May 2013

5/2    May starts cool and breezy, but the pinxster azalea blooms and the bluebirds are nesting.

Photo of pinxster
azalea Pinxster azalea — photo by Beth Herr

5/9    I saw that the red columbine is blooming atop the rocky ledges. Time to put out the hummingbird feeder.

5/10    The first ruby-throated hummingbird arrives at my feeder.

5/10    Spring warbler migration peaks this week and sure enough, the veery plays her flute and the woodthrush’s ethereal song returns at twilight.

5/11    The dawn chorus is at its peak.

5/14    About 35 people came to Arts on the Lake to hear naturalist, scientist, and author Carol Gracie talk about her book on spring wildflowers. The program was co-sponsored by the Kent CAC, The Friends of the Kent Library, and The Friends of the Great Swamp. There were beautiful photos of some of Kent’s wildflowers and their pollinators. Some take-away factoids: some wildflower seeds have little packages of lipids on them to entice ants to carry them underground to be planted; some wildflowers get robbed of their nectar without pollination services by bees that chew holes through the petals to slurp up the sweet; and some wildflowers are pollinated by moths!

5/15    Eastern coyote pups were howling in chorus last night. It sounded like twenty but was probably only four.

5/18    Helping Friends of the Great Swamp with their canoe trips today, and cruising for two hours from Patterson to Brewster, I was delighted to hear the “peent” sound (much like the American woodcock in spring) of nighthawks overhead. They were migrating along the swamp river corridor, looping and dipping, careening and diving. Streams of them passed through during and after. Members of the nightjar family, like whippoorwills, nighthawks have long whiskers near their beaks, feed mostly on moths, are nocturnal, and elusive because of their cryptic coloring. I wonder if any of them nest in our area.

Photo of backyard pond Backyard pond — photo by George Baum

5/24    The greatest area of open, undeveloped space is the collective, total area of our backyards. Perhaps we should try to share a portion of it with the many creatures whose habitat was disrupted when our homes were constructed. The two key elements in my give-back project are shelter and water. A corner of my flower garden is dominated by a thick bush of flowering white fringe tree. Nearby I set a small, plastic, kidney-shaped tub about 3×6 feet in the ground to serve as a pond. I used a circulating fountain pump choked down to a gentle gurgle and set on top of some field stone to keep the water aerated. A birdhouse completes the arrangement.

Photo of frog at backyard pond Frog visiting backyard pond — photo by George Baum

Photo of
chipmunk at backyard pond Chipmunk is king of the hill — photo by George Baum

This simple arrangement has attracted a wide variety of birds and small mammals such as squirrels, chipmunks, and, probably, raccoons at night. Frogs magically appear in the spring. The fringe tree serves as a hiding place for the creatures until they get the confidence to jump out onto the gurgling water. The cardinals seem to be the most cautious, while the other birds barely rest on a branch before they are wading in the small depression filled with water surrounding the fountain head. Obviously the corner provides many opportunities to observe and photograph wildlife. I think it makes all of us happy.
— George Baum

5/24    The female snappers have been traversing my lakefront property for the past two days but I have to admit I was somewhat surprised seeing this female climbing a very slippery 3-foot high rock. Over the years I have witnessed and photographed snappers dropping their eggs much further from the lake – approximately 300 linear feet and 50 vertical feet uphill – on a very steep slope. But I’ve never witnessed them traverse a wet rock like this before.

Photo of snapping
turtle on rock Snapping turtle — photo by Lou Tartaro

I suspect this snapper may have laid a "clutch of eggs" – if that’s the correct term – in the mulched area below the rock as snappers routinely do, but with the heavy rain I wasn’t about to investigate. I also suspect snappers lay multiple clutches to defeat the predation by raccoons, skunks and other critters that routinely dig them up shortly after they are laid. I’m sorry to report that even my feeble attempts to protect a few nests by covering with milk crates and/or weighted pails were unsuccessful as they were either knocked over, dug under, or chewed through.

Fortunately Mother Nature has a way of evening the playing field as there are always a few hatchlings that make the trek back to the lake and continue the circle of life.  — Lou Tartaro

Editor’s note: Many species of turtles dig “test nests” before deciding on the nest that will receive the eggs, and yes, many eggs are dug by human-subsidized species like raccoons, coyotes, and skunks. Baby turtles hatch underground and dig their way to the surface, so any egg shells found on top of the soil have been left there by predators. Many turtle species are crossing roads to reach egg-laying areas, toward the sandy soils they prefer. When helping a turtle off the road, always put it on the side of the road toward which it was headed.

5/25    Full Flower Moon brightened the whole night.

5/26    Kayaking White Pond today I was delighted to see this family of mallards approach my boat without fear.

Photo of
mallard mom and chicks Mallard mom and chicks — photo by Beth Herr

5/27    I was moving wood chips to mulch my garden and uncovered this sweet little ring-necked snake. It must have spent the winter in the warm chip pile. It was curled up and cool, but after warming in my hand began to move. It flipped over in defense posture showing its beautiful yellow belly. Ringnecks are small snakes, rarely more than a foot long. They eat salamanders, slugs, and small insects. They are not venomous and love the rocky hillsides of Kent.

Photo of ring-necked snake in palm of gloved hand Ring-necked snake – I’m still cold — photo by Beth Herr

Photo of ring-necked snake flipped on its back pretending to be dead Ring-necked snake – If I play dead will you go away? — photo by Beth Herr

5/30    What is in nature’s bouquet from Kent this week? Pink ragged robin and herb robert, dotted with yellow from golden alexander, and filled with the airy greens of horsetail, white from fleabanes. But the daisies have yet to open – next week!

5/31    Ninety degrees today, I guess spring is over!

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