March 2012

03/03    On a late afternoon paddle in the Great Swamp from Patterson Environmental Park, I saw 21 groups of male and female mallards; Canada geese; a kingfisher; four red-winged black birds—the first for me this season—chipping and singing their o-la-dee song; one muskrat swimming; and many downed trees by Pine Island. Evidence of beaver—first saw twigs and trees with new gnawing! Greening of grasses is starting but the wild flag or iris seem to have frost damage on tips? They’re already up about a foot.
— Diana Lee

03/03    Beaks of skunk cabbage and daffodil shoots at Seven Hills Lake.
— George Baum

03/07    Full “Worm” Moon. Soon pellets of newly turned earth will appear in our lawns as worms migrate to the soil’s surface to feed.

03/09    First crocus is up and the bluebirds visit a new home.  — George Baum

03/10    My wife and I went in search of one of our favorite birds, the timberdoodle. Alternately known as the hokum pake, the woodcock is one of the most intriguing and rarely seen spring visitors. The males steal the show with a courtship routine that varies between an acrobatic whirligig in the air and a rotating smoke alarm in the field. I posited that the fields around the Mt. Nimham Multiple Use Area would be good territory. Sure enough as we hiked from the parking lot on Nichols St. we encountered our first woodcock. No, we saw nothing. But the buzzy "peent" we heard was unmistakable. We were even treated to a rare fly-over by one going to the fields north of the private-land meadow immediately to the west of the trail. After listening to 2-3 birds doing their soaring crescendo and fluttering down to begin again their rotating "peenting," we sought out another possible displaying-ground or "lek."

We drove to the "white stone " parking lot of the Multiple Use Area on Gipsy Trail. The headlights revealed that another mating appeared to be taking place in the back seat of a parked car in the lot as twilight fell and a quiet evening set in. Our search was rewarded with more male woodcocks issuing plaintive "peents" trying to locate a spring female in the field just south of the parking lot.

I wish you good snipe hunting, and don’t forget to take a gunny sack to bag your catch.  — Ralph Szur

03/11    The wood frogs were calling! A loud “quacking” chorus could be heard today in wetlands along Sunken Mine Road in Fahnestock Park, at Clearpool, and at Dean Pond. Wood frogs are obligate species of vernal pools along with yellow-spotted salamanders and fairy shrimp. Vernal pools support an incredible diversity of species that extends outward as much as 70 acres from the pool. The Kent CAC will be cataloguing vernal pools as part of the natural resource inventory, so if you hear wood frogs, let us know.

03/11    Heard a woodcock do its courtship dance at dusk today, just where the stream leaves our pasture and crosses the road to Kentwood Lake. We had not heard one for several years and assumed that the coyotes had obliterated them. What a pleasant surprise!  — Anne Balant-Campbell

03/12    An eastern bluebird sings his cheery song, so sweetly, from atop our nesting box. YAY! We can watch them all spring long! And a full chorus of spring peeper tree frogs announce an early spring.

03/12    The five honey bee hives in my backyard are good barometers of the onset of spring. For bees, waiting until their flight wing muscles can operate means that the air temperature has to be around 55F. These warm days have meant a plethora of bees searching for two life-sustaining resources—pollen and nectar. The queen began laying eggs about two weeks after the solstice and the hive temperature around the brood was raised to 91F to incubate the new bees. This required a lot of honey-energy. Consequently, the bees have had to replenish this fuel or starve. I was thrilled to see the returning workers on the hive landing-boards loaded with yellow and orange pollen in the pollen "baskets" on their hind legs. I speculated that if there’s pollen then there’s nectar. However, a bee club member told me that you still have to feed the bees honey or sugar syrup because pollen doesn’t necessarily mean nectar is present. I queried a botanist, Carol Gracie, who confirmed the latter. Skunk cabbage has pollen but no nectar. Pussy willow has both as do snowdrops. These are some early blooming plants hereabouts.

PussywillowPainting by Beth Herr

But what about all those maple trees? Having made maple syrup for 15 years, I was very aware that when the maples reach bud-swell, you can’t make good syrup as the taste changes. Flowering soon follows. I asked Carol about maples and nectar. I was startled to learn that acer—the genus of maples—is a polygamodioecious species. Now try googling that one. Translation—the trees can change the sex of their flowers from year to year. So one tree may be male, or female, or both. So I guess you will just have to look carefully at the flowers to find out.  — Ralph Szur

03/13    Setting out from Green Chimneys towards the latter part of the day, I was met almost immediately by a romping mink. A very light red-tailed hawk seems to live in the lower part of the swamp—this is the third time I’ve seen him. A pileated woodpecker was attacking a tree, taking out huge chunks that fell into the water!

