Spring ramps, chicks, birds and cows in mud
This week’s Nature’s Notebook column includes information and observations from several area nature experts.
Ramps are here!
Jody Bronson, Forest Manager for the Great Mountain Forest in Norfolk and Falls Village, suggests that, “Foraging for ramps is a great spring tonic.
“Ramps (Allium tricoccum) grow in rich soils under mature hardwood trees. These wild leeks are a true sign of spring; their low-growing lance-shaped green leaves jump out at the forager at this time of year. The entire plant is edible — but to harvest them responsibly, use only the leaves and stem; leave the bulb undisturbed, to ensure the population will remain intact. Ramp populations have been destroyed by over-foraging to supply fancy restaurants.
“Their onion-y flavor adds to any recipe. My wife makes ramp pesto; I like ramps sautéed in olive oil and served with brook trout or in an omelet.
“When you find a good population of ramps, keep it a secret!”
Eileen Fielding is the Sharon Audubon Center Director and the state Team Leader, Eastern Forests. She sent in a report on the return of birds to the area.
“Any news about recently sighted birds will go out of date very quickly this time of year, as new migrants are arriving daily! You may have heard that Sandhill Cranes have been sighted in Litchfield and Norfolk, or that there is (or was) a Common Eider in Salisbury.
“Besides these more sensational sightings, we’ve had swarms of Juncos coming through en route to more northerly areas. They are sparrow-sized, solid gray or brown above with white bellies, and show a flash of white in their tails when fluttering in fields and the edges of woods. Robins and Bluebirds are suddenly more conspicuous too, although many of them have really been here through the winter, hiding and feeding in dense cover.
“Other new arrivals include Tree Swallows skimming along rivers and lakes for newly hatched insects, and Eastern Phoebes, who can be recognized by their up-and-down ‘feee-bee!’ call, a characteristic up-down tail wag, and presence near a barn, deck, porch or other sheltered spot where they will nest.
“In the woods, listen or look for Winter Wren, Brown Creeper, and both Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglet. The Kinglets are even smaller than chickadees, mostly olive-brown, and flutter along branches and twigs, picking off insects.
“If you hear a woodpecker drumming with an irregular beat, you can be fairly sure it’s a newly returned Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, a very handsome bird that’s well worth trying to see. Its name comes from a habit of making rows of holes in tree bark that ooze sap. The Sapsucker can return to these holes to lick up both the sap and the insects it attracts.
“Since more of us are around our houses and yards in this unusual spring, you may find time to watch birds more often, and even to give them a helping hand. Many if not most woodland bird species in northeastern forests are in decline, for a variety of reasons.
“Fortunately, there are fairly simple measures that we can do to help them survive and reproduce successfully. The Salisbury Association Land Trust’s planned spring exhibit, ‘Birds in Crisis: What Can I Do?’ has been transformed into a virtual exhibit that will be available on line at the Salisbury Association’s website shortly.
A live talk by the same name will be given by the Salisbury Association and the Scoville Library on Saturday, April 25, at 4 p.m. I am the speaker and will provide an overview of why our birds are in trouble, but also point out the many ways we can improve their chances. For details, send an email to email@example.com.
Cows in mud, chickens inside
Artist Tilly Strauss reported from North East (Millerton) on her egg-laying hens, which are hard to come by this year, and life on the farm.
“Spring is a time for action on the farm. So in spite of COVID threats, we are still often busy and outside. Today we noticed a cow sitting deep in the mud by the creek. It was unusual because the rest of the herd could be spied several fields away.
“When we checked on her up close, we noticed she was not sitting! She was standing and deeply stuck in the mud. It took a tractor and chains to pull her free. While doing that, and getting her hay, we found ourselves surrounded by the rest of the herd. They had come straight in a beeline to her and started urging her with noises and nose nudges to stand up.
“Dad got the Skid Steer and went to get gravel to steady up the banks of the creek where the cows get most of their water. We hadn’t noticed the steep erosion and the sludge that would be making access to the water a dastardly sinking hazard.
“Looking across the marsh, past the geese, the ducks and the swallows I see two swans. One is enthroned on a dark reed-and-twig nest that sits almost 2 feet above the water’s surface. The partner is in the water circling close by. It takes 42 days for cygnets to hatch, so we will be on the lookout for babies come the middle of May.
“Meanwhile, the chickens in the living room are now two weeks old. They make a lot of racket. Half downy and half feathered, they can leap from one side of the cardboard box to the other in 9-inch arcs.
“Of course I don’t use the newspaper for their bedding. I prefer using my ancient bank statements for that. The chicks make art or a mess (depending on your outlook).
“It seems chickens are coded in their genes to scratch at the ground, so they make quick work of getting in the feed bowl, kicking both legs back like a bull about to charge forward, and throwing the grain pellets all over the dang space.”