This past February and March were quite eventful and packed full of nature-related discoveries and observations. For starters, it seemed like many of the late winter blooming trees and early ephemeral wildflowers bloomed a little on the early side.
Then, at least where I’m at, March’s weather was insane with a couple of major windstorms. Our woods took a beating and the first storm knocked our power out for approximately 2 ½ days, but luckily we didn’t receive any structural damage. Of course, the storms didn’t stop the flowers and the critters from going about their business and there were still lots of fun discoveries and observations to be made. (And without power, what else were we supposed to do besides explore?)
Now, as I’m writing this in early April with my windows wide open so I can listen to the birds sing their hearts out, it feels like we skipped spring and went straight to summer. And while it’s fun looking back over the nature-related discoveries and observations we’ve made over the last couple of months, I’m also super excited about all the ones that are occurring now. Almost every day a new bird starts calling or a new flower starts blooming for the first time this season.
February, March, and April are definitely three months of tremendous change, re-birth, and growth with so much to see and observe. Below are a few of the many fun, nature-related discoveries and observations we made in February and March. (We’ll share April’s in late May or early June.)
Of course, what we saw may not be the same as what you saw. So, what are the fun things you observed over the last couple of months? I always like hearing about what you are finding too.
Winter can be a great time to observe all the different types of lichens growing on trees, rocks, and other hard surfaces. All of these lichens were growing along an 8-10 inch section of a redbud branch in our front yard.
How many types of lichen do you see? I found at least 4 different types, and I think a 5th. There may be others that I missed. If you’re interested, the best book I’ve found for trying to identify the lichens that we find around our homes and other “less wild” places is Urban Lichens: A Field Guide for Northeastern North America (affiliate link).
Like many other early blooming flowers, our daffodils bloomed early this year. Daffodils aren’t native but they always bring a smile to my face with their cheery yellow blooms in late winter. They also remind me of my grandmother and the bouquets she used to send home with me when we visited around my birthday or Easter. Daffodils also fall into the category of storytelling plants because they can help us read the history of an area.
Daffodils are one of the earliest plants brought over from Europe by the colonists – possibly as early as the late 1600s and definitely by the early 1700s. Ever since then, daffodils have been a much loved bulb to plant around homes or cemeteries and they grow really well in many parts of the south.
You can sometimes find large patches of them blooming in the woods during early spring, even at national parks, state parks, and other places we think of as “wilder” or more pristine. That’s because much of the eastern U.S., including those parks, were once privately owned and dotted with old homesites that may no longer exist. Yet, the daffodils that were planted there in times past have persisted and in many cases have spread.
Even on our property, we find daffodils, narcissuses, and other plants that were obviously planted in that spot for a reason scattered around our property. They likely represent the location of old homesites or other features that were removed and forgotten about long before we moved in.
When I brought this up on Facebook, one of our followers shared this fascinating article with us. It talks about how historic preservationists can often tell when old homesites existed based on the cultivar of daffodils that they find there! I had never thought about the different cultivars and what they could tell us. That just adds another layer of depth to the stories that daffodils can help tell us.
Early Blooming Trees
Did you know that one of the first major sources of pollen and nectar each year comes from trees? So, if you are ever wondering what our early bees and other early pollinators / flower visiting insects are using in the late winter / early spring – look up. Red maples (like this one), elms, and willows are often some of our earliest blooming trees.
Slightly later in the season, you might drive by an old field in much of the eastern U.S. and find it full of saplings covered in white blooms. Closer inspection will likely reveal pretty white flowers reminiscent of blackberry or apple blossoms, although these flowers produce a not-so-pleasant smell. (If you find yourself wanting to check the bottoms of your shoes, try sniffing the flowers instead.)
On a warm, sunny day, you may even see bees busily visiting the flowers. However, this is not a tree that you want to find growing on your property. Instead, it is the highly invasive Bradford or callery pear. I’ve seen it almost completely take over fields in what seems like only a few years.
Luckily, more and more people are recognizing the detrimental impacts of this invasive species. Some states have enacted legislature making it illegal to sell Bradford pears and an increasing number of local municipalities are putting out “Bradford pear bounties” where they will do something like give you a native sapling to plant as a replacement for any Bradford pears that you remove from your property.
Spring Ephemeral Wildflowers
Harbinger-of-spring (Erigenia bulbosa) is one of our woodland ephemeral wildflowers that can be found in much of the eastern U.S. during the late winter / early spring. At first glance, harbinger-of-spring flowers look very similar to hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta) which is native to Eurasia and is a common late winter / early spring blooming “yard weed.” (Hairy bittercress is the plant with the small white flowers that you find blooming in garden beds and forms the relatively long seed pods that explode when you touch them. Another one of our Facebook followers said they grew up calling them “spit weeds” because they spit their seeds at them. I love that name because it is so descriptive!)
Harbinger-of-spring leaves look very different from hairy bittercress leaves and can be used to tell them apart. But perhaps the easiest way to get an initial idea of which species you’ve found is to look at where it is located. If you find the flower in the woods, then harbinger-of-spring is a very good possibility. If you find the flower in the yard, or another highly disturbed area like the shoulder of the road, then hairy bittercress is a much more likely possibility.
Ground Nesting Bees
Our ground nesting bees were back again this year! I first found them a few years ago when I was walking down one of the trails in our woods. There are many different species of ground nesting bees, and I haven’t been able to identify exactly which ones these are. But it really doesn’t matter. I love looking for them and watching them every year in early March.
Pleasing Fungus Beetles
Pleasing fungus beetles are such interesting and often overlooked insects. They are most often found under loose bark on dead trees that have been lying on the ground. One reason they are often overlooked is because they are hiding under loose bark and unless you move the bark, you aren’t likely to see them.
The other reason they are sometimes overlooked is because they kind of look like ladybugs. Not really, because they usually smaller, not quite the right color, and often not quite the right shape. But still close enough that if you don’t know what else to call them, then “some kind of weird little ladybug” makes perfect logical sense.
Just like there isn’t one species of ladybug, there isn’t one species of pleasing fungus beetle. There are A LOT of different species of pleasing fungus beetles (and some of them don’t look anything like a ladybug). Unlike our familiar ladybugs which are predators, pleasing fungus beetles eat fungi found on dead trees.
We found these two on a dead tree that had been lying on the ground for about a year. And yes, they’re doing what you think they are doing. I don’t think they were very happy that we picked up the slab of bark they were under.
YouTube Channel and Podcast Achievements
Oh, and on a side note, the Backyard Ecology YouTube channel officially hit 1,000 subscribers in March! Since the beginning of the year, the Backyard Ecology podcast has also consistently ranked in the top 20% of podcasts based on number of downloads / episode in the first 30 days. So, lots of exciting things happened in that respect as well over the last couple of months.
Do you want to make your yard more pollinator and wildlife friendly, but aren’t sure where to start?
Check out my book, Attract Pollinators and Wildlife to Your Yard: 15 Free and Easy Ways, for some easy, quick wins to get you started.
Backyard Ecology: Exploring Nature in Your Backyard
Nature isn’t just “out there.” It’s all around us, including right outside our doors. Hi, my name is Shannon Trimboli, and I am the host of Backyard Ecology. I live in southcentral Kentucky and am a wildlife biologist, educator, author, beekeeper, and owner of a nursery specializing in plants for pollinators and wildlife conservation. I invite you to join me as we ignite our curiosity and natural wonder, explore our yards and communities, and improve our local pollinator and wildlife habitat. Learn more or subscribe to my email list at www.backyardecology.net.