April 2014

Nature’s first green is really gold, and sometimes red. The willow trees glow gold in the warm spring sun, pussy willows and skunk cabbage flowers are yellow with pollen, and the swelling catkins of the speckled alder hug the shores of wetlands and ponds.

Gold-colored catkins of speckled alder dropping piles of pollen on table.

Speckled alder catkins. If you’re going to use the wind for pollination you need to make a lot of pollen – Photo: Beth Herr

3/31     Some salamanders were on the move last night as the traps at Pawling Nature Reserve demonstrated today. It was not a major migration, but a start, even with ice still covering most of the pond area. Traps captured salamanders at two of the four ponds sampled.  — Jim Utter

Salamanders caught in a salamander trap for counting

Jefferson salamander with spotted friends – Photo: Jim Utter

4/1     A soft pink sunrise at 6:35 makes a fine beginning to the month of April. Yesterday’s howling winds are gone leaving a stillness perfect for announcing territories. The dawn chorus of birds increases, warm southerly breezes bring midday clouds and a spectacular golden sunset at 7:19 lasts until almost 8:00.

Lake ice turns grey as more direct sunlight melts from above, and springs bubble from below. Water from the springs at 48.6° create holes in the long-lasting ice. It looks like Swiss cheese. The furry paws of pussy willows shine in the sun, skunk cabbage leaves pierce the soil, alder catkins swell, and moths fly in the TV light.

4/3     Lake Carmel is ice-free!

4/4     The big night! Rain that started in the afternoon and continued through the night was perfect for the salamanders to move in moisture and under cover of darkness. Over sixty yellow-spotted salamanders were found in one trap set in a vernal pool on Horsepound Road.

Trapped yellow-spotted salamanders being released.

Look at all those spots! – Photo: Beth Herr

4/4     We have had good numbers of ducks (2078) and it seems like they may have increased yesterday, given the number Judy saw from her home. It would have been valuable to get the numbers from the observing site at the abandoned tracks tonight, but it was just too cold and windy. With the north winds, the ducks should sit tight, so maybe Sunday night we will have a chance to count them again.  — Jim Utter

4/5     Windy, but traps filled with salamanders! And there on the ground, slow to move and allowing a close look, a garter snake!

Garter snake poking out of leaf litter.

Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis, the common garter snake – Photo: Beth Herr

4/6     The Amphibian Hunt on the Clearpool Campus was greeted with a stunning spring day. Deep blue skies were decorated with a quarter moon all day long, warm breezes brought out mourning cloak butterflies, and spring peepers called. Over 50 people enjoyed learning about the special creatures that inhabit vernal pools: yellow-spotted, marbled, and red-spotted salamanders; fairy shrimp and wood frogs. Participants netted all of these species, egg masses and spermatophores. There are at least six vernal pools within the Clearpool Model Forest.

I paddled the Great Swamp in late afternoon and was treated to a springtime frenzy: tree swallows sweeping the air, phoebes announcing their return with bobs of their tails. Rusty and red-winged blackbirds raucously held congress while painted turtles basked.

4/6     I had a few people show up for the “last minute” Naromi Land Trust salamander hike last night and it was well worth it. The conditions were perfect. Salamanders were out in about in good numbers and the wood frog chorus was quackorific! The group witnessed a small (dozen or so) mating ball or congress which was impressive along with seeing a few large predacious diving beetles. I visited another pool afterwards by myself that usually holds multitudes of fairy shrimp, but this year not a single one…hence the name “fairy shrimp” – sometimes they are there sometimes they’re not!  — John Foley

4/8     Ice still floats in the upper reaches of the West Branch Reservoir: one side of the Nichols Street causeway is ice free, the other is still locked in winter’s chill.

Panoramic photo of Nichols Street causeway leading across the norther part of the West Branch Reservoir

Guess which side of the Nichols Street causeway is north – Photo: Beth Herr

4/10     While enjoying a beautiful day of paddling in the Great Swamp in Patterson, I found some charismatic megafauna. That’s a long way of saying I saw some great mammals. At first I thought I saw a mink, but then I looked closer. Its body size was much larger than a mink and it had a big tail. Its brown coat shimmered in the sunlight and I could tell by its sloping gate that it was an otter. It climbed a stump, then disappeared out into the water.

Later on during my downriver paddle, I saw another brown animal which I initially thought might have been a beaver or another otter. It turned out to be a muskrat. Its ears and long slender tail were a dead giveaway. Along with mammal sightings, I saw a kingfisher fly from tree to tree over the center of the stream. There were several woodpeckers calling and some swallows were working the blue sky looking for insects.

My Kent apiary survived the winter with some losses. Two out of the five hives made it through the winter. Unfortunately two of the hives that became dead-outs were my top-bar hives. So I am going to repopulate those hives with some packages of bees. Three pounds of bees, about 15,000 workers and a queen, will come up from Georgia. Local bees are not available this early.

