Thursday, April 1, 2010

GREAT EXPECTATIONS: April in the Piedmont

Birds.− Avid birders may have already noticed the arrival of some early warblers, perhaps catching a glimpse of the Louisiana waterthrush’s “bubble-gum” pink legs or hearing the melodic song of the yellow-throated warbler. This month, more spring migrants are headed our way. These species may be seen during the next couple months, as they head north: some wood-warblers (including golden-winged, Nashville, chestnut-sided, magnolia, black-throated blue, black-throated green, bay-breasted and blackpoll), herons (e.g., little blue heron, black-crowned night heron, cattle-egret), thrushes (e.g., veery, grey-cheeked and Swainson’s) and sandpipers (e.g., spotted and solitary). Also be on the lookout for sora, Virginia rail or a rare glossy ibis.

Some species will be arriving this month with the intention of staying the summer and breeding here in the Piedmont; these include: whip-poor-wills, chimney swifts, ruby-throated hummingbirds, eastern wood-pewees, Acadian flycatchers, eastern kingbirds, northern parulas, prairie warblers, summer and scarlet tanagers and yellow-breasted chats.

Butterflies.− In April, butterfly watchers may begin to find some of the skippers (e.g., zabulon, dusted, pepper and salt), duskywings (mottled, zarucco), cloudywings (southern, northern, confused), satyrs (gemmed, Carolina) and pearlyeyes (southern and northern). Silvery checkerspots can be spotted in moist floodplains or sometimes near drier woodland borders, where adults glean nectar from, and caterpillars feed, on sunflowers (Helianthus) and rosinweeds (Silphium spp.). Look for red-spotted purples in hardwoods forests and forest edges; adults may be found taking sustenance from tree sap or damp ground, while caterpillars feed on cherries (Prunus spp.) and other members of the Rosaceae. Butterfly aficionados will continue to see a number of sulphurs and hairstreaks this month, as well as questionmarks and commas.

This month, the most spectacular visitors may be the monarchs, which can be found in a variety of habitats. Adult monarchs feed on the nectar of milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) and other flowers, while later in the year, monarch caterpillars will strictly feed on milkweeds. Also be on the lookout for the viceroy, a monarch mimic. Viceroys have adapted the same orange and black coloring of monarchs that warns predators of their toxicity (cardenolides are the bitter compounds in milkweeds that make monarchs toxic to vertebrates), but these mimics are normally found in wet areas near their primary foodplant: willows (Salix spp.)

Reptiles & Amphibians.− This month, you may start to hear northern cricket frogs, eastern narrow-mouthed toads and Cope’s gray treefrogs. Also, expect to continue hearing American and Fowler’s toads, spring peepers, bull frogs, green frogs, southern leopard frogs and eastern spadefoots. The large choruses of southeastern chorus frogs will begin winding down this month. Be on the lookout for basking yellow-bellied sliders and painted turtles. Snakes will be out as well, be sure not to step on the diminuitive and well-camouflaged northern brown snake (Storeria dekayi) when walking on preserve trails.

In Bloom this Month.− April is a wonderful month to test your tree identification skills. Try to identify trees by their bark or buds before they flower and leaf out!

In late March and early April, woodland hikers may notice a robust small tree or large shrub, with large hand-like leaves (i.e., palmately compound) and upright clusters of tubular yellow flowers. What is this vigorous woody plant? Most likely, you are seeing the painted buckeye (Aesculus sylvatica), a southeastern Piedmont endemic (i.e., exclusively found in the Piedmont of the southeastern United States). The moniker “buckeye” is derived from the similarity between the seed of the buckeye to a male deer’s (or buck’s) eye. These same seeds are quite toxic, and in the past they were ground up and thrown into creeks to stun fish. Some animals, including deer and squirrels, are resistant to the toxin (called aesculin, which destroys red blood cells) and can eat the seeds. The showy flowers are visited by ruby-throated hummingbirds, butterflies (e.g., eastern tiger swallowtail) and bees.

In Bloom:
BUCKEYES (Aesculus spp.)
WINDFLOWER (Anemonella thalictroides)
SWEET-SHRUB (Calycanthus floridus)
MUSCLEWOOD (Carpinus caroliniana)
FLOWERING DOGWOOD (Cornus florida)
RATTLESNAKE-WEED (Hieracium venosum)
QUAKER-LADIES (Houstonia caerulea)
DWARF CRESTED IRIS (Iris cristata)
CORAL HONEYSUCKLE (Lonicera sempervirens)
HAIRY WOODRUSH (Luzula echinata)
VIRGINIA PENNYWORT (Obolaria virginiana)
MAY-APPLE (Podophyllum peltatum)
EARLY SAXIFRAGE (Saxifraga virgininiensis)
AMERICAN BLADDERNUT (Staphylea trifolia)
GIANT CHICKWEED (Stellaria pubera)
FOAMFLOWER (Tiarella cordifolia)
CATESBY’S TRILLIUM (Trillium catesbaei)
LITTLE SWEET BETSY (Trillium cuneatum)
MAPLE-LEAF VIBURNUM (Viburnum acerifolium)
DOWNY ARROW-WOOD (Viburnum rafinesquianum)

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