The weather is still strange here. Temperatures alternate from the low 30’s to the 70’s during the day. At night we have had lows in the 40’s to the upper 20’s. On Saturday the low was 32 degrees and the high was 40 degrees. For most of the day it was cloudy and the winds were coming from the north and northwest at about 20 mph. The winds have shifted since mid-afternoon from the west.
There is still snow in the shaded places in the woods and the ground is frozen in many places yet. But willows continue to bloom and the shrub carrs are full of blooming pussy willow (Salix discolor) and other species. This week the tea-leaf willow (S. planifolia) has been at peak bloom.
In a few days meadow willow (S. petiolaris) will also be in full bloom. On warmer sites some meadow willow is in bloom. Prairie willow (S. humilis) and Bebb’s willow (S. bebbiana) have begun to flower and will probably peak by Monday. On Friday I found two color phases of pistillate Bebb’s willow. The stigmas of one phase are greenish while those of the other are pinkish. The plants are growing side-by-side which is probably what made the difference so easy to notice.
Tag alder (Alnus rugosa) is now past bloom except in the coldest parts of the swamps. On the warmer uplands beaked and American hazels (Corylus cornuta and C. americana) are now in bloom. With their pink thread-like stigmas the pistillate flowers of Corylus are quite showy. The flowers of both hazel species are similar looking and appear before the leaves come out of bud. Catkins of paper birch (Betula papyrifera) are elongating but have not yet bloomed.
Red maples (Acer rubrum) are flowering in moist woods and with Bebb’s and other willows make for a beautiful spring display. In the upland in oak-maple-basswood forests the wild leeks (Allium triccocum) are coming up. Quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) is done blooming and the seed catkins are now swelling and turning green. The first leaves of marsh marigold (Caltha palustris) are poking up through the wet sedge and grass thatch in the ash swamps. Very soon in the ash swamps there will be acres of golden flowers. Wild gooseberries and currents (Ribes spp.) are starting to put forth leaves.
This week has seen the arrival a few more bird species. On May 9th I saw a yellow-rumped warbler (also called the magnolia warbler) foraging for insects or seeds in a small patch of winter rye planted last fall. On May 11th a group of palm warblers were searching the grass and some recently tilled soil for insects and seeds. Both species of warblers nest close to the ground in coniferous trees such as spruce which is a common tree around here.
Another warbler seen and heard this week was the blackpoll warbler. The blackpoll is passing through this area on its way to find cooler coniferous forests and bogs with small trees where it prefers to nest.
Some birds are now building nests. On May 6th a pair of robins began gathering nesting material and building a nest in a mass of water sprouts on an old crab apple tree. They have finished the nest but I do not know if any eggs have been laid yet. On May 7th I saw flycatchers collecting dried grass to build their nest on the beam of the roof overhang on my house. Flycatchers have been nesting there every year for the past 40 years. Also on may 7th the first ruffed grouse was drumming. On May 8th a pair of bluebirds were investigating a nesting box. They have been coming around here off and on a for a few weeks but the cool weather which is affecting the populations of insects they feed on is probably keeping them from starting a nest so far. I heard a veery and an ovenbird early in the morning on May 10th.
Chorus frogs, spring peepers, and wood frogs continue their nightly mating serenade. The sound is almost deafening if you get close enough to the vernal ponds where they prefer to breed.
Not yet seen are bees. No honeybees, no bumblebees, no carpenter or other solitary bee species. The temperatures are too cool and there are very few flowers other than willows in bloom. Willows are insect pollinated but I have seen no bees on them. I have seen some small beetles feeding on willow nectar but they are not efficient pollinators compared to bees.
A few butterflies (Milbert’s tortoise shell and mourning cloak) have come out of hibernation only to go back once it got cold again. There are a few spiders running around in the grass especially on sunny days. Earthworms are scarce or still dormant but sometimes I find a few under the mulch. On May 7th a large dragonfly (it was too far to get a good look at its coloration) was flying over the pasture. I think this may have been a migratory species returning from the south. Other invertebrates seen this week are sow bugs, millipedes, tiny blacks ants (a very aggressive species that bites and stings with little provocation), small brown beetles on willow flowers, and masses of black springtails apparently breeding. Oh, and wood ticks and deer ticks, two mites that are now known to be vectors for several debilitating diseases, are now crawling about the woods and meadows.
In the garden garlic has finally emerged in long neat rows of green spikes. Next to the garlic I tilled a 4 foot by 50 foot strip and planted 150 feet of onion sets and have plans to plant another 150 feet. Flowering bulbs such as crocus, tulips, and chionodoxa are behind this year. I am wondering if the chionodoxa is even alive as it has yet to emerge from the ground.
I tilled under manure and bedding in this year’s corn patch to enrich the soil. My squash mounds are done and just waiting for warm weather so seeds can be planted. I also put 36 heaping wheelbarrow loads of sheep manure and their bedding on a patch where I will be planting a new rhubarb patch later this summer. I still have to spread the piles and till these into the soil but it is not urgent at this time. Another project that must be done now is to till under the cover crop where potatoes were grown two years ago so I can plant this year’s potato patch.
There is still ice in the soil even on south-facing slopes. With a lot of chopping and some warm water I was able to dig five holes to transplant five new apple trees this week. This will bring my orchard of standard apples to 15 trees. I planted Duchess of Oldenberg, Haralson, and Sweet Sixteen apples grafted to Antonovka and Dolgo rootstock. These will grow to full-sized trees and live much longer than semi-dwarfs planted on EMLA rootstock. I still have Siberian and Korean nut pines to transplant and some apple rootstock (Antonovka and EMLA) onto which I will graft apple scions next year.
My tomato and pepper seedlings are not doing well. Because the weather is so cold I cannot leave them outside even during the day. I am going to have to rethink selling seedlings this year. The sheep and chickens are doing fine in the cold weather but their pastures are not. The grass and clover, just barely visible from a distance yesterday, are not tall enough to be grazed. I’m letting the chickens run in their pasture since I can close it off if they seem to be damaging it and I have another area where I can turn them out. The sheep would overgraze their anemic pastures quickly so they are blocked from them for at least another week. They are eating hay and some balsam fir branches for fresh food. For now they are in a 100 by 50 foot area with some grass and a lot of bedding scattered everywhere to protect the ground.