May 2014

5/1     Yesterday it was 37° and raining; this morning the rain finally dissipated after almost five inches fell in the last two days. By day’s end, spring had sprung and temps soared above 70° with mild warm breezes. The air was filled with birdsong and the greening of everything. After sunset, a big brown bat cruised the twilight. Welcome back!

5/1     I spotted a mink beside the stream in my yard this morning. It was running along just above the waterline, a mouse dangling from its mouth, before disappearing under the grasses overhanging the bank. It’s been 26 years since I last saw a mink here, so getting a glimpse of this little neighbor made my day. I love knowing that there is a rarely seen but fully present parallel world of wildlife that know this piece of land as their land.  — Melissa Fischer, Wappinger

5/2     Warm air pumped up from the south overnight, assisting the migration of songbirds. Today the new arrivals announced their return: the catbird flits about staking its territory in the shrubbery, and song sparrows, wrens and cowbirds add their song to the chipping sparrows’ incessant calls.

I always put my hummingbird feeder out during the third week of April to catch the ‘early birds’ as they travel north, but it was yesterday, May 2, that they finally arrived. Hummers remember their food sources while migrating, so it’s possible the birds here now have been here before. I’m happy I was ready for them! And, since hummers often return to the same places to breed each year, I’m looking forward to my old friends returning, especially the female who will ‘buzz’ me when her feeder is empty.  — Jeff Green

5/3     The shadbush, with its early white blossoms, adds a lacy look to our forest. The petals emerge before the leaves making it one of forest’s early bloomers, and it provides early berries. By June, plump blueberries are ripe for songbirds. The shadbush is sometimes called the juneberry or serviceberry tree. In earlier years, burial services for those who died in winter when the ground was frozen would be held when the shadbush bloomed and the ground thawed. This native tree provided winter food for native people who dried and enjoyed the berries.

5/4     Big, furry bumblebee queens are seen hovering and cruising the forest floor and yard edges. They are looking for a place to make a nest, attracted to the smell of old mouse holes. I spied one, watched her hone in, land, and walk under brown leaves. I waited. She had disappeared and didn’t come back out. The dry leaves rustled as I pulled them away to expose a mouse-sized hole. With camera poised for her return to daylight, I waited five minutes for her to emerge. No doubt she had been working in her wax cells to lay eggs and a wax cup to fill with nectar and pollen for the young bees.

Photo of queen bumble bee emerging from the entrance hole to her underground nest

All hail the queen! – Photo: Beth Herr

5/5     Kent residents who watch birds are enjoying an astounding spring migration. Why? April’s cool weather kept the waves of returning songbirds to the south, and kept the leaves from growing. Now, with warm winds from the south at night, scores of species are arriving at once and they are easy to see in the trees without leaves. Scarlet tanagers, red-breasted grosbeaks, orioles, black-throated blue warblers, blue-winged warblers and prairie warblers arrived this morning. Hummingbirds buzz the feeders. Some birders report seeing five different species of warbler in one tree…a banner birder spring!

5/7     We have Pulmonaria in our yard. Do you know any other flowers named after body parts? Dandelions, or dents de lion, for the lion teeth leaves, qualify as a plant named after body parts  — George Baum

Photo of round-lober hepatica leaves

The doctrine of signatures from ancient Greece holds that herbs that resemble various parts of the body can be used to treat ailments of that part of the body. An example that’s blooming now, hepatica, looks like a liver and so was thought to cure liver maladies. – Photo: Beth Herr

5/9     Two strong storms came through the area this morning and the birds were active. It wasn’t a typical “fallout” but there were dense numbers of migrants in very foggy conditions. We spotted three male scarlet tanagers, three Lincoln’s sparrows and multiple white-crowned sparrows. There were more than twenty species of warblers on the Point including Cape May, Wilson’s, bay-breasted and a Blackburnian – it seemed like there were warblers in every tree. More evidence of fallout-like conditions was a huge flock of bobolinks. Least sandpipers and spotted sandpipers occupied almost every puddle on the Point.  — Kyle Bardwell, Charlie Roberto, Croton Point

[“Fallout” is a term used by birders to describe a sudden dropping to earth – forced landings – of large and diverse numbers of migratory birds, usually due to intense weather such as wind and storms.  — Tom Lake.]

5/10     Here are photos of the bear that has been visiting my folk‘s house in Sherman (just northeast of Kent across the Connecticut border) on four occasions now. Notice in the last photo the paw on top of the railing! Their deck is about 12 feet up. The feeders were already down at the time of this visit, but the grill had been used the prior night. This bear is around the 200-pound mark now and will gain substantially more weight this spring and summer with the berries coming into season and the does starting to drop fawns, so we are easily looking at close to a more than 300-pound bear. I have given my parents a paintball gun for the next return! Beautiful animal, but not near your home…and not afraid of people.  — John Foley

Photo of a black bear on the ground in a garden.

Too cold – Photo: John Foley

Photo of a black bear climbing the wooden supports for a deck.

