Natural Connections: Sights and sounds from the trail
By Emily Stone
Naturalist/Education Director at the Cable Natural History Museum
Powerful sunshine is making short work of snowdrifts and lake ice. Birds are returning. Green shoots are rising. Buds are expanding. Whatever else is going on, spring is not cancelled! As I continue to share with you pages from the Forest Lodge Nature Trail’s new interpretive booklet, this week’s selection takes us through the seasons, from winter birds, to summer birds, to late summer flowers and pollinators.
Please remember that this trail and many others are closed to the public, in alignment with current federal, state, and local guidance for social distancing. Happily nature is everywhere, and you can still make observations as you hike close to home.
Birds in the Winter
Pause for a moment and listen. Can you hear the “chickadee-dee-dee” call, of a black-capped chickadee? The nasal yank-yank-yank of a red-breasted nuthatch? The sharp pik note of a downy woodpecker? These are some of the intrepid birds who spend all winter in our woods. How can they survive the bitter cold while other birds fly south? It’s all about food and shelter. These hardy neighbors are able to find seeds and insect larvae all year round. Eating helps them stay warm, as does taking shelter in a tree cavity or dense evergreen trees at night.
As you continue down the trail, look for holes in trees and woodchips on the ground. These may be places where a woodpecker has been feeding.
Summer is an exciting time on the Forest Lodge Nature Trail. Not only are plants growing and insects buzzing, but hundreds of species of birds migrate north to these woods in order to raise their young. Why would they undertake such a difficult and dangerous journey? The long days of summer, paired with abundant food (e.g. caterpillars and mosquitoes), and good places to build nests, allow birds to produce more young. In order to attract mates and defend territories, many birds sing loudly, especially at dusk and dawn. Can you hear them?
Red-bellied Sapsucker: These black-and-white birds with red caps and red throats are one of the few woodpeckers who migrate. Their call sounds like a surprised squeaky toy, and their drumming is uneven, like someone tapping out Morse code.
Red-eyed Vireo: These small, olive-green songbirds are hard to spot way up in the trees. That’s ok, because we can still hear them. Their short phases: “Here I am. In a tree. Look at me. Vir-e-o” are sung loudly, and sung all day, even when other birds have gone quiet.
Blackburnian Warbler: The black back and orange throat of this small bird are worth trying to spot. They spend most of their time in the tops of pine and hemlock trees, but their very high-pitched song can help you figure out where to look.
Prairie Flowers and Pollinators
Under the blazing sun of late summer, colorful blossoms fill this opening. The flowers and grasses were planted in 1968, to create a prairie habitat. Prairies require regular fires to prevent trees and shrubs from taking over. Without fire, this little patch is shrinking. Still, you can find the fuchsia flowers of rough blazing star, and the drooping petals of yellow coneflower.
Look closely at a flower. Can you see the dusty yellow specks? Pollination occurs when pollen from the anthers of one flower is deposited on its own stigma (female part) or the stigma of another flower of the same species. Next, seeds develop. Flowers can’t move to go find a mate, so they enlist the help of wind, water, birds, and insects to move their pollen around. Do you see any bees? Bees seek out pollen to feed their young, so they are naturally the most effective pollinators for many flowering plants. They use fuzzy hairs on their bodies and pollen baskets on their legs to carry the protein-rich resource, but some drops off at each flower. The colors, shapes, and scents of flowers are intended to attract bees and other pollinators. Happily, we can enjoy them, too.
Editor’s note: Emily’s second book, Natural Connections: Dreaming of an Elfin Skimmer, is now available to purchase at www.cablemuseum.org/books and at your local independent bookstore, too.