There were many new and exciting signs of spring to take note of on our walk. One of the first things that we saw was a sea of green moss covering the forest floor. Mixed in with the fresh green moss were the minute sprouts of various woodland wildflowers. We had to observe carefully at times, to be sure not to miss anything. Some of the more obvious signs of spring which started a few weeks ago, were the serenading songs of cardinals, robins, and song sparrows.
We stopped at a grove of conifer (cone-bearing) trees along the trail to look for one of the barred owls that I have frequently observed in the area. No luck with the owl so we continued on and found ourselves paying close attention to the forest's deciduous (leaf-bearing) trees and using a key to identify some of the trees. We found silver maple trees, standing so tall that it was almost easy to miss the presence of their flowers hanging in the canopy. Mature silver maples have bark made of shaggy flakes that often curl at the end, and are one of two Acer (maple) species to flower in the spring. Paying attention to the bark of trees, Gisela and I also identified several oaks which were a bit more difficult to ID for me without seeing the leaves. The best ways to identify deciduous trees in winter and early spring are by the bark, forming buds, and presence of flowers. Another way to identify an oak species from other oaks is to compare the seeds (acorns). Red oak acorns do not have hairs or fringe on the cap and the cap is very shallow. In contrast, bur oaks (Quercus macrocarpa) have hairy caps that cover more than half of the fruit. The hackberry trees we saw were easy to ID with their characteristically warty bark with prominent ridges.
Gisela pointed out young bur oaks along the edge of the forest paralleling the Biocore Prairie. She informed me that these trees are part of a restoration project to re-establish the presence of open grown trees in order to re-create a more natural oak savanna type habitat. I have many times walked past these trees and stopped to check out the galls all along the branches and leaves.
We took note of what is left of a decomposing stump and decided this would be an excellent example of nature to periodically observe the rate of decomposition as well as, signs of animals and other natural occurrences. We paused near the manmade shelter on the trail and I made a mental note of how different it looks when not covered in snow. Near the shelter, I showed Gisela the area where I saw a coyote crossing my path last month heading towards the prairie from the Big Oak Trail.
Eventually, we made it to the Biocore Prairie and walked over to the picnic table by a bluebird box. While there, we were serenaded by a song sparrow singing at the top of his vocal cords and to the best of his ability. We didn't see any bluebirds but, I told Gisela that I witnessed a pair of bluebirds entering/exiting the box and fending off unwanted house guests (house sparrows, chickadees, etc) two weeks ago.
At this point, Gisela and I parted ways. Sandi and I proceeded to walk from the Biocore Prairie out to The Narrows, hiking the trail along the lake. Passing the wetland, there were a few pairs of mallards and Canada geese, and many red-winged blackbirds making their presence known. On the lake, I saw a group of about 10 buffleheads and a grebe trying to stay afloat the rough water. Upon the hike back to Frautschi Point, I stopped once more at the bluebird box and sure enough, there was a male bluebird in the tree calling and ready to fend off unwanted visitors. I did also see my first of the year tree swallow swooping through the air, catching insects.