newly budding relationships forming, and some birds are re-kindling old flames. Although it is no one’s first choice, some birds may even be willing to consider sloppy seconds. Their lives, after all, are short, and their breeding season, unlike our human ones, is brief. Not a thing to throw away lightly. But love comes in many forms. I don’t know what the flocks of birds feel for each other, but I like to think that they are friends. And deep in recesses of trees and in nests kept high, another kind of love, even more powerful, is present- maternal love. The Great Horned Owls are on eggs, and if you are lucky you might hear them calling. They call around midnight, perhaps even later, and they say “whoooo’s awake? me toooooooo” Other Owl species are also getting their act together. Such large birds have to start early- but more importantly, they need time to fill their big brains with the knowledge and experience that will make them successful hunters and predators.
Meanwhile, I learned yet another new thing today. Facebook and Instagram can be like nature magic, because of their ability to give you information about what is happening right this minute. A Wildlife Rehab that I follow posted a picture of their first babies of the year- three hairless little pink baby Squirrels!! Their tree was cut down, and they were found and placed in what appears to be a crocheted nest, of all things. Squirrels have two broods a year, one to mature in early fall, the other happening now! Whoooooo knew?
Have you ever had a blog? And have you thought to yourself about the things you would like to write in your blog (about nesting owls, invasive birds of the Caribbean, Kris Kardashian) if only you had a little more time? First, time to pay more attention looking for those things* and second time to think and write about them. And then have you instead finally devoted most of your lunch hour to reading What the Robin Knows, a book that encourages Soft Eyes for observing the natural world, and for absorbing the different things that the birds are each communicating about the natural world? And have you, on reading this, noted that you have also been hearing a lot about these Soft Eyes in Season 4 of the Wire, which somehow in spite of it all you have found the time to watch most of? And have you rushed home from work to go for your first real run since the piles of snow from a blizzard melted, and thought about softening your eyes as you passed through your own neighborhood on the way back? Did you notice that the sun was beginning to set, but that nevertheless the birds seemed unusually silent and already to be fully hidden in their nighttime bushes? And then did you think, my eyes are soft, and just then as you reached for the screen door handle on the side of your house look up and see a Sharp Shinned Hawk watching you, watching the neighborhood, from a low branch in a skinny young tree? And did you stand there and watch it, for minutes, turning its head this way, and that, looking at you, and did you think, I am relaxed, I can’t hide from you, see how I am here, too? And how I have been here for nearly two years now, have you? And did you see the orange barring on the chest, the very square corners of the very long, faintly striped tail? And the darkness around the eyes, the incredible size of the hooked beak? Did you wonder if you would recognize this very bird, if you saw it again? Did you wonder if it had just eaten a bird previously living in your yard? And did you feel like something so amazing was happening, and feel thankful, just before the bird gently left its perch and swooped down toward you, right toward your head, and flew over you by just a few feet, and then did you turn and see it looking back at you as it flew around the corner, and did you run and see it fly off quite simply into the sunset? Did anything like that ever happen to you? And did you know what it means?
*Ok, it doesn’t take long to find any part of Kris Jenner’s life if that is what you would like to look at.
If you have a big decision to make, will you take this as a powerful sign sent to you from whatever it is that is bigger than all of us, just beyond the view of even the softest eyes?
Although I have frequently cited the pressures on my time and the corresponding decrease in posts on this old beloved blog, the day’s short hours are not the only reason I am writing less.
Instagram is part of the reason, ridiculously enough. Now when I have an exciting picture to share I just share it there, and forget about trying to explain it.
But I have been wondering if the biggest reason isn’t most related to the Beginner’s Mind that I legitimately inhabited when I started writing on everycreepingthing, and the much more intermediate mind that is flailing around in my head now.
I suppose it is intermediate in more ways than one. I have changed from one decade of life to another since I started blogging almost three years ago. I have changed jobs too. I wouldn’t rush to declare myself grown up, but I have matured in ways that it didn’t occur to me I hadn’t yet when I was an unemployed recent outdoor educator with a back injury that sometimes permitted me to bike on back roads near my Mom’s house. Now my bike tires have been deflated for over a year, I finally was brave enough to live on my own, and I’ve stopped feeling like NPR Music is my streaming soulmate. Sorry Stephen Thompson.
