Early April has continued the pattern for most of recent months by being warmer than normal. The mild temperatures of late March carried into the new month and we experienced an ice-out about three weeks before last year. With the snowpack gone, mild temperatures in breezy days made for fire hazards. This was somewhat abated with a few days of rain and cool east winds.
With an early ice-out, it was no surprise to see the local loon arriving on its homesite well before the normal. Here, too, are a few more migrant ducks while a kingfisher and heron were along the shore. In the greening yard, I watched a flock of juncos. Three kinds of sparrows were part of this group: song sparrow, fox sparrow and tree sparrow. But it was along the road where I saw a huge flock of juncos — at least 250 — also hosting some sparrows.
Mid-April is when we often see the next batch of migrant songbirds arriving: flickers, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, phoebes, tree swallows, kinglets and yellow-rumped warblers (the first warbler). With the snow and ice melted, vernal ponds have formed and the trio of early frogs wake and come by to sing, courting and mating. The first that I heard was on April 3 — “quacking” sounds of wood frogs. The following day, small chorus frogs and spring peepers chimed in.
- Northland Nature: Clubmosses abound on forest floors
- Northland Nature: Finding the 'Old Man of the Woods'
- Northland Nature: Red mushrooms brighten forest floor
I noted these birds and frogs as I walked the woods a few days later, but it was the greening of the forest floor that I was seeking. It is easy to see greening lawns, a bit harder to see green under these trees. Starting small are the abundant mosses. These tiny plants are at the base of nearly every adult tree. Here they were all winter, remaining green, but now in the vernal sunlight, they develop new leaves and spore capsules. The woods greens from the ground up.
As I continue walking, I look for more green leaves. I find leaves of three common flowering plants: pyrola, wintergreen and hepatica. While the first two bloom in summer, hepatica are spring flowers. And so, with mild conditions, it was no real surprise to find some hepatica already in bloom. With leaves already grown, these blue and white blossoms are consistently the first spring woodland flowers. Nearby, I came to a site thick with new green leaves — wild leeks.
Known as wild leeks, wild onions or ramps, these plants emerge rapidly from underground roots at this time. Four days previous to when I wandered here, I found none. Now, they are obvious. As a member of the onion family, their leaves have parallel veins, a bit wider than the domestic onion. Breaking open leaves or taking a bite, we can easily smell or taste the connection with onions.
Plants stay alive buried in the soil in a robust rounded-oval root. From here the shoots grow. Though these leafy plants now carpet the space beneath many deciduous trees, they do not flower until summer’s shady days (usually July). Apparently, leeks form green leaves now, catching available sunlight to make food to survive the shade later.
Soon, these same woods will have a plethora of spring wildflowers putting forth new leaves, stems and blossoms, taking advantage of sunlight before the trees shade them. (Tree leafing also appears to be early this year with elderberry already beginning.) But now, we see the prolific wild leeks as they take over the greening of the woods.