Archive for the 'Fieldnotes' Category

Skunk Cabbage Again

Symplocarpus foetidusThe spathes of Symplocarpus foetidus surround a spadix, which produces first female and then male flowers.Symplocarpus foetidusI’m afraid a fence keeps me from getting closer, but a portion of a grenade-like spadix can be seen here. It’s this that produces the heat, through rapid respiration (burning carbohydrates via oxidation), that give this plant its early spring, snow-defeating power.Symplocarpus foetidusOnce the colorful spathes, which help to insulate the spadix, begin to wither, the cabbagey leaves of the plant begin to uncurl.

Black Gum Diptych

Nyssa sylvaticaNyssa sylvatica

And poppin': Yellow Trout-lily

Erythronium americanumThe Trout-lilies (Erythronium americanum) are amongst us once again. These were in Prospect Park; a friend reports them out and about in the far north of the New York Botanical Garden as well.Erythronium americanumThe flower’s tepals curve back like this on bright sunny days, leaving the anthers fully exposed for pollinators. (There’s still not all that much flying, but every day is revealing new insects.) In some specimens of this species, the anthers and pollen are yellow, unlike the red-brown seen here.

The common name seems to come from the mottled pattern of the leaves, like a trout’s scale pattern. Flowering versions have a pair of leaves; non-flowering versions have a single leaf and are usually members of a clonal colony, duplicates of their neighbors. According to Carol Gracie, other names for this flower include Adder’s Tongue, Fawn-lily, and Dog-tooth Violet.

Quintessential spring ephemerals, these aren’t in bloom for long. Look for them (and smell them!). As with all wildflowers, don’t you dare pick them!

Let ’em rip

Populus deltoidesEastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoides).Populus deltoides

AesculusAnd these Aesculus buds.AesculusLike lipsticks against the sky.

Podophyllum peltatumAnd down in the leaf litter: Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum).

AmelanchierAmelanchier. Time for the shad to blow.

Raptor Wednesday

Falco columbariusThe patience of a Merlin (Falco columbarius).Falco columbariusAnd its knowledge of our presence.Falco columbariusWe walked the wide way around this Ginkgo biloba of a perch in Green-Wood to get this front view.


Antrostomus carolinensisNaturalist Gabriel Willow, whom I explored Monhegan Island and other parts of Maine with last year, spotted a Chuck-will’s-widow in Bryant Park yesterday. This Midtown Manhattan park is a remarkable migrant trap, but this was pretty unusual, so word quickly spread. I managed to get to the park around 3:00, where, amid the dozens of Midtowners and tourists lolling and wandering in the warm sun, a few birders were triangulating on the bird.Antrostomus carolinensisThe bird’s eyes are closed in the strong sunlight. They spend the day perched on branches and hunt airborne insects at night. That tiny-looking beak is actually just the front edge of a huge mouth, all the better for gobbling through the sky like a vacuum-cleaner. (Update: turns out they’ll even take birds! Here’s a report from the Wilson Bulletin and here’s a blurry pic of a Waterthrush in the maw.)

This is the first time I’ve seen one of these, although I’ve heard one before. Their nocturnal song is distinctive: indeed, they say their name (well, more or less).

In 2010, I found a Whip-poor-will in Prospect Park. Since then, these related species have been moved from the Caprimulgus to the Antrostomus genus by the Lord High Taxonomists. Here’s some more on the goatsucker-nightjar-nighthawk complex, including two I saw in Texas last year.


Cyanocitta cristataA Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) shapes a growing nest with its body. “Its” because this could be either male or female, as both work on the nest. Cornell’s All About Birds does say that on average males do more gathering of nesting materials and females more actual nest-building. Note the ribbon: our cast-offs are finding some use.


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