But the thing that has changed the most is obviously my knowledge of the natural world. It was not utterly lacking to begin with. I paid attention to animals as a child, I loved to sit still and watch for so long that other kids found it bizarre when they tried to join in. Well, I assume that is how they felt. They didn’t last long. I found their lack of patience and sustained interest surprising and tragic (for them, duh). I observed my own small patch of the world. I didn’t have the specifics then, the teachers, the field trips. I owned just one (still beloved) field guide.
The specifics, and my more active pursuit of a natural history expertise, started when I returned from the state of Oregon and set out to name the trees I already knew better than the ones out West. I took my first class with the Audubon Naturalist Society and opened my eyes wide to the world of tall still winter trees. Fingers and nose were also involved, and some long frigid days with frozen toes. It was great, and it was four whole years ago. My mind was such a sweet little beginner then. We learned the Oaks last. There are so many Oaks in our forest that large remaining gaps in my knowledge were suddenly filled in, and I could finally walk through the woods without stumbling past many unknown characters.
Winter Tree ID depends heavily on buds, the little containers that protect preformed baby leaves and flowers. At least, my teacher said that is what they contained. I got to know the unique buds of the Mockernut Hickory and the Bitternut Hickory and the clustered Oak buds and the sweet round onion buds of the Dogwood. It was shocking when, living and working outside on the Eastern Shore, suddenly my recognizable buds began to split and disappear. In just days the predicted leaves, so mini and cute, came into the world. I had seen many photos of leaves, and some dry crumbly ones, but nothing prepared me for the amazing fulfillment of the bud’s firm promises, for the confirmation that a tree really was a Red Oak or a White Oak or a variably leaved Sassafrass.
And so I kept taking classes. I bought binoculars. Leaving environmental ed in the dust, for awhile, I wanted to keep sharing what I was learning, and the independent applications I made of my new knowledge. I wanted to try and understand this world, from the inside of our heads to the least observed corners of our own backyards. And I did have a lot to say!
Until now. Now I am realizing that it is not only the winter, or the Gram, or my many houred job that keeps me from adding new entries here. It is also a shift from seeing everything fresh to being a bit seasoned. I am very far from an expert, but I do not feel quite exactly wide eyed about everylittledetail someone shares with me or that I notice myself. I can fit them into familiar patterns now. The novelty and the sense that this is something that everyoneneedstoknow has worn, not off, but down. I still want everyone to know. I am still riveted by birds at a feeder. My table is covered with leaves I collected in the fall. Knowing a little more has made me, I think, more hesitant to go around making bold claims and sharing small pieces of information. It has also made me even more excited to go out there and see stuff when I can, rather than contemplate it from inside. Well, I am contemplating it inside, just deeper inside than the internet can yet reach. Perhaps.
In yoga they say that the Beginner’s Mind is something we must strive to return to. Having recently returned to yoga after a long break I do see the value in disconnecting from all those tightly gripped notions so easily glued down. Now, maybe, the information I’ve acquired over the last few years is settling down and I am looking around again. Maybe sometime later the words will come back.
The days have changed quickly, from the oppressive heat to a ceaseless rain and chill. Now the sky is clear again, and perfect fall weather has moved in. Today I took a walk in a sweater and jeans, and I noticed that I never got to that hot and sweaty point but I was not cold either. I also noticed that my outfit sounded like something Kristy would be wearing if my day were Chapter 2 of a Baby Sitters Club book.
During the last few very rainy days I spent some time looking for Marbled Salamanders, which should be breeding now. My search was limited, and while I found interesting things salamanders of any species were not one of them. Now the sun is back, and temperatures have been climbing. All the pretty migrant birds are active and brightly lit. And the turtles emerged to get in some delicious basking. I was walking on my lunch break near Sligo Creek Park, and in a pond next to the creek I spotted a Red Eared Slider. Continue reading