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Posts Tagged ‘spring’

testing Atlantic waters in March

Spring sometimes takes one step forward and two steps backwards…

But this spring’s steps forward and backwards seem more extreme than in the past.   How can I be finding refreshment in the waters of the Atlantic one hot day, and soon afterwards be wondering if I should thaw the water in the birdbath?

The vernal pools in the woods are almost dried up. Unless we receive a lot of rain this spring, we’re going to have a very dry summer as there’s no snow left to melt.

The Cow Bay River in late March 2010 (left) and late March 2012 (right)

The Cow Bay River in late March 2010 at left, and late March 2012 at right

Even the Cow Bay River is looking a bit drier than usual for this time of year.

Under sunny skies on Friday, the waters in the marsh were wild and churning.

On the weekend, they were calm as glass…

So calm, that you can barely tell which of these images is inverted…

March is a time of change, when winter gives way to spring.  The process is never gradual.  But these waters seem more mysterious than ever.

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Mayflowers c. 1840 by Maria Morris Miller

April showers bring mayflowers.  Sometimes in May… sometimes in April.

It’s raining today which is good news for all things green and growing.  Mayflowers  (aka trailing arbutus ~ Epigaea repens) are among the earliest native blooms to appear in Nova Scotia.  Half-hidden on the edge of the woods, their leathery leaves may look ragged and browned in spots, but the flowers are nonetheless fresh and pristine.  Their petals fade from light pink to white as spring progresses.

Mayflowers enjoy the moist, acidic environments that are typically found near bogs.   They are also shy plants, with a preference for shade. 

Over a century ago mayflowers were designated the floral emblem of Nova Scotia.  Found throughout most of eastern North America, this native evergreen plant is now considered an endangered species in Florida and vulnerable in New York. 

Unbeknownst to many gardeners who unsuccessfully try to transplant them, the roots of mayflowers have a secret relationship with fungus.  In this mutually beneficial liaison (also known as a mycorrhizal association), fungi gain direct access to carbohydrates through the roots of the mayflower.  At the same time, the fungus  makes the mayflower more resistant to disease and drought. 

In the language of flowers, mayflowers mean welcome.  Welcome to Nova Scotia.  Welcome to spring.

The image of mayflowers at top left was scanned from a postcard I purchased at the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History over two decades ago.  I photographed the mayflowers just a short walk from the bottom of Flandrum Hill Road last week.

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It’s always a bit sad when beloved houseguests leave.  Time flies as you enjoy one another’s company and then, before you know it, they’re gone, and their parting makes the house seem even emptier than it was before their arrival. 

A butterfly that stayed with us since it was discovered in late winter by my grandson was let outside today in the warm  spring sunshine.  Before it left, it unfurled its proboscis to offer a parting kiss.  Well, at least it seemed that way.

Butterflies don’t have mouths.  Instead they have a proboscis that they keep coiled until they find something edible.  Then they unfurl it and sink the end of their proboscis into nectar or whatever else they might consider worthwhile consuming.

Butterflies taste with their feet.  Perhaps this one thought there was something worth checking out further on my hand.

Moments later, the butterfly had taken flight and was on its way. Hopefully it will find a mate soon.  I’ll miss hearing it flutter in the terrarium on sunny days, but will look forward to seeing more of its kind outdoors in the summer months ahead.

All the precious time,
Like the wind the years go by.
Precious butterfly, spread your wings and fly.

~  Bob Carlisle,   Butterfly Kisses

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Although seeing a butterfly in springtime is always a joy, seeing one in winter is sure to set anyone’s heart aflutter. 

These fragile creatures, known for their marvelous ability to transform themselves from caterpillar to winged wonder, have often been employed as symbols of the soul, hope and renewal.

In late winter when there is still the threat of harsh weather, one doesn’t expect to find such a delicate creature in the woods. My grandson was turning a log over in the forest to examine a shelf fungus more closely when he caught sight of the butterfly. 

 Though its wings appeared frosted and stiff, we brought it indoors to have a closer look.  We were quickly able to identify it as a Mourning Cloak  (Nymphalis antiopa), a species that can convert glucose into antifreeze in order to survive the cold.  When its wings are closed, showing only the dark undersides, it’s also extremely well camouflaged in dark woods.

