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The wonders of spring time just keep on coming. More migrants continue to arrive and the breeding species already present are reproducing in a frantic manner. Rapid change is the one constant of this time of year.
Flowers are the icon of spring and their numbers are legion, so much so that it is difficult to even learn their names. The fantastic colors and forms represent eons of evolutionary adaptation to attract pollinators and there are numerous different ways to accomplish the goal of reproduction. Completely separate from the relationships of plants, you can examine differences in flower shape and arrangement to see how patterns may have evolved. One major pattern is the change from single flowers to smaller clustered ones, to clusters with specialized types of flowers. This is quite evident in anyone's garden and it is interesting to think "outside the box" of the pure beauty of flowers and consider how the efficiency of pollination and seed set may be affected by these different types of flowers. For example just in our front yard you can see tall buttercups with a simple single flower and golden Alexanders with clusters of small but similar flowers. There are European cranberry viburnum with clusters comprised of small fertile flowers surrounded by large showy infertile flowers, and the ultimate composite flower, the daisy, with specialized ray and disc flowers in a very compact and efficient form that actually resembles a simple flower. The more you learn about flowers the more amazing they become!
One unusual insect I sometimes see in our yard is the scorpionfly, which is neither a scorpion nor a fly. The males have a curled abdomen similar to that of a scorpion but are harmless and feed on dead insects. They may be more closely related to fleas than to other flying insects that they resemble. One flying insect you cannot ignore this time of year is the carpenter bee which hovers in front of you in a menacing fashion. The male carpenter bee has a light colored face (see photo) and no sting. These bumblebees are not well liked since they drill round holes into wood of houses. I caught this one in an insect net on my porch and relocated it.
Of course the sounds of bird song defending their territories and attracting mates are the essence of spring. So I carry out a belated Easter egg hunt for as many nests as I can find. Robins are famous for their sky-blue eggs and nest at medium heights in shrubs and trees. Tree swallows use our nest boxes and produce one brood of white eggs that are just hatching now in early May. Redwing nests are harder to find since they are secreted in tall grass and beautifully woven of stems of grass. The eggs are well camouflaged with random dark streaks on a light background to avoid the numerous aerial predators.
Mammals are also reproducing rapidly and I found this cute baby rabbit while cutting the grass. Although rabbits can be troublesome in the garden, I view them as deserving respect and as beneficial lower trophic level food for our hawks and owls. Groundhogs can be much more of a problem since they not only eat in the garden, they construct large holes that can provide a painful trap for the unwary walker. This g'hog was trapped inside one of our barns where its burrows are a nuisance. However despite the desire of the neighbor's dog to make war on this rodent, I chose to release it in a distant location without harm. I have worked to learn to appreciate groundhogs for their intrinsic animal qualities and not to think of them as "varmints."
So enjoy this continued springtime period of renewal of life by migration, and subsequent frenzied reproduction, which underlies so much of the spectacular ecology that we observe.
Galax, VA & Englewood, FL