Monday, May 5, 2014

Ephemeral Early Spring

April in the Ottawa Valley, 2014. Mostly cooler than average, with lots of clouds and wind.

Yet, dear readers, nature is well adapted to these conditions and has proceeded.  I have captured a few winks and blinks of the passage of time.  The photos are all taken in the last week of April.

Things move very fast during Spring.  The snow melted slowly, thanks to the cool weather, which limited local flooding.  Though the land is still saturated, there is a lot of growing going on in the forest. Taking advantage of the short period of time between snow melt and leafing out of deciduous trees,  many forest floor plants leap into leaf and flower.  As a group, these plants are called Ephemerals. Along with a few local butterflies, moths and insects that overwinter as adults, and very early migratory birds which join their resident alumnae, the forests and other ecosystems emerge from winter.

The ephemeral ponds and marshes are wild with amphibian activity as western chorus frogs, spring peepers and wood frogs join leopard frogs, and salamanders for very intense breeding activity announced through continuous vocalisations.

In this part of the world, frost is a threat right up to the third week of May.  The plants that emerge in April are very frost tolerant.  These hardy plants cover the forest floor. Depending on the soils, aspect and geology, different plants tend to dominate.

Some of them, as with  later Spring and Summer plants, are aliens, and can be invasive.  Although
Coltsfoot,  Tussilago farfara, is an alien and can be invasive in other parts of Ontario, in this region, it isn't seen very often in the forest:

The flowers emerge from a rhizome before the leaves emerge.  Early pollinators are eager to aid in its reproduction.

Note the leafess rhizome.  To the right of the Coltsfoot is a single leaf of the Trout Lily another yellow flower which will grace our forests early in May.
Also at Beryl Gaffney Park, in south Ottawa, along the Rideau River, an Eastern Comma Butterfly flies after a long winter, and just down the path, we spy a Cecropia Moth cocoon.
Eastern Comma (photo courtesy of Jon Ruddy)

Cecropia Moth cocoon with Jon Ruddy's hand

The day after, I ventured from home to the March Highlands, which, with its marble-sandstone geology, provides a variety of interesting habitats which in turn, yield a diversity of soil types and plants.

In one area, a large number of Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis L. emerges. These lovely flowers are found in much of North America (different varieties). Some have been cultivated as most desirable garden flowers. They are members of the Papaveraceae (Poppy Family).

In parts of the path, Hepatica make an appearance.  These flowers, named for the liver lobe leaves, come in a variety of pastel colours, carpeting the early spring forest floor. I like observing them from their forest floor perspective:

Hepatica leaves

Polypodium virginianum
The above fern, Polypody, is one heck of a tough customer.  Surviving the harsh winter, and ready to photosynthesize on the earliest Spring days, this fern often grows on rocks as far as our Arctic and Greenland.  Don't look for it in Florida!

And no story of wild Spring flowers in our area would be complete without Ontario's provincial flower, once classified in the Lily family (now in a separate family: Melanthiaceae) , the Trillium, which looks like this in late April. Look for the common white trilliums, "double" trilliums, and red trilliums (which are known to flower somewhat earlier then the white trillium):

Closed up, due to a cloudy day, the Spring Beauty still manages to charm.  There are Spring Beauties throughout the temperate forests of eastern North America.  They were a staple food food source to First Nations, both corms and vegetative parts.  I haven't tasted them...yet.  I prefer doing more research before trusting online sources!  These plants are probably Claytonia caroliniana, which has a broader leaf than its close relative Claytonia virginica. This is an excellent native flower for your perennial garden.

Jon was set to leave last week to BC to study Yellow-breasted Chats for the summer (some people are charmed!) for the Canadian Wildlife Service (yes they still exist FOR NOW). We managed to snag the brightest, warmest day of April (Monday the 28th) to take part in his Hawk Watch,  which is a North American effort to track and count our raptors during migration.  The largest and longest distance group of raptor migrants are the Broadwing Hawks.  On Sunday, 2800 were counted passing Derby Hill, NY on their way to our Boreal Forest (they winter in South America!).  We were lucky enough to see 7, as they rocketed past at a very high level...making observation difficult. They took advantage of an upper level strong southern airflow, minimizing their use of energy to attain very fast speeds.   While searching the clear skies, we saw another raptor, larger, moving along the same path. This one was exciting: a juvenile Golden Eagle, our largest and most majestic raptor.   
Golden Eagle

Chickadee (also known to eat FLESH)

I am travelling this week to the Prince Edward Point bird banding station and then to Prequ'ile Provincial Park.  Expect a full report soon!