Nature Detective Notes: mid April-early May

We are truly into mid-Spring now, with the weather pattern favoring the brilliant sunshine of high air pressure for one week and then a cool rain off the ocean the next!

You all may have noticed how much “higher in the sky” the sun is on those sunny days, as compared to late March. Because of that event, more heat is spread out over a greater area up here in the northern hemisphere AND that “battle ground” between North and South (so typical of March-like weather) has been toned down quite a bit. The result? More tranquil weather and much less wind. Consequently, IF the Earth is allowed to heat up enough and there is a good combination of 1) cold air aloft and 2) the presence of strong low pressure, we will be in for a good rumble of thunder and the typical storm that ensues. That will eventually come once we get out of the very dry pattern we’ve been in for a few weeks.

One other feature of our weather in this part of New England (the eastern portion) that becomes apparent from mid April-June is the “backdoor cold front.”  It starts out cool with intermittent rain moving west to east, but then remains as a showery type with winds constantly out of the east, AND off the cool ocean waters a mere 25-30 miles away. This moderating effect usually slows down budbreak, leaf out, flowering, migration of Neotropical migrants, the metamorphosing of tiny, 1st instar caterpillars, and more.  A very new phenomenon for me, having grown up in VT where things really pop this month, almost unabated.

We WILL get into the heat this Summer, but in the meantime, enjoy the mix of peaceful, rainy days and fantastic sunshine!!

Here are some things the April vacation week campers and I have observed at Moose Hill over the past few weeks—from the ground, UP:

Green Grass and Wildflowers!

  • In most of our forests of Eastern White Pine-Red/Black/White Oak-Red Maple (competing best on fine sandy loams—VP Loop, for instance), both Canada Mayflower and Starflower have leafed out, providing a lovely carpet of green throughout
  • On lawns, Dandelions and Violets (various, exotic species of blue and white) are in full flower
  • Skunk Cabbage leaves enlarge, hiding their early Spring flowers, and ferns begin to unfurl
    Carolina spring beauty

    Carolina Spring Beauty

    in lovely “fiddlehead” fashion

  • On sites with rich, loamy soils (the Lower Ovenbird, Lower Sugarbush, Wood Thrush Way, etc.), a host of Spring ephemerals are beginning to flower thanks to more intense sunshine and lack of tree foliage—Carolina Spring Beauties, Wood Anemone, Kidney –leaved Buttercup; Over the next few weeks, more will follow so stay tuned!

Shrubs—flowering and leafing out

  • Quince (red flower), early Azaleas (pink), Catawba-type Rhododendrons (purple),
    dogwood flower bud

    Dogwood flower bud

    Magnolia (pink/white), Apples/Crabapples (white/pink), and even Spicebush (in our swamps/along streams) have either flowered or are beginning to flower

  • Maple-Leaf and Arrow wood Viburnums, Elderberry, Hazelnut, Witch Hazel, Spicebush, Willow, shrubby Dogwoods, Highbush and Lowbush blueberries, and a whole host of exotic shrubs have begun to leaf out as well
white oak

White Oak

Trees!—breaking bud, leafing out, and flowering

  • Bud swell of Hickories, Sassafrass, Bigtooth Aspen, and Sugar Maple
  • Most Oaks have broken bud and are slowly beginning to leaf out
  • Black Cherry, Silverbell, Quaking Aspen, Apples/Crabapples, Bradford pear, some Red Maples, and few others have leaf out “small”
  • Some Red Maples, American Elms, and most Willows and Aspens have begun to fruit as well; Something to note here is that due to a very cold 1-2 weeks in early April, trees that are usually adapted to flower and fruit in late April, such as Red Maples and Elms (both wetland species), were pushed earlier and many succumbed to a hard freeze; Not a particularly important crop for birds, but nevertheless, important for the proliferation of these species; Willow and Aspen, being some of the hardiest of flowering trees and shrubs, we not affected as much by this freeze

Return of some Long Distant Migrants!!

  • Different waves of these migrants make their way into our area during the month of April
    Eastern Towhee (rufous-sided towhee)

    Eastern Towhee (also known as the rufous-sided towhee)

    and early May; Usually, the first I notice are the Pine Warbler, followed (in sequence) by the Chipping Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow (NOT as common this year), Yellow-rumped and Palm Warblers, Mockingbirds, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Solitary/Blue-headed Vireos (haven’t heard yet), Hermit Thrush, Rufous-sided Towhees, Fish Crows, and maybe a few other species

  • Along with these chorusing, diurnal bird species, I have been hearing a Screech Owl “whinny” during the early morning hours too


  • More Garter Snakes and even a few Ribbon Snakes were observed over
    ribbon snake

    Ribbon Snake

    the past few weeks, with the latter seen swimming in that large wetland adjacent to the Pepperbush Trail

  • Spring Peepers continue to chorus in the evening and on damp days; American Toads have been heard where I live in Stoughton over the past few weeks, especially on warm nights; a few Green Frogs have been calling, or “twanging” from the edges of wetlands lately; Wood Frogs occasionally visited the Vernal Pools to have a dip and get a bite during those warm, dry days during the past 2 weeks; Tadpoles have finally hatched out of their jelly-like egg masses following the cold weather in early April
predaceous diving beetle larvae

Predaceous Diving Beetle larvae

As of two weeks ago, diversity of life in both our smaller and larger Vernal Pools (just down from the esker along the Vernal Pool Loop) was “fair to midlin,” with water striders, phantom midge larvae, predaceous diving beetle larvae, water mites, a few caddisfly larvae in their casings, water bugs, round worms, fairy shrimp, water fleas, and the ever-present mosquito larvae; Since then, and in the upcoming weeks, the species diversity should even exceed expectations, considering the great volume of water in both pools;

So you’re probably thinking, “with such a warm Winter, how could this be so?” Going back to the last edition of our Nature Detective Notes, remember that the life cycles of these little animals (and ALL animals and plants living in temperate regions of the world, really) are truly dependent upon ultimate environmental cues, rather than just a warm or cold period; these cues include increasing day length and intensity of the sun; Just wait until late May-early June OR even early/mid September!!

Until the next time,

-Acciavatti Instep, Non Stop

Nature Detective Notes by Michael Acciavatti. Michael is our full-time teacher naturalist who often heads out on the trails to stretch his legs and observe what is happening. His enthusiasm and knowledge make for wonderful updates about the nature of Moose Hill. We hope that you will be inspired to head out on our trails as well and enjoy the changes that each season, or better yet, each month bring to Moose Hill. We look forward to seeing you here!

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