A Hike at the Old Farm

The Man spent large chunks of Holy Week and the Easter Octave on call in the hospital but we still squeezed in lots of outdoor time in the sunshine. This week we tried a couple forest preserves we’d never visited before along with low-key walks and playground visits. These pictures were all taken on a walk at a local farm that the local conservancy bought for public use. It felt like we should be filming a BBC Jane Austen production in this scenery.

By some miracle not a single child fell in the creek (though someone did throw themselves down in the mud during a tantrum). Jenny completed the entire hike on her own two legs, a first for her. Thanks to her start as a micro-preemie she’s tended to meet physical milestones a bit later than normal but we’re seeing huge progress as she approaches her third birthday. She graduated from feeding therapy last week, too! At one point she balked in the trail, terrified of a dead tree trunk up ahead. Before I could help her Jack (4) stepped in, took her hand, and walked her safely past reassuring her that it was just a tree as they went. It’s a sweet moment to remember in the midst of the raucous sibling battles that sometimes break out around here.

 

Nature Notes, April 6th – 14th

This is the first of many blurry and shadowy photos ahead as I usually just snap quick photos for later identification, usually while juggling a child or two (or three, or four). We spent this afternoon at the park. I found a robin’s nest in the highest tower of the playground. What beautiful eggs! We lifted each of the kids up for a peek, then shooed them away to protect the nest. I hope the parents don’t abandon it. They picked a busy place to raise their babies.

A week ago only small bushes and the crabapple trees were leafing out. Why do they sprout leaves before the larger trees? The willows came to life again at the same time. For several days the treetop landscape from our hill was all grays and browns, interspersed with fresh yellow-green patches in all the damp valleys and pondsides where the willows grow. We have one in our backyard, too, which makes me happy. I love willows. A week later and many of the larger trees are putting out leaves as well. I found out an interesting tidbit while reading. We often worry about a mid-winter thaw confusing the trees and triggering too-early buds. However, it turns out that trees rely not on the temporary temperature but on receiving a set total number of cold days to start budding. That’s why you want to plant trees grown in your own area. Among other problems, a southern tree planted in the north could be programmed to leaf out too early for this area and get killed off by frost.

The crocuses are dying off. Daffodils are at peak bloom. Many yards have large patches of pretty blue squill. I took the kids on a hike earlier this week where we saw mayapples popping up, trillium, bloodroot, one lonely first bluebell, and this hard-to-identify flower. The closest match I could find in my wildflowers guide was cutleaf toothwort (a Harry Potter-esque name if I ever heard one). It’s a perfect match in leaf, bud, color, and design except that every description of cutleaf toothwort I read said it has four petals and this has five. Any naturalists want to help me out?


At home that afternoon I realized we have large patches of violets in the yard. We also have a redbud tree I hadn’t spotted before. You can’t see the flowers in the pine-shaded woods unless the sun hits it just right so it snuck under our radar. My Mom identified the last plant below as phlox, but wasn’t sure of the variety.

On another hike on Palm Sunday we heard spring frogs by the hundreds in a pond. We also saw lots of deer tracks, and found a large patch of fur where a deer was rubbing off its heavy winter coat.

I usually think of herons as solitary birds but the other day five white herons flew low over the road in front of my car. I’ve seen many others, mostly blue, flying in pairs lately. It turns out that herons nest in heronries of up to 150 birds in the spring. Given the numbers I’m seeing there must be one nearby. They usually pick isolated places to nest like islands or more remote patches of woods so I suppose we won’t get a look. From what I’ve read, what we think of as a white herons is often just a white stage of the blue heron. Either way, they always look eerily prehistoric to me.

Much earlier this spring I saw a huge flock of unfamiliar big birds flying high overhead. Another flew over as I picked the kids up from school the next day. They had unfamiliar and beautiful calls I’d never heard before. Annie’s aide wondered if they were herons, but a heron’s call is a hoarse croak. I finally pinned them down as sandhill cranes. Quite a rare thing to spot (and hear!) around here as they’re not local and just fly through during their migration to northern breeding grounds after a winter in the warm South.

Many other birds are back to stay. I’ve seen lots of cardinals and robins, of course. Pigeons, gulls, and swallows have returned. Jack has a great memory. After hearing a mourning dove for the first time a couple of weeks back he heard another on a walk this week and recognized it right away. The marshland is full of red-winged blackbirds. I see several hawks a day, including a couple of small hawks or falcons I don’t recognize. Are they juveniles or another variety? A pretty little house finch hung out by the dining room window as we ate this weekend and sent me off on a long rabbit trail to identify it.

Bees and wasps are back, and we came out to find box elder bugs in tight little clusters covering the front of the house by the hundreds. Annie had a grand time gently poking them off. Then Josie staggered up the front steps, toddled over to inspect a giant clump, turned around, and slowly, placidly…sat on them. Good thing we’re used to laundry.

We’ve had lots of beautiful open windows weather lately. Long walks, hikes, park afternoons, picnics on the deck. Spring!