March 11, 2022
The first week of our “Nature’s Rhythms” activity will end at midnight. Thanks to everyone who has participated. Keep up the good work!
Between March 5th and 11th, several phenomena drew reader’s attention including the activity of raptors and the emergence of garden bulbs. Visitors to the Ames Free Library can currently enjoy a swath of blooming snow crocus and snowdrops. The best patch is along the driveway to Queset House.
During your visits, stay alert to turkey vultures and red-tailed hawks, both of which have been spotted this week. While either species might be seen overhead or passing through, they also perch on Oakes Ames Hall whose height provides a nice overlook. From the library parking lot, a large bird might look like this. See that bump in the roofline?
Look closer. This is what I might see as I eat lunch inside the library’s second-floor staff room.
With a camera or binoculars, you can see the bird’s wind-ruffled feathers.
What might that hawk be looking for? Perhaps the animal who made this tunnel in the library’s lawn.
This became visible a few days ago when the snow melted. You may see sinuous patterns like this in your yard, weaving through the grass at the surface, or through snow as melting exposes the lower half of the tunnel. These runways were created by the meadow vole, a favorite food of many predators and an infrequent visitor inside the library.
Courtesy Owen Strickland/iNaturalist CC BY-NC via chesapeakebay.net
A less-dramatic, though ubiquitous, sign of early spring is the resurgence of green plants, particularly the humble basal rosettes of our common weeds. Near “the ruins” at the back of Queset Garden, one set of plants is actively growing and flowering!
These tiny individuals –only 2 to 2 ½ inches in diameter – offer cheerful, green bouquets despite our intermittent snow storms. They are hairy bittercress, a member of the mustard family. Their early development is the result of being a “winter annual,” that is a plant that germinates in fall, waits through winter, and completes its growth cycle in spring. According to weedalert.com, this species germinates in November in our hardiness zone (6).
As the plant matures, those flower stalks will grow taller, bearing diminutive four-petalled flowers and long seed pods. Then it will die.
If you take note of this plant now, you can harvest some of those tender leaves for dinner. Yes, hairy bittercress is a nutritious edible with a peppery flavor, which the Brooklyn Botanic Garden encourages gardeners to add to salads and sandwiches. If you enjoy the sharp flavor of mustard greens or arugula, give this a try. Look for it in moist, disturbed places including gardens, irrigated lawns, and walkways.
Some garden perennials also provide early spring color. With food stored in their roots, they are ready to produce new leaves as soon as conditions allow. Here’s a photo of catnip submitted by a reader this week. This spreading perennial forms a clump of aromatic gray-green leaves, some of which might wind up in a stuffed toy. Starting in late spring, the plant will bear spike-like stalks of white flowers with purple speckles.
A related species, catmint, is a popular garden plant that plays a major role in Queset Garden. By June it will look like this:
Life moves quickly. Now is a good time to pay attention before the pace quickens and an avalanche of change blurs our focus (and delights the senses.) Be sure to submit your observations for March 12 thru 19 by completing this Google form.