Last week the holler had a string of freezing nights. Now it's warm again and it looks like most of the plants that were up survived the chill and have buds or open flowers:
Last week the holler had a string of freezing nights. Now it's warm again and it looks like most of the plants that were up survived the chill and have buds or open flowers:
Trillium species -- at my end of the holler, at least -- had fewer flowers last year. I observe two Trillium grandiflorum plants which both produced a flower in 2020. Trillium-2 came up first and had a bud by March 22nd:
On the same day, I caught the emergence of initial growth for Trillium-1, just visible at the edge of the moss and almost dead-center in the photo:
By March 28th, Trillium-1 had a bud:
A few feet away, Trillium-2 and several other plants near it had open flowers:
The trillium view farther down Terry Creek Lane inspired numerous vocalizations on my drive-bys. One of the slopes along the creek has several large colonies of Trillium grandiflorum that were packed with flowering plants this year. Unfortunately I never had my camera with me while they were out.
I also found a couple of red trillium clumps there, as well as yellow trillium, and a small group of "sweet betsy" (Trillium cuneatum) that hides a little bit up the slope and almost behind a tree -- tricky to find while driving on that narrow, winding part of the road.
I got one photo of the red trillium on a foggy/drippy April morning on my way back from town:
All of the flowers are gone now for all of the Trillium species -- most of them still have leaves visible, though, including Trillium-1 and -2 at my end of the holler.
Yesterday I discovered a cutleaf toothwort, the first of the flowering plants I observe at Nature's Notebook to emerge this spring. Today's photo shows the initial leaves of a second plant behind the more prominent one. It came up sometime after I spotted the larger one early in the afternoon on the 26th.
On my first holler-walk since the subfreezing temperatures of last week, I didn't need a coat and didn't take my camera. Of course, I found all kinds of things to report:
Amur honeysuckle and multiflora rose have a few leaves as well as plenty of leaf buds.
I also found more sharp-lobed Hepatica leaves than I can remember, probably two dozen or more individual plants in two different areas. I checked these spots closely, looking for signs of rue anemone and trout lily, and found only the Hepatica leaves. Hepatica comes up every year in the holler but I usually find just two or three plants in each of the places I saw them today. It looked like somebody had been nibbling on a few of them.
Here's an image of Hepatica acutiloba I took last March:
Several bird species called out while I walked: I heard at least five blue jays all vocalizing at once from five different directions, but only saw one of them. I saw two tufted titmice -- one of them was singing -- also a singing Carolina wren. I heard a cardinal but did not see it. I caught sight of several very small quiet birds but never got close enough to verify their species.
I did find some interesting bird evidence to bring home and photograph. My 2020 phenology observations calendar made an appropriate backdrop for it:
Screen shot of a Status of Spring page map at USA National Phenology Network
A few days ago I saw four turkey hens feeding together in the field where at least one of them will probably raise some chicks in a few months. Overhead the same day, I heard calls of two red-shouldered hawks, followed immediately by loud squawks of a whistle-blowing blue jay. Yesterday, the first iridescent blue flash of the season signaled the arrival of an indigo bunting.
I read all of these as signs of a seasonal shift, though a sense of spring swirling inside me revealed itself well before these outer manifestations. Lately I've made all treks up and down the holler -- on foot or in the car -- with a more intentional gaze toward the places where toothwort, rue anemone, Carolina spring beauty and trout lily will soon evoke my surprise and delight.
I also messed around in my planter garden this week, poking in a few bulbs, cutting back dead stems, making mind-notes about stuff I need to do before sowing herbs or buying a few blossoming annuals for early insect and hummingbird visitors. This year I'm recycling parts of old flower pots to make a shelter for toads that hang around the planters.
Is all of this happening earlier than usual? And what's the weather outlook?
As I write this, it's 43 degrees outside. We've had rain and flash flood watches for the last 3 days. The predicted low for tonight is 21 degrees; predicted high for tomorrow is only 37, with an even colder low at 18 degrees. Saturday will be warmer. This pattern has circled around two or three times since 2020 began and probably will repeat itself over the next few weeks.
I'll be monitoring my planters and the rest of the holler to see how plants and birds are faring with this meteorological chaos.