I spotted at least ten downy woodpeckers as well. Three robins were poking around in the moist, exposed soil as the water level is quite low, especially for the spring. This was followed by two mallards and then the resident swans in the open "lake." As one was vocalizing and out ahead of me, I started to see my first of 24 painted turtles—most sunning and some in the water. Noteworthy were a "diamond" of four that were swimming together! I’d never seen that before.

I counted 37 mallards up in the upper open area and then additional smaller groups of two to five. Red-winged blackbirds were hard to count, but there were at least eight that were vocalizing more and more as the day was winding down. I saw four bluebirds but there were probably more. A great blue heron was flying up river at dusk. Grass is starting to green up and pickerelweed can be seen as underwater shoots. A lovely paddle in the Great Swamp—welcome spring!  — Diana Lee

03/14    Spring peepers were calling from many wetlands today, even the swampy ground around the old batting cages on Route 52. Nature has reclaimed it.

Start light, star bright, the first stars I see tonight are planets: Venus and Jupiter make a brilliant duo in the western evening sky!

Maples are flowering and the maple-sugar season is over, so naturally the first yellow wildflower in my yard has arrived. Unfolding to the sun and the warmth of 71 degrees, trumpets the coltsfoot.  — Ralph Szur

03/14    So much has happened in the last three days! On Monday just before dusk, my horse and I were set upon by a cloud of hungry mosquitoes. Perhaps they were newly hatched and have since dispersed. I have been out at dusk since then and not been similarly attacked. Late Monday night I heard a solitary spring peeper. Last night it was joined by others, making a fairly full chorus. Tonight I am hearing a few wood frogs along with the peepers. The wood frogs make a sound like a rapid, muffled duck quack.

Incidentally, among the typical sounds of the peepers, there is an occasional rising trill. The first time I heard this trilling sound last year, I thought we somehow had a boreal chorus frog in the mix. I have since learned that peepers do sometimes trill in this way in addition to making the classic peeping sounds for which they are named.

Late last night, the sky was quite bright despite the low half-moon, and there were five or six huge broad white bands extending from the northern horizon to the southern, running parallel across the sky, like translucent clouds. The pattern was too big and broad to be jet contrails, and it did not change over time. Could it be leftovers from the solar flares of this past week?

Today I heard bluebirds calling in my backyard. The barred owls were having a conversation in broad daylight (they are diurnal). The soil in my garden is dry and friable. We often have a little interlude in early April, before the spring rains really hit, during which the soil is this dry. I have never seen it occur so early in the year. I am going to take a chance and plant a few rows of peas.  — Anne Balant- Campbell

03/17    A flock of robins return to the yard!  — George Baum

03/18    It’s not even spring officially, but this 70F weather brought the phoebe’s song to add to the strengthening dawn chorus. There was a raft of 90 ruddy ducks and several ring-necked ducks on Lake Carmel.

I spied a dead mink on Route 52 near Joe Simpson Road!  — Diana Lee

03/20    Spring begins officially today with the vernal equinox verifying the signs of rebirth all around us.

News Flash! A new species of leopard frog has been found in Putnam County! See New York Times article.

Kent WildlifeKent Wildlife — Photo by George Baum

03/22    More arrivals! Blackflies arrived this week, and I am hearing phoebes making their distinctive “phoebe” calls everywhere I go. The phoebe is in the flycatcher family; I wonder if they eat the blackflies? Huge bumblebees have literally “come out of the woodwork” to do their courtship flights on our porch. Forsythia, magnolia, crocuses, and some early daffodils are blooming. I think they are all about three weeks early relative to more typical years.  — Anne Balant-Campbell

03/23    More spring flowers from Seven Hills Lake: Coltsfoot—the leaves come later; stout blue-eyed grass; snowdrops (Is this a wildflower? I cannot find it in Newcomb’s guide.)
— George Baum

(Ed. note: Snowdrops are not a native but a welcome spring bulb that can be purchased at your local nursery in the fall. They are native to Switzerland and Austria.)

Coltsfoot, Tussilago farfara Coltsfoot, Tussilago farfara — Photo by George Baum

Coltsfoot, Tussilago farfara, the first sunny yellow face of spring, is not native, but is a welcome sight in spring. You’ll see it along the roadsides of Kent. Another common name for this plant is coughwort, and it has been used to treat sore throats, asthma, and related conditions such as bronchitis.

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