May. 5th, 2016

pameladean: (Libellula julia)
On Wednesday, Raphael and I went for our first expedition of the year, to see the ephemerals at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. To see the early ones at their peak we ought to have gone last week, but the weather didn't cooperate.

We got a reasonably expeditious start, especially for the first hike of the year, and even though we had to stop at my clinic so I could pick up my medication. We usually get off the freeway at the Northfield exit and go through town to pick up Highway 246, thus giving me a glimpse of Carleton and the Cannon River. But the GPS suggested staying on the freeway til the next exit, going instead through Dundas, and picking up 246 somewhat further along its length. Dundas is not Northfield, but I had fond -- mostly -- recollections of biking there from Carleton for a huge annual used-book sale. I didn't like biking along the shoulder of the road in the dust, but the books were excellent.

I had said to Raphael as I put on my fleece sweater and picked up my raincoat that I expected to be alternately too warm and not warm enough, and this prophecy was amply fulfilled. It was very sunny and intermittently very windy. Up in the picnic ground it was quite chilly. Down by Hidden Falls the air was almost still and the sun really beat down.

One of the pleasant things about Nerstrand is that there are ephemerals even in the picnic grounds and the campground. Anywhere the grass is not mown are trout lilies and false rue anemone and occasional other native wildflowers. You can see the tiny trout lily leaves spreading out through the mown grass. If Nerstrand ceases to be able to afford to mow its lawns, or civilization falls, the trout lilies will fill up all that mown space now occupied by grass, dandelions, and creeping charlie.

The Park Office was closed, so I sat on the bench they have on their west-facing porch and watched for birds while Raphael filled out the form for an annual park pass. One downy woodpecker and three or four little delicate sparrows with a rufous crown and a black eye line, were scratching around in the leaf litter under the bird feeder. And there was one white-throated sparrow, or what I took for one, though we didn't get a good identification until later. We had a sandwich at a very windy picnic table.

Then we walked through the campground, keeping an eye out for red-headed woodpeckers, but we'd arrived at the height of the afternoon and most birds were silent and absent. We went along the short gravel trail pointing out false rue anemone, purple and yellow violets, swamp buttercup, and the leaves of wild geranium to one another. Then we took the very steep path down to Hidden Falls. Larger patches of false rue anemone, clumps of wild ginger, nodding trillium, a few blossoms of cut-leaf toothwort; and as we got down to the damper areas, dark-green horsetail ferns and, below where a stream went down to join Prairie Creek, some marsh marigold blooming away. Things were intensely green and there were many flowers, but it looked strange to me. I finally realized that, while the false rue anemone was more or less on schedule, it would ordinarily bloom in a much emptier landscape where the understory plants were not leafed out, nor the wild geraniums so far along in their own growth. The trees would usually show just a hint, a mist of green, and you could see quite far into the woods because only the trunks and branches of trees and shrubs impeded your view. The view was much shorter and more cluttered this time. In some years there would hardly even be any violets yet, but they were thick along most of the damper trails that we took. And the spring beauty, while we did find some eventually, was not nearly as widespread as you would expect. We had also missed most of the Dutchman's breeches, though we did find a stalk or two here and there.

We went down the wooden steps to the rocky shore below the waterfall, and sat on a bench in the sun for a while. Clouds of tiny insects were dancing in the sun, coming together in a dense ball like a globular cluster and then bursting apart only to coalesce again. I was just about to point out to Raphael that they were a dragonfly's dinner without the dragonfly, when a green darner darted into their midst and started snapping them up. I made sure I had remembered to tell Raphael that Eric and I had seen darners at Eloise Butler, and Raphael told me there had actually been one in the back yard.

Eventually we got up and went back up the other side of the trail, the steeper side with steps. Last year we got to see the Minnesota Dwarf Trout Lily in bloom, but it was done this year. There was plenty of false rue anemone, newly-opening ferns, early meadow rue with its flowers like little fringed lampshades, more violets, a little spring beauty, one or two blooming wild geraniums, fantastical ash buds, and hundreds of trout lily leaves, with here and there a patch of blossom in a shadier or cooler spot. At one point Raphael asked me what pollinated trout lilies; we thought it was bees but weren't sure. A little further along the trail, Raphael saw a bumblebee taking a good long time inside a trout lily flower, so that seemed to be that. We saw a number of bumblebees zipping around in the course of the day.