See these articles/pages for more on the challenges of an early spring to trees and flowering plants:
Spring has arrived weeks early in the South (Washington Post 2/13/20)
Status of Spring page at USA National Phenology Network
Bud break on my cloned dogwood (Cornus florida-appalachianspring), April 1, 2019. [Photo: Cathie Bird]
I'm going to start this post with an ecopsychological observation as well as a phenological one. This past January 8th, I sensed (rather than saw) a fluttering outside my study window, and turned just in time to see an eastern comma flapping -- somewhat frantically, I thought -- against the glass.
Granted, commas are often the first butterfly species I see every year. But not in January. I felt little joy in seeing it. It was way too early. With some urgency I wondered if I was missing new phenophases of other species I observe in the holler. I often reduce the frequency of holler walks in the winter months. Physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually for me, it was still winter. I did not feel ready for it to be spring. And if there were things popping up and out already, I had concerns for the consequences to each and every one of them.
As calendar-winter went on -- with continued warm spells punctuated by serious cold ones, and more rain, more often than I have ever seen since I moved to Tennessee -- I noted that no trees, shrubs or forbs were taking the bait. My quince bushes eventually began to produce small flower buds, but they didn't swell or open, and endured a few 9- and 10-degree lows very well. By mid-February, daffodils were up and flowering throughout the larger Terry Creek drainage to which my holler's creeks contribute. Orange day lily and Siberian iris leaves began poking through the leaf cover on raised beds around my house.
By the end of the first week of March, I had observed new, full leaves of Amur honeysuckle and multiflora rose, forsythia flowers, and first leaves of one of the cutleaf toothworts I have flagged (photos above).
Now I'm also seeing leaves of sharp-lobed Hepatica, and Dogtooth violets (though not in the 2-sq.ft. plots I have marked). All of the red maples I observe for Nature's Notebook have open flowers, and members of this species all the way from the holler down to Knoxville are in some stage of emergence.
Up in the bird world (I saw/heard very few birds this winter up here in the holler, another point of concern) I've seen and heard an eastern phoebe hanging around old nest sites and calling for a mate. Blue jays, chickadees and cardinals are moving back up into the holler from fields down below. Many of these birds come up here to nest in the forested areas around my house.
And, of course, with the movement of these smaller birds comes the more frequent hunting parties of a resident hawk (red-shouldered or broad-winged, not sure which). I even saw some wild turkeys up in the air last week. And heard some barred owls.
I think it's spring. I've increased the number of phenology observation days significantly. And that feels okay now.
Peak color for most of the trees in the holler happened around the 25th of October. With windy storm fronts moving through during the first week of November, many of the leaves came down. RedMaple2, for example, lost all remaining leaves --95% or more-- early on November 6th in a thunderstorm strong enough to wake me and my pets up at 3am.
As of today -- except for the Amur honeysuckle, forsythia, multiflora rose and the beech tree farther down the holler -- all the forbs, shrubs and trees I observe have lost 95% or more of their leaves.
The holler had a couple of light frosts that shriveled leaves up and down the lane. Out in my planters, however, the chives, lavender, foxglove, and a few of the bee balms still look good. Time for one final chive and lavender harvest, I think.
So, in terms of phenology observations and reporting, I'm pretty much down to noting phenophase shifts for 3-4 plants and watching for birds and animals that will be around the rest of this fall and winter. The quieter times in the holler gave me some space to think about what's happened since my last post, and to write a little about how things went for some of the plant species this season.
I noticed tons of white avens (image above) in more places around the holler than I'd seen since I moved here. The same was true for orange coneflowers and common St. Johnswort (images below).
I hadn't seen much St. Johnswort the last 2-3 years. I'm still checking photos to decipher the species. On occasion I've observed Spotted St. Johnswort considered to be "rare" in terms of frequency in this part of Tennessee. If they come up in such perfusion next year, I need to get a better record of the tops and bottoms of the leaves, and clearer images of the flowers to help myself out on identification.
A new arrival to my eyes this far up the holler is one of the dayflowers. I've seen these down near Terry Creek for many years, but not up here. The blue color of this flower is striking, but it only flowers for one day. Maybe I've just missed them. For now I've decided this one is the non-native Asiatic dayflower:
Among the abundant populations around the house and the holler was Echinacea, leafy elephant's foot, orange jewelweed, and the smaller of the two purple aster species that grow here.
I try to mow around patches of Elephant's foot because it produces a thistle-like fruit that draws goldfinches, white-throated sparrows and other birds to the yard on cold, snowy days.
I observe two different jewelweed plants, both of which are in an area that receives less sunlight than when I began to track them. Compared to larger patches in a sunny area on the opposite side of the lane, the individuals I track did not produce as many buds, flowers or fruits this year.
