Keep Watching the Spring

Top Photo: Pipe vine flower.

Spring keeps rolling along in typical fashion, flora and fauna reacting and adjusting to our hemisphere’s slow tilt towards the sun. The days are getting longer, the temperatures warmer.

Here, in no particular order, are things I’ve come across in my walks around campus.

The painted lady in the photo is a worn individual with scale damage and fraying on the wings.

American lady.

Blue-gray gnatcatchers are small but noisy birds. They arrive in our area early in the season. Almost immediately, they start building their small lichen covered nests, long before the trees leaf out. Even though the branches are bare, the nests are well camouflaged. The birds, however, give away their location with constant, buzzy vocalizations and frenetic activity around the nest.

Blue-gray gnatcatcher.

Often, when the nest is complete all that’s visible of the incubating bird is its tail sticking straight up from the top rim of the nest.

Note tail sticking out on left side of nest.

Black locust is in bloom. Being a legume, it will develop seed containing pods.

The wood of the tree is often used for fence posts, flooring, railroad ties and other applications where hard, rot resistant wood is desired.

Black locust flowers.

Bullfrogs of all sizes and ages are being spotted in our wetlands. They are very adaptable and can be found in just about any permanent body of water in the state. There’s a good population of the very common amphibian in the small retention pond in Earth Moves.

Another bullfrog.

March and April are the months we see juvenile aquatic turtles hiking across our paths seeking the safety of water. They’re emerging from nests dug last summer by their maternal parents. I spotted one of the five species we have in our wetlands basking on a branch which had fallen into the water in Explore the Wild.

First time out basking in wetland for this common musk turtle.

Eastern or common musk turtles are by far the smallest of our aquatic turtles at the museum. Full grown adults are about 4.5″ from front to back of shell. The diameter of the shell on the one pictured was smaller than a quarter, about the size of a nickel. That’s less than an inch!

The two flies in the following image are flesh flies. They’re mating. In forensic entomology, these flies along with blow flies and other insects and their larvae help in determining the time of death and other considerations regarding corpses. Certain insects are attracted to flesh for nourishment for either themselves or their larvae.

Flesh flies.

By determining the species and age of an insect on a body at the time of its discovery, and knowing the life cycle of that insect or insects, investigators can estimate how long the body has been dead, and possibly whether or not it’s been moved, postmortem, to the location in which it was discovered.

If you’ve hiked along our trails here at the museum you may have noticed an evergreen shrub with spiky leaves and, at this time of year, 3/4 inch, purple, football shaped fruit, mahonia. It’s a non-native plant and was extensively planted on our Dinosaur Trail. It has volunteered at many other locations alongside the trails.

Mahonia and its berries.

Aiding the spread of the plant are birds, especially gray catbirds. Though catbirds eat many types of insects, they can’t resist fruit. Park yourself near a fruiting pokeweed, mulberry, or in this case mahonia, and you’re almost guaranteed to see a catbird fly in and gulp down several berries in quick succession.

Berries nearly gone.
The culprit, gray catbird.

It’s this appetite for small fruit that helps spread the plants across the landscape. After the seeds of the fruit pass through the bird’s digestive system they’re ”planted” via the bird’s droppings wherever the bird happens to be at the time.

The burgundy flowers of pawpaw precede the leaves.

Flowers fading as leaves emerge.
Fresh, young leaves.

The flowers of pipe vine resemble tiny calabash style dutch pipes.

Like an old style smoking pipe.

Red-spotted purple butterflies often perch atop leaves in the sunshine along woodland edges and clearings.

Red-spotted purple resting in sunshine.

Black walnut’s bark often shows a diamond pattern. It has compound leaves and large male catkins.

Diamond pattern of walnut bark.
Compound leaves.
Male catkins.

Though the catbirds, bullfrogs, and butterflies may be around for the duration of the season, the catbirds consume the berries in a hurry, flowers bloom for short periods, and those tiny turtles grow quickly. The time to get outside is now!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.