Announcement, announcement! A brand-new beaver kit has been
spotted in the Arboretum’s wetland. Apparently, Mr. Nibbles’ determined
lodge-building efforts were not without good cause. The kit was spotted just
before sunset, not far from the lodge.
Beaver kits are born already suited to their watery
environment, with a full coat of waterproof fur and their teeth intact. Weighing
a mere pound, newborns may even take a paddle on their first day of life,
though only in the water inside the lodge.
At two weeks of age, kits are fully weaned. They spend their
first month in or around the lodge and will eventually learn to build by
observing their parents. Beaver kits stay with their family for at least two
years, after which they’re ready to strike out and build lodges of their own.
At three years, they’ll start their own families.
When next at the Arboretum, take a moment to pause on the bridge that runs parallel to the larger entrance bridge. You’ll find plenty of evidence of beaver activity and, if lucky, may even spot the new arrival. To see and hear amazing footage of baby beavers in their lodge, check out this BBC Studios clip.
Has your choice of favorite season changed at different times in your life ? For many years, fall was my ne plus ultra; at different points over the decades, spring was the off-and-on favorite. But when I was a kid, and each year lasted far longer than the years do now that they zing by, and each long year’s cycle was defined by that looming presence called Going To School, summer was always the easy and obvious favorite season. Summer equaled the fullest freedom, the most unfettered carefree day-to-day liberty of a kid’s entire year. Our bikes were our horses, and we explored everywhere, every day. Since time moves slower in childhood than in maturity, when summer rolled around and school closed up, September seemed a blessed eternity away, too remotely far off to worry about.
And now, every summer, that old magic washes over me again, and I feel that excitement, that tangible sense of adventure, that thrill of being free. It’s no longer logical; school doesn’t start again in September, work starts again on Monday. But that school-year-cycle time stamp left an indelible impression on my psyche, and I feel that rush of liberation now, just as I did back then. And no matter how many years pass, when I hear a lone mourning dove calling plaintively through the stillness of a lazy summer day, I’m 11 years old again, back on Dumbarton Road, reading comic books in the mimosa tree or gearing up for an expedition to the pond to catch frogs.
This summer has felt particularly tapped into that childhood
call of the wild. Maryland Master Naturalist training is wrapping up, and the
year’s course of study has instilled something in me beyond all the vital factual
knowledge about nature science: By opening up my mind to whole new avenues of
inquiry and exploration into the natural world, it has underscored that age-old
truism that the more you learn, the more you realize how much more there is to
learn, and that you can never learn it all. Nature study epitomizes that better
than anything else, maybe. It is all so vast, so intricate, so complexly
networked, it’s simultaneously mind-boggling and inspiring. It’s enough to keep
you learning for the rest of your life—and that is exciting. Exciting like that
feeling a kid gets in summer.
Alongside that, it happens to be what I’ve started to think of as the Summer of My Canoe. I bought a canoe in spring, and it is a true beauty: a Stowe Mansfield, built in Vermont in 1980, with that iconic mahogany ribbing buttressing a dark green hull. But instead of wood and canvas, it’s wood and fiberglass, thus preserving the classic look of a vintage canoe with a tougher, more durable hull. The wildlife artist from whom I bought it customized it with a pair of tooled-leather renderings atop the bow and stern prows, one depicting a leaping trout, the other a pintail taking to wing. It has become my passport to nature adventure: On the Tuckahoe (our main base of operations). On nearby Watts Creek at Martinak State Park. On King’s Creek, that best-kept secret in Talbot County that, if you paddle up far enough, starts to seem like the Land Before Time, as well as the secret headquarters of myriad redwing blackbirds, who kick forth with the O-ka-leeee o-ka-leeee harangue as interlopers venture into their hidden realm.
On Wye Lake, where the great blue herons abound more
prolifically than anywhere else I’ve ever spied them, and where I had the good
fortune to watch, in sharp close-up through the Bushnell 7 x 35s, a great blue
stab the water, snatch up a fish, and gulp it down that S-shaped neck in a
flash. And then it stood there, posed, perfectly still, like a feathered
On Trussum Pond, part of the northernmost stand of bald
cypress in North America, where the weird prehistoric-looking trees rise up out
of the water, and the aquatic vegetation grows so thick it’s like paddling
through green molasses, and if you didn’t know you were in Delaware you’d swear
you were in a Deep South bayou.
Now, a host of other summer expeditions lie ahead:
Marshyhope Creek, the Chicamacomico River, the Pocomoke. The more rivers you
paddle, the more of them you realize there are to explore.
Just like the study of nature.
