The marsh marigolds are blooming! These early spring wildflowers come up in wet places and along brooks. Look for them when you are walking near shallow streams in the woods. The showy, bright yellow flowers, surrounded by green leaves, are easy to spot at this time of year.
Marsh marigolds are in the buttercup family (Ranunculacea). They look much more like buttercups than marigolds. The Latin name is Catha palustris. “Cup of the marsh” is the translation. The big, early flowers attract bees and insects to Marsh marigold aiding in pollination.
Birch is plentiful in the northern United States and Canada. Birch trees have distinctive bark making it easy to identify different species. Two birches common in our area are Gray birch and Yellow birch. Look for these trees on your walks in the woods.
Gray birch (Betula populifolia)
Gray birches have chalky white bark with black triangular patches on the trunk. As a gray birch gets older the black chevrons become more distinct. The bark is smooth and tough. Native American people used the flexible, highly waterproof sheets of bark for canoes and shelters.
Often several trunks will grow from one root source. Gray birches are easy to spot in the woods as they are the only trees in our area with a white bark.
Yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis)
Yellow birch is one of the largest hardwood trees in the northeastern United States. The bark is yellowish and slightly shiny. The outer layers of the bark peel horizontally in thin, curly strips.
The wood of Yellow birch is strong and even-textured. It is an excellent building material for cabinets, and interior woodwork.
On my afternoon walk I spotted an American Kestrel. This handsome bird was doing what kestrels do, sitting on an open perch, hunting for insects and small rodents. Seeing the kestrel was a huge thrill for me, it really lifted my spirits.
Back at home I got out the Sibley Guide to Birds to refresh my knowledge about kestrels. Kestrels are the smallest and most widespread falcon, ranging throughout North America. The kestrel I saw was a male. Its wings were bluish gray, the back and tail feathers were rusty-red, the breast speckled. When perched, the kestrel pumps its tail to maintain balance. The illustrations in the Sibley Guide show both the female and male kestrel and how the bird looks in flight.
David Sibley’s original art for this illustration in the Sibley Guide to Birds is in Mass Audubon’s art collection at the Museum of American Bird Art. To see more of David Sibley’s art, and to read about his new book, What It’s Like to Be a Bird, visit his website. MABA’s exhibition of original art from the book is expected to be on view again when the museum reopens to the public.
Our guest blogger, Julianne Mehegan, is a wonderful friend of MABA, a birder and a naturalist.
Catching its breath in between catching gnats this Blue-gray Gnatcatcher catches a few rays from the sun. Migrants are returning to Massachusetts. This Blue-gray Gnatcatcher was photographed in Easton on April 6, 2020.
Blue-gray Gnatcatchers spend most of their time in broadleaf and mixed forests with a healthy understory, especially those with streams and wetlands. They eat small insects, arthropods, spiders, and other small invertebrates. Check out their nests in the video below, amazing to see how it is camouflaged with lichens and built so naturally right on the branch.
A nesting Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Barry Van Dusen spends some time with Blue-gray Gnatcatchers
This is a guest blog post by Julianne Mehegan, a wonderful friend of MABA, birder, and naturalist.
Skunk cabbage is a plant with super powers. It grows in wetland areas. In winter skunk cabbage can warm the mud up to 70 degrees. The flowers push up through the warm mud and attract pollinators before any other plants come up.
A few days later the leaves appear. They are bright green and resemble cabbage. When crushed the leaves give off an unpleasant odor, like a skunk. That’s how this plant got it’s common name skunk cabbage.
In early spring as you walk in wetland areas, look for Skunk cabbage growing in the mud. Look closely at the flower and the leaves. Skunk cabbage loses its leaves every year but the plant can live up to 20 years. The scientific name is Symplocarpus foetidus. In Latin foetidus means foul smelling.
A Moment of Zen Skunk Cabbage at the Pequit Brook at MABA
Barry Van Dusen visits Habitat and finds Skunk Cabbage, Owls, and much more
As our patterns of life have fragmented into a new routine, the ritual of finding solace and comfort in nature – whether it from my living room window while my girls jump on the couch (happening right now as I write), in my yard, or at nearby conservation land – seem all the more important.
“…While I was thinking this I happened to be standing just outside my door, with my notebook open, which is the way I begin every morning. Then a wren in the privet began to sing. He was positively drenched in enthusiasm…”
When the chance allows in the morning, during the days with my kids, or in the late afternoon, I’ve been trying to spend time observing nature and taking photographs to share with you.
With the spring really starting to spring, the Red-winged Blackbird takes center stage.