The bees have been flying steadily now for about two weeks. The first pollen comes from skunk cabbage and pussy willow. Now the red maples are in full bloom providing both pollen and nectar to the hives to raise new spring bees.  — Ralph Szur

Photo of bees at the entrance to their hive entering and exiting

Finally! It’s warm enough to work – Photo: Ralph Szur

4/10     Yesterday there was ice, and now, after an inch of rain last night, all is open water. A flock of hooded mergansers and some ring-necked ducks have moved in at the Nichols Street causeway.

4/12     Kaye and I recently hiked the trail in the Michael Ciaola Conservation Area leading to the gorge. It is only about a mile long but is magnificent.  — George Baum

Photo of a trout lily in bloom

A trout lily pokes its head up to greet the sun – Photo: George Baum

4/14     My daughter’s nanny was walking our 4-month old grandson on their road (Hortontown – across the Taconic) today when they were harassed by an aggressive swan. What’s up with that? Perhaps a nest nearby?  — Marty Collins

Ed. note: Swans can be very aggressive and it was most likely protecting a nearby nest. Swans will hiss and charge and have been known to attack. This sounds like it might be a mute swan, and though an introduced species, it is still considered a migratory bird and therefore protected. Any management would be by special permit from the NYSDEC. Best to give a wide berth for a few weeks!

4/15     Full Grass Moon. The grass really is finally greening up.

4/16     Yesterday’s all-day rain ended with the unmistakable tic-tic of ice on the windows! Sleet! Snow! Morning sunlight revealed snow and ice coating the spring green, and the temperature was a windy 26°. Winter is apparently holding on through the middle of April. Luckily, the pansies and lettuces in the garden survived the cold. The last frost date is usually around May 15, but who knows this year.

4/17     It was below freezing last night, but spring sun quickly warms the air. Red maple flowers give the hills a pink blush, and offer the squirrels a feast. They’re trying to get their sodium requirements, as the sap underneath is packed with the element. Some squirrels do this at the beginning of both the spring and autumn seasons every year.

Photo of fallen red maple flowers on a carpet of green moss

Red maple tips on moss – Photo: Beth Herr

4/18     I removed two female deer ticks – the ones that can carry Lyme Disease – from my neck today. Ticks are active above 40°. They had a nice, easy winter, staying moist under a nice blanket of snow. That followed a high-mast year making for lots of white-footed mice eating all the nuts and carrying ticks from here to there. Tick numbers will be high this year! Tuck your pants in your socks when out in the woods and fields and do a tick check on returning home!

4/20     Easter Sunday – sparkling, warm and clear – a sunny spring day that makes the winter seem far away.

4/21     I went in search of the earliest of spring wildflowers, the shy but beautiful hepatica. It only blooms on sunny days, folding and lowering its blossoms if a cloud creates a shadow. All-day sunshine with clear blue skies brought many delightful sightings. How gay they seem against the brown forest floor.

Photo of Hepatica nobilis in flower

“Hepatica” is much nicer for this lovely flower than “Liverwort,” don’t you think? – Photo: Beth Herr

4/22     Increasing clouds and southerly breezes brought warm rains by day’s end. The spring peepers jingle away, the American toad begins its trill, and frogs cross the wet roadways – highlighted by car headlights.

4/25     Yellow-bellied sapsuckers drum all day long. The drum is slow enough to count the beats. The drumming of other birds is so rapid the beats are hard to count. During the breeding season, sapsuckers still consume sap, but later their diet shifts primarily to insects. They catch insects in midair and capture them at sap wells.

4/30     Rain, rain for two days straight; over five inches in the rain gauge.

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nature’s first green is gold,

Her hardest hue to hold.

Her early leaf’s a flower;

But only so an hour.

Then leaf subsides to leaf.

So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn goes down to day.

Nothing gold can stay.

Robert Frost, 1874 – 1963

Photo of Sanguinaria canadensis in bloom

Note how the leaves wrap around the blossom stems. How perfect is that? – Photo: Beth Herr

In May be alert for:

  • Blooming shadbush trees
  • The return of sparrows – tree, fox, white-throated, song, white-crowned and field sparrows
  • The arrival of the warblers – the last come when the oaks begin to leaf out
  • The trilling of the gray tree frogs and the first song of the crickets
  • The first fireflies to appear after sunset
  • The sweet smell of vernal grass after lawns and fields have been mowed
  • The Full Flower Moon on the May 14 with wild pinxster azalea in full bloom

Join us for:

  • The Mothers’ Day Hike to Hawk Rock and the Mead Farm Ruins. We’ll see beautiful spring wildflowers along the way. The hike is scheduled for Sunday, May 11 at 11am. For more details click here.

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