Too hot – Photo: John Foley

Photo of black bear at the top of a deck support.

Just right! – Photo: John Foley

5/11     A perfect day for the annual hike to Hawk Rock! Marsh marigolds glowed a warm yellow, the sky was a deep blue, and lovely breezes kept hikers cool. At one stop along a wet area, while pausing to take a closer look at spring wildflowers, a spotted salamander egg mass (with larvae clearly visible) and a red eft surprised the hikers.

Photo of woman's hands holding a red eft and a spotted salamander egg mass.

Red eft and spotted salamander egg mass – Photo: Gerry McLoughlin

Group photo of hikers in front of Hawk Rock

Happy hikers at Hawk Rock – Photo: Gerry McLoughlin

5/14     A full, brilliant Flower Moon with the smell of sweet vernal grass and spring blossoms perfuming the breeze.

Photo of Trillium erectum in bloom.

A purple trillium by any of its names (even ‘stinking Benjamin’) is still beautiful – Photo: Beth Herr

5/15     The black flies are biting. Also known as “no-see-ums,” these are small biting flies (adults are less than two millimeters long). Unlike mosquitoes, black fly bites tend to be unnoticed when they occur. However, the next day extremely itchy lumps, bumps, and welts arise that can last for a week and cause much discomfort!

5/16     I observed a kingbird leaving its nest, a tree swallow leaving its cavity, and a phoebe leaving its mossy home on a bridge overhang: it’s nesting season. Waxwing males and bank swallow males share with their mates the task of home construction. The female robin does the building with materials supplied by her partner. A red-eyed vireo and oven-bird female work all alone, while the male wren builds a few dummy nests before his mate finally chooses one to complete.

In Kent, the bluebirds can have three broods, using the same nest. Wonderfully crafted snuggeries are formed by the vireo, flycatcher and goldfinch, while the nest of the oriole is a pendulous basket. Robins, swallows, and wood thrushes hold their nests together with mud. A soft lining is made from moss, animal hairs, feathers, plant down, and sometimes rootlets. Tree swallows line their nest with carefully chosen feathers, often using the same feathers to lure the fledglings out of the nest.

Cloudy and cool with heavy rain at night; everything got a good soaking.

5/17     Once the clouds lifted, the day was sunny, sparkly clean, and breezy; a rare and wonderful spring day with birdsong filling the air. Enjoy it now; in less than five weeks, the chorus of birds will go silent.

5/21     The cliff swallows have taken up residence in the portico at Kent Town Hall!

5/22     I woke up this morning and was pleasantly surprised that I was able to get this shot of a male pileated woodpecker. Note that his entire crest is red and he has a red whisker stripe on his face.

Photo of a pileated woodpecker on the ground in a back yard.

Woodie comes for a visit – Photo: Lou Tartaro

Later in the day I checked on an old pile of wood chips that I had “seeded” with mushroom spores last spring. I was delighted to see that the pile was producing a fair amount of winecap mushrooms, Stropharia rugosoannulata. Unfortunately there was an equal amount of LBM’s – unidentified little brown mushrooms – which will greatly reduce the yield as they are both feeding off the same pile. Needless to say I’ll be repeating this next year with fresh chips.  — Lou Tartaro

Photo of a group of winecap mushrooms growing in wood chips.

Louluigi grows winecaps – Photo: Lou Tartaro

5/25     A walk up to the abandoned village of Doodletown, now nestled in the cleft behind Bear Mountain, was like a walk through warbler heaven. All the usual and unusual were there with every step in elevation bringing another species: cerulean, Kentucky, parula, chestnut-sided warblers flitted about with blue-wings, prairie, yellow, and hooded warblers. Wow! It was worth the drive to the Hudson Highlands. I heard later the same day that a newly shed timber rattlesnake was seen sunning on the very same trail!

5/26     The frog chorus has changed from spring peepers and wood frogs to the loud trill of the gray tree frogs. The green frogs tune their banjos and the bull frogs have started to jug-o-rum at night.

5/30     The top of Ice Pond mountain was a mecca for hilltopping butterflies: tiger, spicebush, and black swallowtails joined mourning cloaks and duskywings in great numbers. The juniper hairstreaks perched on the red cedars. And the cabbage whites have come back to the vegetable garden.

As we walked on our road, ahead of us two small, dark birds in the shade engaged in courtship. They jumped up about two feet and then fluttered down. They did this multiple times – kind of circling each other. They also did what looked like a sports-celebrity chest bump. It was fascinating to watch.  — Rambler Road

5/31     At month’s end, the curtain of green has been hung. The stone walls and tree silhouettes are hidden. The grass is tall in the meadows, creating a humid and warm environment, perfect for the crickets that have started to sing. Last night, a lone firefly lit and sparkled in the dark.

In June be alert for:

  • The Full Strawberry Moon and ripe wild strawberries in the meadows
  • Fireflies, bull frogs, and bats at night

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