The month of April has been very eventful in the quiet woods along the Big Oak Trail. Many of the spring ephemerals have been in full bloom this month. Although there are still a few days left in April, I want to share some of the highlights and happenings on the Big Oak Trail.
Starting at the very beginning, April 1st proved to be an exciting day at Lakeshore Nature Preserve! Flecks of blue caught my eye as Sandi and I entered the trail. Siberian Squill (Scilla siberica), a beautiful and non-native spring flower from the lily family had begun to pop out of the ground amongst the green and brown of the forest floor. Also breaking through the soil was the first Bloodroot of the season. The white flowers of Sanguinaria canadensis, were just little balls at the end of a green stem with the distinct leaves still wrapped around the stem, refusing to let go in the chilly afternoon. Bloodroot grows in clusters called colonies that are connected underground by rhizomes. The seeds of bloodroot are collected and dispersed by ants which eat the fleshy part and use the remaining seed as nest material. Bloodroot is said to have been used by Native Americans for natural medicines, as well as, a natural dye however, the red juice of the rhizomes are considered toxic.
The weather over the next week and a half presented several days with cool temperatures (40s and 50s) and overcast skies. After several more visits to the Preserve, I grew impatient while waiting for the bloodroot to fully open up and show off the white and yellow flowers. Finally, on April 11th, the bloodroot along the Big Oak Trail had opened up enough to get some great photos! Sandi and I spent about four hours at Lakeshore that day, walking from the Frautschi Point parking lot out to the tip of Picnic Point and back. Mallard ducks and Canada geese were blending into their nests at the landlocked wetland along the Picnic Point peninsula. There were many American coots, a pair of Pied-billed grebes, a pair of Wood ducks and a single loon out on the lake. It was very windy that day and while at the tip of the peninsula, I noticed a gull sitting on top of a light post. The gull tried several times to take flight and was swept back down by the wind. Eventually, the gull made it out to join others above the lake.
Spring ephemerals are plants that have a characteristically short life cycle. They appear after the snowmelt, during the warm weeks in April and May and disappear nearly as quickly. I first really took note of new colors during the “teen” week of April. Starting with the light purple buds of Virginia Bluebells, on April 16. Two days later, April 18th, the white flowers of Twinleaf were present alongside distinct, large leaves which are nearly divided in half. The upside down yellow flower of Uvularia grandiflora (Large-leaf Bellwort), caught my eye since I have never seen it before. The leaves of Trout lilies could be found in clusters throughout the Preserve but, I did not see the presence of any flowers on the Big Oak Trail during this week.
Fast Forward to April 23
On April 23rd, I was excited and surprised to see the start of uncurling ferns on the Big Oak Trail. Since this is my first time really paying attention to phenology in a specific location, I am trying to take it all in and absorb every detail of every new appearance! Normally a fern is a fern to me but, when I saw what I saw, I stopped in my tracks and had to observe the new spring arrival up close. This was the highlight of my day on the Big Oak Trail. The only thing that could top it would be the presence of the first Jack-in-the-pulpit! I have been waiting for weeks, watching each new plant, anticipating and silently predicting what it would turn into.
A Beautiful Way to End April
April has been a terrific month of emerging phenology and I am looking forward to May! While the observations and reports that I include in this blog are specific to the Big Oak Trail, there are also many phenological events happening throughout the Preserve. Two pairs of Barred owls continue to make announce their presences on both ends of the Preserve, along the Big Oak Trail at Frautschi Point and near the Picnic Point entry. Near Raymer’s Cove I saw my first (at Lakeshore Preserve) yellow-rumped warbler, spotted a ruddy duck amongst a mass of coots on a very windy day. American toads were seen mating near the landlocked wetland at Picnic Point and I have seen a pair of hybrid Mallard ducks in the wetland and out on the lake. There have been horned grebes and common loon on each side (north and south) of the Picnic Point peninsula.
– Mariah Myers