You will see Red-winged Blackbirds spending their breeding season in Massachusetts in places like freshwater ponds, fresh and saltwater marshes, and streams. They especially love areas with reedy plant growth. Red-winged Blackbirds will occasionally nest in forests along waterways, sedge meadows, and fallow fields at farms.
For the next few months, you will see males making dramatic displays and calls to defend their territory. Learn more by watching the video below.
Flamboyant Displays: Learn more about the territorial displays of the Red-winged Blackbirds
The song of the Red-winged Blackbird is a constant sign of spring in wetland areas. The song of a male is a creaky conk-la-ree! Listen to it in the following video.
Red-winged Blackbird call
Female Red-winged Blackbird
Blending in is the goal of the female Red-winged Blackbird. She will sit still on her nest, usually built in the reeds with brownish grasslike material. It is imperative that predators overlook her and the nest. Few female Red-winged Blackbirds have arrived in Massachusetts, they usually arrive 2 to 3 weeks after the male Red-winged Blackbirds.
Nothing is so beautiful as Spring – When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush; Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing; The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
And remember, be safe, be well, you’re not alone, and we will meet again.
This is a guest blog post by Julianne Mehegan, a wonderful friend of MABA, birder, and naturalist
Look for this small green plant when you are walking in the
woods. These plants evolved about 410
million years ago. They are found
Running Cedar Wompatuck State Park, Hingham April 4, 2020 J. Mehegan
The common name of this plant is Running cedar. It looks like a small cedar tree and it “runs” along the ground. The scientific name is Lycopodium digitatum. Running cedar is in the family of plants called clubmosses. It reproduces by spores instead of seeds. The spikey, yellowish top of the plant in the center of the photo is the part of the plant that has the spores.
The feet of the heron, under those bamboo stems, hold the blue body, the great beak above the shallows of the pond. Who could guess their patience? Sometimes the toes shake, like worms. What fish could resist?…
A Great Blue Heron answers the dinner bell
Although the iron grey sky hung low and the drizzle damped the muddy spring earth, I’ve been trying to spend time in communing with nature each day and enjoying the restorative power of simply being outdoors. Especially for those who can’t make it outside during our days of shared isolation, I’m always searching for the spectacular in the ordinary and not so ordinary that surrounds us everyday to bring you some wonderful glimpses of the natural world through my photography. As I was driving around the Norton Reservoir looking for Common Mergansers, Buffleheads, Bald Eagles, and other ducks, I spotted a faint flash of bright white in some cattails and reeds along the pond’s edge. I was delighted to see a Great Blue Heron and really excited when I realized it was enjoying a meal, mostly likely a sunfish – either a Pumpkinseed or Bluegill. I hope you enjoy these photographs of this amazing natural history moment.
Great Blue Herons will eat almost anything – from fish, small mammals, frogs, and more. Because herons and other birds lack teeth, they can’t chew and swallow their prey whole.
Will the Fish Fit?
Swallowing it Whole! Look at the Neck…
Where is my next meal???
Landscape of the Norton Reservoir with two Common Mergansers in the Distance
Thank you so much for reading our Nature in a Minute photo essay. We hope you are doing well in these challenging and uncertain times. Also, we have linked to a wonderful post by Barry Van Dusen, our former artist-in-residence at MABA, about his wonderful visit to a Heron Rookery at the Rocky Hills Wildlife Sanctuary in Groton.
Barry Van Dusen visits a Heron Rookery at the Rocky Hills Wildlife Sanctuary during his artist-in-residence at MABA
Although it remains mysterious to science how nature calms and restores our brain, it never ceases to amaze me how a brief respite walking through a garden to watch seedlings emerge after a long winter or sauntering through a woodland and hearing the songbirds sing for the first time in many months revitalizes the spirit.
Besides, when I am alone I can become invisible. I can sit on the top of a dune as motionless as an uprise of weeds, until the foxes run by unconcerned. I can hear the almost unhearable sound of the roses singing.
― Mary Oliver, How I go to the Woods
The woods and meadows at the Museum of American Bird Art are alive with sounds, sights, and spirit of spring – renewal and rebirth.
The wood frogs and spotted salamanders have come and gone from the vernal pools, leaving tens of thousands of eggs that will soon hatch. The young tadpoles and salamander larvae that emerge are tenacious. In their struggle to survival and transform, their tiny bodies expend so much energy that the pond is constantly full of tiny ripples that are visible only when you slow down, look closely, and remain still. Oh, what joy these splendid little puddles in the woods bring after a long winter.
While the vernal pool awakes, it’s bounty will nurture the nearby woods and the Barred Owl eagerly watches and waits…