We climbed the trail and sat down on the bench that the park has kindly put just before the really steep part. The wind was fitful. All the green was fresh as fresh. The sky was almost autumnal in the intensity of its blue -- we thought this might be because the humidity was low, but we didn't know. It was hard to get up and go on up the hill, but we did. We came almost immediately upon a large number of extremely weird plants that we were fairly sure we had looked up before but failed to retain the name of. I think, having poked around online, that they were wood betony.

Once back at the top of the hill, we had a hunt for the yellow lady-slipper orchids we'd seen there just once, and then went back to the picnic ground and had another sandwich and took a different trail that crossed Prairie Creek and then gave us a choice of which way to go. We decided to take the White Oak Trail back downhill to the water, since it was such a dry spring; sometimes it's too wet to take the lower trail by the creek at all. The upper part of the trail was full of trout lilies, violets, and false rue anemone, with the occasional Jack-in-the-Pulpit or trillium. As we came down into lower and damper levels again, the false rue anemone came into its own. Along the creek banks it grew lushly with ferns and reeds and violets and some lovely clumps of blue wood phlox, which I think of as blooming much later. We stood on the bridge admiring the phlox on the other side for a while, and then walked on to the where the Beaver Trail intersects the White Oak, and sat down on yet another bench. The light was starting to mellow out, and everything was still the tenderest green imaginable, starred with flowers and yet-emerging leaves and dancing small insects. Several times we saw the shadow of a butterfly -- or maybe just of a blowing leaf.

At last we began the walk back along the creek to the steep trail with the steps. The flowers were still very lush and intermingled, but there were fewer ferns and grasses or reeds. At some point something in the soil or light changed, and the understory thinned out, and there was a bit of what I'd been missing: mostly bare shrubs arching over patch after patch after patch of false rue anemone. "So many windflowers!" said Raphael, and I looked at them closely. The air seemed quite still, but they were still moving just a little on their flexible stems.

Raphael suggested that we climb the half of the Hidden Falls trail that we had previously come down. The light was much better for seeing small things by then, and that half of the trail isn't quite so steep. The main discovery was a single hepatica blossom still hanging on in its nest of three-lobed leaves. The last third of the trail was a bit of a slog, and we sat on the bench at the top of the hill when we got there. The light was mellower yet. Through the green and gray of the woods a barred owl called, and again, and again, and then after a pause yet again. Eventually we went and sat on the porch of the park office. The tiny sparrows with the rufous caps, downy woodpeckers, white-breasted nuthatches, white-throated sparrows (we saw the white throat this time), and a single chipmunk, flew down to get seeds or suet, or kicked up the litter on the ground. You could hear the whoosh and ruffle of their wings as the birds came and went, and the scratch and rustle of the chipmunk's feet. There was some squabbling amongst the sparrows, and two nuthatches had a battle over the suet feeder. More distantly, we saw an elusive woodpecker that could have been a flicker or a red-bellied woodpecker; and finally we saw a flash of black and white and red as a red-headed woodpecker appeared briefly and then provided a glimpse, a longer look, another glimpse, always moving around to the other side of the tree or flying across the road to hide in trees with too much foliage. On our walk back to the car, a flash of black and red and white showed amongst the plants by the path. "It's a towhee," breathed Raphael, and it was, kicking up the litter much more violently than the sparrows had.

We had our last sandwich at a now really chilly picnic table, and Raphael got me to take the Sibley out of my backpack, and looked up the sparrows. Like the wood betony, they had been looked up before but we'd forgotten. They were chipping sparrows, and the first elusive woodpecker was indeed a red-bellied one.

We drove home in sunset and twilight. Then we had to come back to earth and do the year's first tick check, but that's just part of going hiking.

Pamela

Profile

pameladean: (Default)
pameladean

May 2017

S M T W T F S
 123456
78910 111213
14151617181920
21222324 252627
2829 3031   

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Jun. 29th, 2017 02:02 pm
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios