Finally, we are starting to green up here in Waghkonk, brightly verdant leaves unfolding from shrub and tree. Another color not usually associated with this season is red, but if you look in our woods right now, you’ll notice a subtle reddish haze that dominates our hardwood forest. I call it “the Red Haze of Spring”. It is the predominant color of the bud-caps of most of our deciduous trees, like Ash, Birch, Maple and Oak. Obviously, this is an ephemeral, temporary phenomenon, as these little “caps” are pushed off by the growing buds, soon to become flowers. Shortly, we’ll find the ground covered in these discarded little red dots, soon to disappear completely, composted in the new, fresh soil of the Spring of 2019. The only downside to this happening is that the reddish carpet signifies (to me, at least) that waves of pollen will soon be on their way. This is the month for “firsts” - first wildflowers, first butterfly, first ferns unfolding, etc. Today I saw the first Canada Mayflower (Wild Lily-of-the-Valley) leaves unfolding on the forest floor. They will flower in May (makes sense), carpeting the forest floor with their tiny white fireworks. In Waghkonk - and much of the area - these little beauties will carpet our woods.
Everywhere we look now, whether in field, meadow or deep forest, the advent of the Season of New Life is evident in the nitrogen-rich bright green of Spring. This is that same verdant vividness that occurs after a spring or summer rain. Let’s all enjoy this wonderful (though sometimes frustrating - two steps forward, one step back) season. Right now the woods are wide open to the bright vernal sunshine, allowing us to see further into the woods than in summer, and exposed for the coming bloom of the rest of our fantastic Spring Ephemerals (they should be out by Part 2 of this piece), many of which depend on the forest floor being open and sunny. The only downside of this openness among the trees is that, being so exposed, last year’s leaf-litter can dry out rapidly with warm winds and bright sunshine, creating the possibility of spring brush-fires, which become less likely once the understory darkens and fills in. Hopefully, we’ll keep getting enough rain to avoid this danger.
While it does seem that everything is greening up really well, there is any interesting “hitch” in this year’s cycle. It seems that many animals are early in their appearance (Woodfrogs, Spotted Salamanders, Painted Turtles, for instance), but some plants seem to be late in unfolding - Coltsfoot, Shadblow, Skunk Cabbage. The Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have already left the Yucatán Peninsula and are approaching our region, expected to arrive from their incredible journey in the next few weeks (visit www.journeynorth.org). The Monarchs have started their fantastic voyage from Michoacan, Mexico, as well, gently, but steadfastly, winging their way northward,(also follow them on Journey North). As I write this, the Shadblow - one of our first flowering native shrubs, whose flowering is normally timed closely with the advent of the Shad run - are finally (and suddenly?) blooming. Presumably, our other local flowering shrubs - Black Cherry, Chokecherry, Flowering Dogwood - will start doing the same. Two other native shrubs, Juneberry and Mountain Laurel - will wait ‘til June to flower.
Two important things for everyone to know in this season concern newborn White-tail Deer fawns and either unhatched wild bird-eggs or the newly-hatched young. There is a great contrast in how the two should be - literally - approached. Every spring people find newborn fawns lying alone in tall grasses. Some think they are abandoned or worry that the doe was hurt but this is very rarely the case.
What occurs is that as soon as the doe births the fawn(s), she must feed immediately and try to regain her strength as rapidly as possible. She is aided in this by one of the more extraordinary natural adaptations anywhere - her young are born with NO SCENT. This allows them to lie totally hidden while Mom feeds nearby, completely protected from the incredible sense of smell (five times more sensitive than canines) of their most inimical erstwhile predator - Black Bears. Coyotes love fawns, as well, but are also defeated by this strategy. Tragedy occurs, though, occasionally, when well-intentioned humans pick up the fawn to try to “rescue” it. First of all, they are removing it from where it is already safe and, secondly, by touching Bambi they can imbue it with their own scent, instantly making it detectable by predators, if released back into the wild. Also, at that point their mother may reject it since it now doesn’t smell “right”(it could smell like a human to her). If so, the poor little thing can either starve to death or become easy prey.
So please, if you find a fawn - Leave It Be.
We can directly contrast this with finding an egg or a newborn chick. Since birds have no sense of smell, please feel free to return it to the nest - their folks may never know (who knows, they might even appreciate it).
Have a fun, safe, enjoyable Spring 2019, and again, please try to wear the right footwear and stay on the trails - wet or dry. Now is the beginning of the Season of Life. If we are fortunate, we will get to see the light green of Spring become the dark green of Summer, as the Great Tide of Life brings us all closer to that magical, most mystical of times - Midsummer.
Thanks, everyone -
“Ranger” Dave Holden
rangerdaveholden on Instagram
Woodstock Trails on Facebook