Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A haze of green

Warmer weather has brought a concentrated spring (in a flash). The haze of young green leaves surrounds the riparian gallery forest along Hunnicutt Creek, birds of all sorts are singing spring breeding songs, and buds are rapidly expanding into shoots and leaves.

It won't be long before we see our first hummingbirds here (time to get the feeders out). And some of the earliest butterflies have already been spotted.

The spring peepers are singing in the Cherokee Worldview Garden pond, very loudly, and I imagine the shallow Meadow pond is full of frog calls, too. I need to get over there in the evening.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Garden Naturalist Program

On Wednesday the Garden Naturalists visited the Hopkins Beech Grove to learn more about beech trees and their associated habitat. It turned out to be a fabulous class, and not just because of the beautiful, statuesque beeches.

(Image: Wiki Common)

We have started to think about Phenology "the study of recurring plant and animal life cycle stages, or phenophases, such as leafing and flowering of plants, maturation of agricultural crops, emergence of insects, and migration of birds."On our walk to the Beech Grove we passed through the Woodland Wildflower and Gordon Belser Native Wildflower Trails. We had visited this area of the Garden the previous week so we were able to see significant changes in the landscape in just those few days. Spring ephemerals have popped up all over. There are Trillium, Oconee Bells, Dog-Tooth Violets, Trout Lily, Bloodroot and Yellow Root in all in flower along the trails. By Herb Parker's Crucible there is a huge swath of Mayapples. We discovered how beautifully the Mayapples come out of the soil - they are like tightly furled umbrellas who quickly unwrap and stand tall (4 inches) above the forest fall.
Here are some images of spring ephemerals in the South Carolina Botanical Garden.

Our next stop was the Meditation Garden, a recently beautifully redesigned area of the Garden. We were drawn to the water's edge (I'm not sure why) and then noticed something moving under the surface. It seemed like there were small sticks moving rather more purposefully than sticks usually do. Thesewere Caddis Fly larva, wonderful architects of the natural world, who take sticks or stones (or even precious jewels and metals) to make a protective case. Once we spotted one we began to notice more and more, until most of the small one inch long sticks seemed to be moving.

This was all before we reached our final destination: The Hopkins Beech Grove. This is one of my favorite areas of the Garden. There is one large beech in the center of a meander in the stream, and smaller beeches and tall Tulip Poplars all around. We stood for a few minutes enjoying the bird song and music of the brook, then we started seeing woodpeckers. We saw several Downy and Red-Bellies flitting up and down the tree trunks, flying from tree to tree. Then one of the Naturalists said "Look! Over there! A Pileated ..." There it was on the base of a tree about 20 yards away. We were able to observe it pecking at two or three trees before it took off out of sight. It was a wonderful experience.
Next week our topic is Bird adaptations, habits and habitats. I am excited to see what we will discover next week.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Other flowers

Here's another favorite of mine - Camellia japonica 'Julie".

This magnolia near the Sprouting Wings greenhouse was also spectacular!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Garden in Flower

I am a new member and this is my first post, so please forgive me as I learn the ropes!

Friday was such a beautiful day that I took 2 neighbor friends to the garden to see what was in bloom now. Of course we started in the Camellia garden and it is in full bloom - the best I have seen it! I always look for the varieties I have purchased at the plant sales for my own garden. We came across this beautiful 8' specimen of Camellia japonica 'Professor Charles S Sargent'! (My own just produced it's first blossom last week on the lowest branch; as I was showing it off to my friends my cat decided to come and rub it off!! Thank goodness I got a picture first...)

Prof 'Sargent'
You can see why I really like this one! This blossom is unbelievable!

Friday was such an unbelievable day - in the 70's - brilliant blue skies and the birds were especially vocal! The Helleborus were enjoying the elbow room they have in the Hosta Garden this time of year and of course daffodils were everywhere!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Praying mantis egg cases

On a morning walk recently, I noticed that the Clethra alnifolia shrubs at the head of the ornamental grass meadow (below the Fran Hanson Discovery Center) were dotted with praying mantis egg cases.

There must have been at least 15 egg cases, scattered among the shrubs.

I haven't seen that many in a small area before; it would be impressive to see when they hatch later in spring.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

First spring wildflowers

After Hepatica, trout lilies (Erythronium spp.), violets (Viola spp.), and in our region, a rare and endangered wildflower, Oconee bells (Shortia galacifolia) are often the next to flower. Sue Watts and I saw all of these yesterday morning.

Photos by Tim Spira (copyrighted)

Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) and trillium (Trillium spp.) and all the rest aren't far behind.

And we spotted one of the red-shouldered hawks on a bald cypress near the Meadow Pond (aka the Leaky Pond).

Saturday, March 13, 2010

An interesting rust fungus

A orange fungus on a red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) caught my eye during this morning's walk - here on the Heusel Nature Trail.

Initially, I though it would be a cedar-apple-rust fungus, but a Google-search revealed that it was likely something else.

There are few more connections on my Natural Gardening post.

It's amazing how many interesting fungi that we can observe. There are shelf fungi (that emerge from dead or declining tree trunks), mushrooms (basidiomycetes) that pop up after damp weather, slime molds (a totally different group of organisms), etc.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

I've finally seen one!!!

After years of pointing to regularly spaced lines of holes on trees and saying: "Those were made by a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker" - I have finally actually seen one! This morning while exploring the Heusel Nature Trail there were several active woodpeckers we could hear off in the distance. As we came to the crest of the hill we noticed a bird flitting from tree to tree. Since the woodpecker-like bird stayed quite close to the trail I was able to focus my new binoculars on it. A red head and a red throat led me to the Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker on Cornell's Website - check it out!

On the same walk we discovered the first Bloodroot poking through the leaf litter - I'll go back tomorrow with my camera!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Red-shouldered hawks

We're finally having some spring-like days, with the first native spring wildflower (Hepatica) blooming in the Woodland Wildflower Garden. Wind-pollinated trees are releasing pollen, too.

But one of the most dramatic happenings in late winter is the courtship and nest-building of our red-shouldered hawk pairs. They're monogamous and mate for life, staying in the same territory. They generally keep other red-shouldered hawks out of their territory, except occasionally they'll tolerate a family member.

Out in the Garden this morning with fellow garden naturalist Sue Watts, we were amazed to see what appeared to be three adult red-shouldered hawks, carrying on with their kee-aah calls. They're vocal during breeding season particularly. Their behavior looked territorial, two seeming to chase away the third. Garden volunteer Ette Ruppert (also a Master Naturalist like Sue) had seen some nest-building behavior last Friday, and took us to where it was (same site as last year). But the nest didn't seem to have progressed.

Later I was out along the Arboretum Road with another friend, and we spotted a hawk on a large, well built nest. I managed to get a blurry shot (I'd gone home specifically to get my camera after seeing them this morning). Another hawk was nearby, and much to our surprise they flew on the same branch, and apparently continued with courtship and mating, judging by the flapping and activity. Then one of them, presumably the female, returned to the nest.

We'll be keeping a eye on this pair in the coming weeks, at least as long as we can see the nest!

(Here's a link to a nice series of photographs of a pair in Florida.) And you might enjoy this post about our Garden red-shouldered hawks from 2008.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Time to get out in nature

Recently, 'normal' late winter weather has encouraged exploring nature and gardening. I've definitely enjoyed the (finally) mild winter days.

Now's the time to get out in your garden (and the South Carolina Botanical Garden) and start observing the seasonal shift from winter into spring.

I'm already hearing the territorial songs of Northern Cardinals, Carolina Wrens, and others.

Pay attention as our migratory birds come through in the coming weeks and months!