Eric Mills is a member of the Arboretum’s Maryland Master Naturalist 2018-2019 training class. Offered in cooperation with Pickering Creek Audubon Center, Phillips Wharf Environmental Center, and ShoreRivers, training is offered annually. Applications are being accepted for the 2019-2020 class, which begins in October.Learn more here.
was The Winter That Refused To Leave, February’s rough cold mood continuing
into March, March’s taunting bluster continuing into April. But all around now,
the bright pale leaves of spring are in full eruption. Dandelions proliferate, May
apple blankets the forest floor, and gaudy redbuds are rioting along the woodlands’
edge. Bugs zip past while you bask, finally, in spring temperatures and warming
rays. And as you look back at those endless-seeming bleak gray weeks now at
last in the rear view, you recall that every little harbinger of spring, every
first this and first that along the way, had been a lifeline of welcome promise
to you of balmier days to come.
first green greeting of skunk cabbage from its brown dormant surroundings along
Blockston Branch. That Wednesday you saw your first robin. The day the grackles
descended en masse. “Hey, why are those dark-eyed juncos still here? They’re hanging
around longer this year.”
such firsts, and such differences from before, and keeping track of them from
year to year, is constantly interesting because change is constantly happening.
From such recorded observation springs a perpetually growing database of
year-to-year patterns. You could call it a root empirical source of natural
science, or you could just call it by its name, phenology: the study of, in Mr.
Webster’s words, “periodic biological phenomena.”
I was psyched when this topic came up during one of our Maryland Master Naturalist training sessions at Adkins.And when Dr. Sylvan Kaufman, as an illustration of the idea of phenology, read us a passage from Edwin Way Teale’s 1951 classic North With the Spring, my interest went into overdrive.
love that book—correction: I love Teale’s entire four-part American Seasons series. I had stumbled onto Journey Into Summer first, accidentally (but perfectly) at the beginning
of one summer, and had plowed through all four volumes in order—Autumn Across America, Wandering Through Winter, and, wrapping
up with the one Teale wrote first, North With
the Spring. I read each one in the successive season it chronicled, and I
was sorry when I was done. Edwin and Nellie Teale’s epic cross-country phenology
journeys led me toward other follow-the-changing-seasons-type books: Teale’s
own Circle of the Seasons and A Walk Through the Year, thenWilliam Beebe’s The Log of the Sun, and now, Bryan MacKay’s A Year Across Maryland.
started this latest one last January, reading each week’s entry at the outset
of that week, then reading the next entry the following week, and so on until
now. MacKay’s book has been dead-on more than once: From the redwings’
reappearance to the pairing-off of rookery-returning herons to the mating of
wood frogs, his weekly entries have timed it right and scored phenology
bull’s-eyes, at least in my neck of the woods.
So one day in early March, my wife, Harriet, and I were driving over to take a hike at Tuckahoe State Park, and what we saw on the way wowed us so much that we slowed to a halt. We were on a long straight stretch of empty farm road, and the bare fields surrounding us had become a seething sea of white—tundra swans by the hundreds, their collective noise filling the air as we rolled down the window. More kept swooping in, others swooped off in undulating waves, a mass exodus under way. And the white sea was still washing over those fields when we drove home from the hiking trail.
were trending northerly, along with the geese we’d been spying on the wing in
those late-winter days. But the tundra swan, Cygnus columbianus, would be traveling to the end of the line, all
the way to the treeless wildlands of northernmost Canada. It would be mid-May
by the time they finally arrived at their distant arctic breeding grounds. As
they filled the sky around us, we wished them safe travels and told them, see
you next year.
shortly thereafter I was flipping to the next entry in A Year Across Maryland—and “see you next year” turned into “see you
next weekend.” Yes, we knew the swans’ ultimate destination, but thanks to Bryan
MacKay, we now also knew their next destination
(most likely, anyway): Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area in Lancaster
County, Pennsylvania. It was a major staging area for the northbound flocks,
6,254 acres of abundant water and food, and the fowl hordes stop in droves there
to fatten up for the long flights ahead. Every year at just this time, our
tundras converged there by the thousands. But the main attraction is the snow
goose, Chen caerulescens, which can descend
on Middle Creek in numbers as high as 100,000 or more. “Without experiencing
this phenomenon,” writes Bryan MacKay, “it’s difficult to appreciate how
stunning the white blizzard of birds is when they take to wing.”
been reading aloud from the book while sitting in front of the fireplace.
