Sunday, May 17, 2015

Lush

May's warm rains have accelerated vegetation growth this spring with legumes already reaching their late summer height. The ragworts and Indian paintbrush are starting to go to seed, flowers fading quickly in the fens and glades of the Western Ozarks. The well-developed canopy makes evident the scattered dead white oaks that didn't make it through the drought year. It wasn't the 2012 drought alone that likely impacted the white oaks at a certain elevation, but the late spring frost earlier that year probably stressed them as well; together, these extreme weather events have proven a little too much for some white oaks. Breaks in the canopy, woodland openings, peeling white oak bark that makes for good bat roost sites, nice woodpecker trees. In resilient systems like the one I visited this week, the natural world can still sort itself out.

Birdsong erupted at 5:30 that morning, with a Kentucky warbler in the lead. A veery chimed in with that haunting circular call and then the Eastern phoebes and the rest of the bird world came alive, the best morning alarm. It's always fun to see ruby-throated hummingbirds visiting flowers on the landscape. There was no shortage of wild bergamot this week, so the sugar water feeders at the building were not surprisingly hosting only a few of these amazing creatures. The hummingbirds were in the woods feeding on the multitude of invertebrates and nectar from all the wildflowers.

We visited an Ozark fen that had been used in the 1970s as a recreational mud pit for trucks. The deep muck almost swallowed my colleague as he sank to his knees in beautiful black fen soil. He came out with a monster-sized devil crawfish whose turrets and tunnels coursed through the fen. This fen is dominated by uncommon sedges and ragworts today, but I wonder what we lost during the 1970s.

It's so much fun to visit high quality ecosystems to see how natural systems respond to fire, to hear all the birds who depend on the intricate food webs that these places support and after a long winter it's nothing short of wonderful to hear the leaves rustling in the trees.

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