A year or so ago the utility company did a massive clearing of trees and brush around the power lines that run along State Route 297 from Pioneer to Jellico. Since then, populations of small purple asters have flourished. This summer there were tons of them to inspire jaw-drops and wows from me every time I drove to town. I even had some up here in the holler, but I photographed these growing at the end of Terry Creek Lane just before it intersects with TN297:
Plants having lower numbers than usual throughout the summer and early fall included white wood asters, lobelia, and goldenrod.
For example, this is about as good as things got for the wood aster I track. Before it could produce any buds, the leaves got holes in them, turned gray-brown and disappeared:
On November 5th, however, I happened to catch activity of a relative just a few feet away, on the other side of the tree from WoodAster1:
The wood aster a few inches away from this flowering one already had mature fruit:
So many factors impact the lives of each individual forb, shrub or tree -- a good reason to track more than one plant of the same species.
Great blue lobelias were also missing in the holler this season. I love these plants. They are photogenic and often have an interesting mix of little bugs and pollinators crawling around on them (though this one didn't have any on the day I walked by):
Didn't see as much goldenrod this year, either, and most of what I saw -- at least around the holler -- was early goldenrod:
Some of the other plant stories of 2018 that I'd classify under "kind of weird": I didn't see as much heath aster in the holler, and the one I finally spotted was a volunteer in one of my planters. By the time this species starts to come up, they are already surrounded by a lot of other plants, making initial leaves hard to see. In fact I almost pulled initial leaves of this aster out because I thought it was a weed. As it continued to grow, I didn't really notice its distinctive narrow, pointed leaves because they blended in with the little snapdragons that were supposed to be the only residents of that planter. I didn't figure out I had a white heath aster in there until it made flowers:
I finally located the real HeathAster1 after it grew taller than the surrounding Echinaceas and the bright white flowers caught my eye. It did not produce a lot of leaves or flowers this year though. I wondered if it had to spend most of its energy reserves just to get up out of the Echinaceas.
And one final weirdness: the mapleleaf viburnams had a tough year for some reason. I track only one of this species, but new viburnams in its neighborhood have been increasing yearly since I began observing them, seeming to do very well. This year, the only one to get all the way to the flowering phenophase was the plant next to the one I track, and it never made fruits.
As the holler slides deeper into fall and winter, I'm thinking about future posts for the slower observation season. I have expanded my Phenology Album at Flickr. In my next post -- unless something unexpected emerges -- I decided to gather images of my Nature's Notebook observation area and its neighboring landscapes to share more of a "whole holler" background for blog posts on species I observe.
I've been listening in to the holler for 18 years, now, and there are a few sounds I can't identify even though I've heard them many times. This past week, however, I heard some new ones. I also happened to see some toads and, in trying to verify their identity, got a clue to the "waaaaa!" being sung just beyond my planters, near the edge of the woods.
I believe all of the sightings have been of American toads. I managed to get the photo above on the occasion of the third sighting. Based on the presence of a space (albeit small on this individual) between the cranial crest and the parotoid glands, I decided they were all Anaxyrus americanus.
The toad call I was hearing, however, was closer to that of Anaxyrus fowleri -- Fowler's toad -- another species I've seen around my planters. Fowler's toads typically make shorter, raspier calls (1-4 seconds) compared to the longer, clearer call of American toads (4-20 seconds). It's also possible that I was hearing both, especially before I heard recordings of each one. I was hearing these calls several times a day over a 5 to 6 day period.
Whoever they are, I'm glad they're around, and I'll welcome as many more as want to be here.
The other froggie sound to erupt in the holler this week was that of Lithobates catesbeianus, the American bullfrog. No questions about that one! Very early this morning I heard overlapping bullfrog calls at the upper pond in my Nature's Notebook observation area.
One more amphibian note: I saw my first Southern red-backed salamander -- maybe two weeks ago, by now. Seeing such an amazing variety of creatures makes my efforts to maintain a planter garden worthwhile.
Cutleaf toothwort-1 reached the ripe fruit phenophase around the 10th of May. In the photo above, this plant still has some fruits, but some of the pods have opened and dropped seeds. This is the first time I've gotten a photo of ripe fruits for this species.
The oxeye daisies have flowered in the past week or so, replacing the lyre-leaved sage and fleabanes around my yard that are well into their ripe fruit and seed drop phases:
I noticed this morning that a few orange day lilies have flowered. On trips to town this week I saw quite a few evening primroses and Indian pinks.
