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Nature's Notebook

Moths or butterflies?

Working in the wildflower garden this weekend, trying to maintain control of the weeds, I noticed a wide variety of butterflies, moths and other insects taking advantage of the early blooms. Each plant was picked for its value to hummingbirds and butterflies and other birds and insects.

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The clock ticks as the clouds pass

Sometimes the rain is only a rumor, an empty promise on a hot afternoon. The heavy air refuses to spill, though by its very weight it dampens birdsong and mutes the cicadas. There is no wall of advancing cloud but only a wood ash sky. It might bring rain, or it might only raise expectations in those who wait for relief.

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A favorite falcon

I guess maybe I’m not supposed to have favorites, but one of the most spectacular of our local birds to me is the American kestrel, a small, colorful falcon found here in northwest Connecticut.
The male is extremely handsome, having slate-blue wings with black spots and a rusty red tail with a broad black band and a white or reddish tip. Its back is also rusty red with black bars, and the under parts of the kestrel are a dull orange with black spotting, especially along the sides.

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Waiting and watching

I’m still holding out for the fireflies. Every year, starting in early June, I walk outside after dark and peer over the garden gate into the neighboring meadow. Sometimes a cold snap keeps them grounded, and sometimes it rains. Still, for the dozen years that I have watched, the fireflies have returned, and I have written about them here.
This year will be different. Changes have come to the old field and the new owner has another vision for his property. It is not being developed for new residences, but the conditions that once made it an ideal place for fireflies no longer exist.

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Birding by sight and sound

It seems like everything is happening at once now. Lawns have had their first cuttings, tulips and daffodils are in full bloom, some have already gone by. New leaves on trees are creating a wash of pastel greens on our hillsides. Spring peepers, tree frogs, green frogs and American toads are performing their nighttime symphonies and snakes and turtles have come out in search of body-warming sun atop logs and rocks.

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Migrating birds

Our birds are coming back! We are starting to see migratory birds making their way back from Central and South America to our neck of the woods again.

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Emergence

I took the spiles out of my maple tree last week, and later in the afternoon found a mourning cloak butterfly feeding from the sweet sap that stained the trunk. These butterflies overwinter, hunkered down through the long, dark months until the early spring sunshine offers them a few weeks without competitors for whatever nectar is available.

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It will come …

Winter is not going gently this year. A false spring rain brought out a few wood frogs last week, and then the temperatures plunged and the sap stopped running. The ground in my yard is still hard, and any new shoots — be they wild leeks or daffodils — have barely broken through. With overnight temperatures in the teens, only the added hour of daylight makes it feel like the season is truly beginning to turn.

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Seeing signs of spring at 65 mph

When I was in forestry school at the University of Vermont, my dendrology professor, Dr. DeHayes, did everything he could to immerse us in the study and identification of trees. On the way to field study sites, he would give us extra credit (so we thought) if we could identify trees while traveling 65 miles per hour down Route 89. “Four Door Dendro” he called it and we got pretty good at it.

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As spring comes ’round again

There are flurries in the air, and everyone in the house has a bad cough, but I can feel the world outside shifting toward spring.
I sugared off my first batch of syrup from the backyard maple, yielding a quart of medium amber.
There are new green shoots in the wetlands, and daffodils pushing up through the frost. Red-winged blackbirds and mourning doves have started to return, and though we may have weeks yet of freezing nights, I will till my garden next month and plant my first cold-season crops by tax day.

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