Steamrolling Along

Spring just keeps on rollin’ along, and the pace is quickening. Many insects are emerging, flowers blooming, and birds migrating, whether returning to the local habitats or just passing through on their way further north.

Here’s some of what’s been happening over the last week or so here at the Museum, in no particular order.

An early season dragonfly.

An immature male blue corporal. It will soon become nearly all blue in color (females remain brown).

The blue corporal is named for the mature male’s blue color and the two stripes on the insect’s “shoulders,” one on each shoulder (the rank of corporal in the military is represented as two stripes or chevrons).

One of several butterflies that overwinter as adults but are active on warm days is the comma.

A comma spreads its wings on the leaf liter.

A native (almost) shrub or small tree, buckeye is in bloom.

Red buckeye’s (Aesculus pavia) tubular flowers open up.

The native buckeye here on the piedmont is yellow or painted buckeye (Aesculus sylvatica). It has yellowish flowers. Red buckeye is common on the coastal plain.

Below, a distinctly non-native shrub, autumn olive. It produces small reddish fruit with tiny silver dots that are edible. They taste like a sweet tart. They have very large seeds relative to the size of the fruit. The flowers are exceptionally fragrant.

Autumn olive flowers.

A tree from China, dawn redwood. Thought to be extinct until rediscovered in China in 1944, dawn redwood is the smallest of the redwoods, although it can get to more than 160 feet in height. They are deciduous conifers.

Dawn redwood shoots out new leaves.

A native tree and North Carolina’s state flower, flowering dogwood.

Flowering dogwood.

An unfortunate encounter with a hawk? The feathers below belonged to a northern flicker, a woodpecker. I don’t know what the cause of death was. It may have been a window strike (it was next to the Sprout Cafe here at the museum) and an animal, perhaps feral cat or gray fox, picked it up and carried it to a nearby picnic area to be eaten. It may also have been a hawk which subdued the woodpecker. There were many more feathers nearby.

Northern flicker’s feathers (tail and wing feathers of the yellow-shafted flicker).

A small native shrub with several odd names, American Strawberry-Bush, Hearts-a-Burstin’, Bursting Heart, Brook Euonymus…is about to bloom. Whatever you call it, it’s easy to bypass at this time of year. The flowers are inconspicuous to say the least. The one pictured below is just now budding. Its latin name is Euonymus americanus (u-ON-uh-mus) 

Bursting heart’s tiny flower buds.

A small tree with very hard wood and at least two names, ironwood or hop hornbeam is a small tree which likes shade. It’s an understory tree.

Ironwood or hop hornbeam catkins and leaf sprouts.
Closer look at hornbeam’s catkins.

A non-native shrub, mahonia produces purple berries which are bitter but edible. Jam can be made from the fruit.

Mahonia or Oregon grape berries.

A year-round resident, pine warblers can sometimes be heard singing throughout the winter season. The song is a somewhat flat rolling trill. The bird below, along with several yellow-rumped warblers (winter visitors here at the museum) was on the pavement pecking at some undetermined food item.

Male pine warbler.

A cultivated viburnum, well represented here at the museum, is in bloom.

Double file viburnum.

Waxmyrtle, a draw for the above mentioned winter visiting yellow-rumped warbler, has indistinct yellowish flowers.

Wax myrtle flowers.

Although we do have the native wisteria on the property, the variety below is of Asian origin.

Wisteria (Asian).

Leaving our area in October, gray catbirds typically return in April. They announce their return with a squeaky yet sweet song.

Gray catbird sings.

I thought I was seeing the swarming of ants when I noticed the insects below taking flight from a pine stump on the Dinosaur trail. A closer look revealed they were termites. The wings, twice the size of the bodies, and straight antennae gave it away.

Termites cast off to start new colonies.
Ready to launch. Note straight antennae.
Caught in mid-air.

A small tree which produces edible fruit, serviceberry is now in bloom.

Serviceberry in bloom.

Preferring cherries to other trees, tent caterpillars are building their silken tents on our resident cherries.

An early season threat, tent caterpillars prefer cherry trees.

A Virginia pine borer or sculptured pine borer (Chalcophora virginiensis) was on the path on the Dinosaur Trail. This beetle is one of the metallic woodboring beetles. The larvae of these beetles feed on pines. The life cycle may last two years.

A metallic woodboring beetle.

Year round residents, brown thrashers are related to the catbird above, they’re both mimic thrushes. The thrashers have a more melodious song.

Brown thrasher perched to sing its sweet song.

As I mentioned, things are moving along swiftly. If you don’t get out there and have a look around you’ll miss all of this and probably more.

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