In terms of what's flying in the holler, I caught up with one of the crescent butterflies that have been around for awhile. The one below is likely a pearl crescent, but I took the photo so I could study it, because the color seemed a little different. I haven't decided for sure if this is a pearl or northern crescent -- I didn't get a wings-folded image, which would have helped differentiate them. Other butterflies I've seen since my last post include red-spotted purples, spicebush and zebra swallowtails, and a great-spangled fritillary that I've seen almost every day since May 10th around my new planter arrangements.
Whitetail dragonflies are among the damsels and dragons populating the holler now. Almost everyday last week, I observed a male and female whitetail hunting around my planters, in addition to several others congregating in a wet area farther down my lane. I think I saw one of the large petal-tail species yesterday and, a few days ago, a large greenish dragonfly that I could not identify.
Returning birds' songs over the past week or so include the wood thrush and common yellow-throated warbler. I got my annual planter flowers installed just in time to welcome a pair of ruby-throated hummingbirds that I hope will nest again in the lespedeza and orange jewelweed tangles in the Hudson Branch floodplain.
Coming back from town last Friday, I came upon a wild turkey trotting up the lane ahead of me. I haven't seen one that close to the house in awhile. One of my neighbors said he saw a hen and 8-9 chicks heading into the tall grass of one of their fields just a few hours before I saw the single turkey further up the holler.
It's still a very busy time of year up here as we transition from spring into early summer.
Just before noon today, I went out to get some photos for this post and, just by chance, caught the fledging of four Carolina wrens! I thought they had already gone because I hadn't seen parents taking food to the nest for awhile, thus I'd planned to weed-eat around the patio today so I could get on with my 2018 planter projects. As I came to the edge of the porch, I startled the mother wren (she had a bug in her beak) and she went into hiding near the planters. I decided to delay the weed-eating until I figured out where this wren family was in their process.
A few minutes later I saw both parents near the nest with food, but staying just out of reach of the chicks. I noticed one chick had already flown to a ledge above my house's rock foundation, and at least three others were visible at the edge of the nest:
Soon, two more of the chicks flew down to join the first one:
One by one they flew off toward a brush pile -- I could hear the adult male singing from that direction. The one in the image below was the last of these three to fly off:
When the mother wren came back to the nest, the last chick came out a little further, crouched low, then fluttered down to the ledge. I got a somewhat blurry photo of the exit before my camera battery dropped out of warp:
As I write this post, wren calls and songs still fill the air space beyond my window. I might weed-eat later, but for now it feels good just to write this post and enjoy what I've seen today.
So, around the corner from all the sweet wren babies, the sweet bubbies -- aka Carolina allspice, Spicebush, Sweet Betsy, Sweet shrub, and Sweetshrub -- are out:
Calycanthus floridus buds on May 6, 2018. [Photo: Cathie Bird]
These bushes attract a number of butterfly and other insect species. Over the years I've gotten quite a few pictures of bubby bush visitors whose vibrant colors are easy to capture against the large green leaves and dark flowers.
I was really surprised to look out into a very rainy holler yesterday and see that my Siberian iris is flowering. It's been four or five years since they last bloomed. I blame weird spring weather for this flower drought.
Another reason I delayed firing up my weed-eater this week is that so many flowers that bees and butterflies use have been in the line of fire. In the last two days, however, both white and red clovers have bloomed in all parts of the yard, so I feel like I can at least whack a path around the patio and to my car without taking too much of their food out of production.
I could swear that all of this lyreleaf sage popped up overnight. I noticed a few plants blooming along the lane this week but today when I looked out my study window, the yard was pale purple:
I usually hold off any major mowing until these plants finish their flowering cycle. Bees and butterflies seem to like them, so I tolerate a few pathways around the house being knee high in vegetation until more nectar species are available.
The first Amur honeysuckle flowers opened on April 26th. I finally remembered to get a photo for HollerPhenology:
Yesterday I made my annual run to my favorite Knoxville nursery to get plants for my patio garden. I didn't have a chance to get any planted today because of the wren and weed-eating delays, but bees and butterflies have already found them in their temporary pots. I saw my first spicebush swallowtail of 2018 checking out the lyreleaf sage and all of the new plants, and several carpenter bees have visited them, though much of their activity today has involved courtship and turf wars. I saw a couple of bumble bees on the clovers, too.