A Wandering Naturalists Notes

Michael, who worked part-time for Mass Audubon for 15 years before joining the Moose Hill team permanently 10 years ago, is our very own wandering naturalist. He is always on the move, notices everything in nature, and has a passion for sharing what he sees. Michael can make anyone see just how amazing nature is – no matter where you find that place – in your town, at the shore, in the mountains. As with all of us, he is enjoying some daily walks on the streets in his town and shares the spring activity that is happening outside now.

Early Spring: Late March-mid-April

Welcome to Spring!!  After an exceptionally warm, and dry, January and February (8-9 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the 100 year average), this trend continued till late March when temperatures became more seasonable and precipitation more copious.   This, in turn, yielded the beginning of an earlier Spring with daffodills and crocuses up by mid-March, and birds like Pine Warblers returning from their southern, wintering grounds. Here are some of the observations I’ve made over the past few weeks on my Wanderings in my own neighborhood and what I know is awakening at Moose Hill. 

Red Maple flower (male)

Red Maple flowers—male: Some of the earliest of our trees to flower, giving off a “reddish-orange” hue from a distance; Driving along our roads and highways, this is one tree that you can identify clearly this time of year; the male flowers usually appear before the female ones to spread their pollen; with all of the rain and wind during April, many have fallen to the ground, littering lawns and driveways.

Red Maple flower (female)

Red Maple flowers—female: These bright red flowers tend to appear just after most male flowers have opened up AND for good reason, “Why bloom any earlier than you need to?”  New seeds (and genetic potential for the species) will be produced IF they are properly fertilized during the Spring; And IF that happens like usual, flowing water will carry them to a scarified embankment so that they may potentially germinate;  A few late freezes during early Spring (when morning temperatures drop to just below 32 degrees Fahrenheit)  might keep these seeds from even forming, so I am monitoring a few trees carefully.

Willow flowers (male)

Willow flowers (male): this genus of plants (especially the shrubbier species) also inhabits our wetlands and displays its flowers nice and early; One of the most northerly of shrubs, willows are a hardy lot, so no worries about their being able to survive cold temps and snow!  Just look at those little “pussy cat mittens!”

American Elm flowers

American Elm flowers: the Massachusetts state tree is one of the larger species to flower in the early Spring, also within wetlands and alongside streams & roads; still occasionally ravaged by Dutch Elm Disease in certain areas (western MA and up through VT), there are many healthy individuals in our neck of the woods IF you just look carefully enough—check out their classic form (below) and swelling flower buds as you drive along Rte. 27 (from Cobb’s Corner) up the hill to Sharon Center…there is a large individual on the left; Some are still in flower, while others are going to seed.

American Elm

The “vase-like shape” of an American Elm: those 3 trees I just mentioned (in Sharon) possess some of this lovely form, but not quite like those that grow in more open areas of New England.

Carolina Spring Beauty

Green Grass and early Spring Wildflowers!—some grasses flower in open, sunny forests; on lawns (and in protected areas) dandelions have begun to flower; skunk cabbage leaves enlargen, hiding their early Spring flowers; Carolina spring beauty blankets the forest floor of our lower sugarbush—a truly unique habitat in these parts with its deep, alkaline (or “sweet”) soils and almost always adjacent to a flowing body of water.

Spicebush flower

Shrubs—flowering and leafing out. The spicebush (in swamps/along streams, especially those found along Moose Hill Street) are beginning to flower and add a lovely, yellow hue to these habitats; growing at our “eye level”, they are quite easy to see; tiny yellow flowers with a “lemon pledge” type scent. Huckleberries, lowbush blueberries, and a whole host of invasive, exotic shrubs have begun to leaf out as well; flower buds of highbush blueberry begin to swell and soon will open, attracting bumblebees and other insects with their sweet scent.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-Shouldered Hawks–I’ve seen a number of these hawks circling overhead and making that distinctive, loud “Kyah! Kyah! Kyah!” over the past 2-3 weeks, often in pairs; Like Robins, Phoebes, Tree Swallows, and a handful of other birds, these are your “long distance migrants” that overwinter down in the southeastern US; So great to hear and see them back again down in these parts!  A pair nested in the swamp across the street from us last year and I am guessing that they’ll favor that again; A little smaller than your Red-Tailed Hawk with a tail that isn’t always so “broad”, besides the reddish coloration in spots and banding, are good field marks.

Pine Warbler

Along with the Yellow-shafted Flickers, Great Blue Heron, Killdeer, Woodcock, Eastern Phoebes, Tree Swallows, Field Sparrows, Chipping Sparrows, and a few other species that have returned to their breeding grounds in our area (2-3 weeks earlier than in year’s past), the Pine Warbler has also made its return, filling the piney woods with its musical trill; more often seen than heard, although they occasionally visit bird feeders during April-May.

Spring Peeper

Spring Peepers!—the little chorus frogs have been calling over the last few weeks in the wetlands across the street from our home, as well as down the road in a much larger, Red Maple swamp;  a high-pitched, “peep, peep, preeeep”, almost reminiscent of sleighbells in the distance.

Wood Frog

Wood Frogs—these most-northerly of amphibians started calling (or “quacking”) in larger numbers within our Vernal Pools during the 2nd week of March this year, 2-3 weeks earlier than usual; usually, an “explosive breeder”, with males calling loudly over a few days period and determined to attract females; a few could still be heard chorusing along Moose Hill Street (and Moose Hill Parkway) during mid-April.

Eastern Garter Snake

Eastern Garter Snake—the most northerly of reptiles, at least 2 individuals were observed basking in the sunshine along the Vernal Pool Loop back in mid-March.

There’s so much happening outside – what are you noticing on your wanderings around your yard, your neighborhood, your town?

While the Nature Center, Gift Shop and trails are closed during this time, there are still a number of ways you can support Moose Hill as we prepare for when we once again can welcome everyone back – join Mass Audubon (there’s a new member special for just $32 dollars!); join our CSA, with a regular pick-up worth $27-$32 a week, it’s a guarantee of fresh, organic vegetables this summer; support our partners:

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