What is unsought will go undetected.
~ Sophocles

Too often, we only see what we expect to.  Adults usually don’t expect to see butterflies in winter.  But a five-year-old wouldn’t have such set expectations, so his eyes would not so easily dismiss the shape of delicate wings for dried leaves.  I wondered how many Mourning Cloaks I had missed seeing in the winter woods over the years.

Within minutes of being indoors, the butterfly was opening its wings.  Though it looked a bit ragged, it was still alive.     

The older we get, the better we learn how to manage expectations.  We don’t like to disappoint others and we especially don’t like to disappoint ourselves so we get into the habit of expecting less of everything around us.  Yet, surely there’s something to be lost in lowering expectations in order to avoid disappointment.  Besides butterflies in winter, what else might we be missing?

High expectations are the key to everything.
~  Sam Walton

Thank you to Joseph Belicek of Edmonton Alberta for identifying this butterfly’s subspecies as hyperborea.

Scott over at Views Infinitum is offering a macro photography challenge to all who are interested.  Deadline for submissions is March 23rd.  The close-up images shown above were made by using the macro mode on the Nikon Coolpix S8000.

 

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Hey, what are you doing awake?  Aren’t you supposed to be hibernating?  

It was so warm that I decided to come out and see if it was spring yet. 

Weren’t you just out last month during a warm spell?

Yes, but this mating business is so important to us salamanders that I can’t let spring pass me by.  I have to check out every possibility.

Where do you usually spend your winters?

We yellow-spotted salamanders ideally hibernate about six inches underground.  However, I’ve just been buried beneath some leaves that are heaped on a concrete floor.  Maybe that’s why I keep waking up.  I need to find some deeper digs.

Once you really  know for sure that it’s spring, where will you go?

In very early spring, we salamanders return to pools of water to mate.  Females will lay up to a couple hundred eggs.  Temporary vernal pools created by melting snow and spring rains are our favorite places because they aren’t home to the predators found in more established watering holes.  We have to get there quickly so that the eggs have a chance to go through all the phases of growth before the pools dry up.

Good luck finding deeper digs.  Hope to see you again, but no sooner than  spring :)

Waking up throughout the winter takes up a lot of the precious energy I need for mating in the spring.  I’m going to find myself a spot where I won’t be disturbed.  See ya!

This yellow-spotted salamander was found wandering about  on January 1st.  It was previously seen on December 6th

 

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sensitive ferns

Sensitive Ferns

Ferns add a touch of freshness and elegance to Nova Scotia’s forest floors in late spring.  These beautiful green plants can also be found growing along ditches and in rock crevices.

Ferns first appeared on the planet hundreds of millions of years ago and are still thriving.   They reproduce by spores or rhizomes and are quite resistant to disease.  Ferns provide the surrounding soil with mineral nutrients while the structure of their rhizome root systems reduce soil erosion.  The sensitive leaves of these bioindicators are easily damaged by acid rain.

Cinnamon Ferns

Even in Nova Scotia’s temperate climate, ferns can grow to several feet in height.  Their leaf litter is so great that mounds are often formed in forest areas where they thrive from year to year.

polypody ferns

Polypody Ferns

Moisture, shade and acidic soil attract the growth of both ferns and mosses.  Polypody ferns, shown above, crop out of rocks near the salt marsh.

Bracken Ferns

In springtime, many people enjoy eating fiddleheads, the shoots of young ferns.  Ostrich ferns are especially tasty.  However, the safety of bracken ferns, shown above, is questionable.  Its consumption has been implicated in cases of stomach and esophageal cancer, especially in Japan where it is widely eaten.  Water from sources near growths of bracken ferns is also considered suspect.  (For more information on the toxic effect of bracken ferns on water, see The Fatal Fern).

Northern Beech Ferns

Shaded northern beech ferns, shown above, capture bits of sunlight through gaps in the forest canopy.  The effect is enchanting.

In Finland, gathering fern spores on Midsummer’s Eve is believed to give the gatherer the ability to become invisible.  Also, if one was to perchance acquire the elusive fern bloom on this special night, one would be able to uncover the treasure hidden beneath the magical lights of the Will o’ the Wisp.

Even if you don’t believe in the magical powers of ferns, or partake of fiddleheads in spring, they nevertheless make a wonderful contribution to the biodiversity of the forest ecosystem.

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