Quoddy Nature Notes – Spring Stuff

by Fred Gralenski
In case you haven’t noticed, spring has come to the Quoddy region. I like spring. After I get over being in an April 15th funk, I like to rake the gravel off the grass, smooth the dirt on my driveway and get to play with my tractor, pick up the rocks that have popped up, and work in my woods collecting and processing next winter’s firewood and sawlogs. I usually do most of the latter in the winter, but it is a yearly job since the weather dictates what trees get blown over. This past winter was mild, and the ground didn’t freeze very hard with the one big snowstorm that we had. Looking over my journal for 2009, the last pile of snow in the yard melted on May 5th; over a month later than this year.

Most of the flowers are a couple of weeks ahead of last year, as they are largely dependent on temperature. The Mayflowers, or Trailing arbutus, are already past their peak even though it’s only the beginning of May. Other flowers, like Shadbush, Hobblebush, cherry, violets and Rhodora seem to be similarly ahead of a normal schedule, and the ubiquitous dandelion really likes the Quoddy region this year. Insects also like the warmer temperatures, and the bees are common in the flowers. Most of the bees now are the small solitary bees, probably of the genus Andrena. These are our earliest bees and are frequently seen buttered up with pollen from the flowers like dandelion and Forsythia. The Andrena spp. are also called mining bees because they generally live in the ground. Among these many bees on the early flowers can be noticed an odd looking, fuzzy, long legged thing that likes to hover close to the flowers while sipping nectar. This is the Bee fly Bombylius major. They like to eat nectar like a real bee but don’t like to set up housekeeping to raise a family. They lay an egg at the entrance of a solitary bee’s tunnel and the hatched Bee fly larva crawls inside and sets up shop on the skin of the solitary bee larva. The Bee fly proceeds to suck the innards out of the Solitary bee larva without making a visible wound. The insect version of drastic liposuction.
Butterflies are also coming onstage. Some butterflies like the Mourning Cloak and Commas overwinter as adults and may make a real early appearance. Some, like the pesty Cabbage White (see picture), may overwinter as a pupae and emerge by the middle of April to be our commonest butterfly around here, and some, like the Red Admiral, are appearing now on their migrations from further south. This season is much different from last year, when the cold, wet spring delayed or eliminated many butterflies in our area.
Critters that are not so dependent on temperature are the snowshoe hares. The varying ratio of sunlight to darkness triggers their color change from white to brown, and the majority have mostly changed. There doesn’t seem to be a fixed ratio for all individuals, as Mother Nature apparently is always adjusting, and during the color transition period a pretty dark brown rabbit may be seen alongside a white one.
And, of course, the birds. Back in April 29th I saw my first momma Timberdoodle with four ‘doodlets. Our Ravens are back and this year and are using the same nest as they did last year. At 50 yards from the house they couldn’t get much closer, but after three years they still aren’t trusting enough for me to get a good picture. Our ravens must have young by now, but the nest is 50 feet up in a slender spruce and way beyond my ability to peek. Some Black ducks in one of our ponds seemed interested in setting up housekeeping, but they also are not trusting. The most colorful birds, the warblers and their ilk, are just starting to arrive, and some of us will spy on their arrival on May 22nd at Moosehorn. If you can make it for 6:30AM you are all welcome to come and join us.