Harriet and I looked across at each other at that last part, both of us
thinking the same thing: Road trip! But there was a catch: The epic-scale mass conglomeration
of swans, geese, and ducks at Middle Creek WMA only takes place for about three
weeks. They’re there, then they’re gone, like Brigadoon. It was a finite
phenological window, and this weekend would be our only shot at witnessing the
once-a-year spectacle; by the weekend after, the bird counts would be dwindling
and we had obligations, so now was our only chance. And so that Saturday
morning, we headed off north. North with the swans.
Upon arrival at Middle Creek, we immediately observed that another species also had flocked there in great numbers: Homo sapiens. We were everywhere, packing the visitors’ center parking lot, our cars cluttering the shoulder of the road that routed along the edge of the reservoir. Harriet and I wangled ourselves a tight spot between the heavily trafficked road and a ditch, climbed the hill crusted with thick March snow, wedged a place for ourselves among the assembled throng, and witnessed the sudden and raucous takeoff of a whole field’s worth of snow geese; it was like the snow on the ground had exploded into white flying fragments. The Tuesday (March 12th) following our visit there, the Middle Creek 2019 snow goose count topped out at 150,000. A banner year.
what about our main reasons for coming? The travelers we had followed here from
the Eastern Shore? We caught up with the tundra swans the following morning, as
we moseyed down the crowded Willow Creek Trail, coming up on a watery surface carpeted
with tundras. At seemingly random moments they would take off caterwauling, all
flying and banking and turning in unison like they had a collective brain. Were
our farm-field sojourners from down on the Shore among their numbers? We’d like
to think so. If they were, they got to hear us say to them a second time, see
you next year. And thanks for leading us here. Like you, we’ll be back.
just as March had pulled us north to marvel at “periodic biological phenomena,”
April called us west for another phenology trek: one that would take us back in
time. Our daughter Kerri gave us a shout from Frederick and invited us to come
out and hike up Maryland Heights in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. You ascend
the mountain to an overlook that displays the confluence of the Potomac and
Shenandoah rivers below—a famously great trail, and another opportunity to
experiment with the seasonal cusp.
it was Teale who tipped us off. Yes, he and Nellie followed the season north: “Spring
advances up the United States at the average rate of fifteen miles a day . . .
.” But when they got to the Great Smokies, Teale took a detour into the past,
back to the winter of a few weeks earlier—by scaling a mountain. As he noted, to
ascend a mountain “in the spring is equivalent to moving backward . . . in time
. . . .” Climbing the mountain, “each hundred feet represented a full day’s
delay in the advance of spring.”
With Maryland Heights, here was the potential for some phenology in reverse, and we took up Kerri on her invite. It was a steep climb, the scenery more majestic and sweeping the higher we rose. And along the way, to illustrate Teale’s point, was that brightly hued spring harbinger, the Virginia bluebell, Mertensia virginica. We spotted the first splashy batch of it just up from the trailhead, near the lowest end of the ascent. Much farther up, legs burning, approaching the overlook, we spotted more of it—and at this level, the Virginia bluebells clearly weren’t as fully blossoming as the ones below. They looked to be a good week or so behind. In terms of springtime’s inexorable advance, we had marched ourselves upward and backward toward late winter. After the attenuated chilly season we’d just come through, that felt like the wrong direction. So we savored the panoramic view of the rivers below, then we gladly headed down, forward again into the spring that was here at last.
We had a
really nice day for Soup ’n Walk. It had rained through the night, but the
weather cooperated and it was sunny and in the 60s by 11 a.m. There were 31
guests signed up. Most had been here before. One group mentioned that they had
come all the way from Salisbury. At the Visitor’s Center we could see the
plants for the coming plant sale next weekend. They were not available yet, but
it was very inviting and many, if not all, will be back for the sale. Margan G.
gave a wonderful introduction to Adkins Arboretum, including the many coming
events. We then split into two groups and found many of the same things on our
started at the beaver domicile along Blockston Branch. We saw it from the swamp
white oak (Quercus bicolor), which was
just beginning to show some leaves. My parents used to say that when the oak
leaves are the size of squirrels’ ears, it was time to plant the potatoes. We
then went to the bridge for a better look at the beavers’ pantry. They poke
their gnawed branches into the bottom of the creek until needed for meals. Today
the water was very high on the wetlands, as it had rained a good bit the night
before. We could hear the workmen on the parking lot. Some of us knew that it
was being improved for better water runoff from the surrounding fields to the
wetlands and ultimately to Tuckahoe Creek, the Choptank River, and the
Chesapeake Bay. It will have swales and a rain garden as well as pavers to help
filter the runoff. It should show much improvement by the fall. We passed some
smooth alders (Alnus serrulata) on
the wetland showing their cones before leaving the bridge.
the woods, we viewed the yellow sassafras (Sassafras
albidum) blooms along the edge of the woods and a few white blooms on the
dogwood (Cornus florida) by this
entrance. We were headed to the sassafras entrance and passed more blooming
yellow sassafras. They are lovely with their gold dust trim. Later, some of the
trees (the females) will have blue-black drupes on red pedicels to attract the
birds. Continuing on, we saw lots of spring beauty(Claytonia virginica).
We walked leisurely, as no one seemed to want to hurry, and just took in all
the woodsy beauty surrounding us. Further along, we came across a patch of Jack-in-the-pulpit
(Arisaema triphyllum). I remembered
from other years that close to this patch was a very large “Jill-in-the-pulpit”
that may have mothered the lovely patch nearby. The Christmas ferns (Polystichum achrostichoides) were
sporting many hairy fiddleheads that provided lovely contrast to the leaves.
that there seemed to be more skunk cabbage plants (Symplocarpus foetidus) near where a clump of trees had fallen about
ten years ago, opening up the canopy to more sunlight. We could now spot some
mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum)
already in bloom with this added light. The mayapples spread in patches; we only
see the fruiting bodies of some of the plants, which are all connected
underground. We soon came to another bridge, and the view was breathtaking. As
we leaned over the railing, we had a panoramic view of the floodplain, which
was covered with spring beauty, skunk cabbage leaves, and even a few lady fern (Atherium felix femina). The water from
Blockston Branch was flowing pretty fast, but it had covered the floodplain
with nutrients as it passed through, making this a wonderful nursery for our
native plants. We continued onto the upland trail and saw some Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) and bluets (Houstonia cerulea)amongst the moss-covered sides of the path. Also some pussytoes (Antennaria neglecta) blooming and
rattlesnake weed with buds, ready to bloom. A few leaves of the lady slippers (Cypripedium acaule)were poking through the leavesbetween the oak trees and the pine trees that help feed the mycorrhizae
fungi on the roots of the lady slipper.
Another stop was at the paw paw trees (Asimina triloba). Someone had pointed out a zebra swallowtail butterfly zipping by. They need the paw paw leaves for their life cycle. The lurid purple blooms were awesome, and there were many on this clump of trees. We were amazed at the golden yellow blooms of the golden groundsel (Packera aurea) and the Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) next to them. What a lovely sight along the banks of Blockston Branch. We could also spot some Turk’s cap lily sprouts (Lilium superbum). These will bloom in July/August.
hurried back to our lunch, which featured the green, purple, and yellow colors
from our walk. We had ginger carrot soup, black-eyed pea salad over green
lettuce, ancient grain bread with apricot jam, and almond coconut cupcakes that
were gluten free and covered with lemon frosting and colorful jelly beans. A large
arrangement on the table had many plants from my yard. There were paw paw,
service berry, hearts a’ bursting, chokeberry, spice bush, hican leaves,
coastal azalea, fragrant sumac, and fothergilla blooms to talk about. The menus
were shared and their nutritional values discussed. There were samples of
amaranth and quinoa grain given to those who might want to make the ancient
grain bread. There was a list of good choices in our diet and bad choices that
we need to avoid. I also handed out color copies of the Omniheart diet, which
has much research to prove its value and is based on lots of good things like
vegetables, fruits, nuts, and whole grains. Everyone seemed to be having a good
time, and many had come with friends and family. We had a golf cart for someone
who could not walk, and Al M. gave her a tour as he drove the cart.
Thanks to all our loyal staff and volunteers: Pat B., Suzann A., Joyce W., Sheila D., Marilyn R., Margan G., Joyce A., Al M., and Gail R. You make this wonderful event possible. This is a great opportunity to showcase our fantastic Adkins Arboretum.
by Julianna Pax Adkins Arboretum docent, Maryland Master Naturalist
I snatched five minutes from my work day to visit the Lower
Blockston Branch, a favorite springtime destination. The thought struck me as I
walked that green settles lowest first. The haze of forest floor viewed from
the first bridge pulled into sharper focus closer up: spring beauty, skunk
cabbage, Virginia bluebells, and ragwort, followed by a generous blanket of
moss along the streambed. Higher in the trees, the first leaves unfolded, but
their green heyday hadn’t yet arrived.
For those of us impatient for spring, the bare trees seem in opposition to the date. Maybe this is nature’s way of pulling us in for a closer look; secrets revealed slowly hold our attention longer than those displayed all at once. Or, to quote English author Henry Green, “The more you leave out, the more you highlight what you leave in.”