17.17 | Nature Notes (Apr 23-29)

Photo of Hooded Warbler
Hooded Warbler | Biddeford, ME | 28 Apr 2017

Highlights of the Week

Pickerel Frogs and American Toads began to vocalize in wetlands.

At Pond Cove in Cape Elizabeth, I observed a White-eyed Vireo* (FOY), as well as a male Common Yellowthroat (FOY), 9 Laughing Gulls (FOY), 2 Iceland Gulls, and many more birds.

Behind the Pelreco Building in Scarborough, Jenny and I saw 6 Blue-winged Teal* (FOY), 10 Least Sandpipers (FOY), 1 Snowy Egret x Tricolored Heron* (a really neat bird), and many more birds.

York County FOY birds included Eastern Whip-poor-will, Black-throated Green Warbler, Willet, King Rail*, Ovenbird, Upland Sandpiper, Black-and-White Warbler, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Gray Catbird, Northern Waterthrush, Cliff Swallow, Lesser Yellowlegs, Solitary Sandpiper, a rare Hooded Warbler*, and a Green Heron. And in Pittsfield, ME, Jenny and I briefly observed a male Eurasian Wigeon* (FOY).

*first located by other birders and subsequently seen by me

Wild Edible of the Week

I flavored several meals this week with the garlicky leaves of Wild Leek.

Moon Challenge Report

I ended my Early Bird Moon Challenge with the pre-dawn song of an Eastern Whip-poor-will.

Thanks to the comments of a reader, for my next moon challenge I'm placing some attention on finding and photographing spring ephemerals (i.e., perennial plants who emerge, bloom, and typically wither away early in the green season, prior to canopy trees' leafing out). Because I'll be busy birding and teaching this moon, I'm not sure how many plants I'll seek out, but I'll continue with weekly updates.

Jenny ended her Sunrise Moon Challenge by enjoying 3 more sunrises! And, this week, Jenny began an eBird Moon Challenge. She's aiming to submit 12+ complete eBird checklists (at least 4 without me!). She submitted her first three (shared) checklists on Saturday.

Nature Challenge of the Week (for you, the reader)

Spot a basking Painted Turtle.


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Rare Bird Alert: Tricolored Heron

Photo of Tricolored Heron

Thanks to an email message from a fellow birder via the Maine Birds listserv, I got news of a Tricolored Heron spotted near Wharton Point in Brunswick around 1pm last Saturday. Tricolored Herons have long been scarce in Maine, but in recent years, sightings have been even fewer and farther between (and not by me since 2014), so I jumped at the chance to see one!

Based on the details of the earlier report and my previous experience birding Wharton Point (where I saw my first Long-billed Dowitcher last fall), I located the white-bellied heron resting on the edge of a marsh pool a short walk east from the parking area. Though it started to drizzle during my viewing, I managed to document this coastal rarity. I hope you enjoy the photos.

To learn more about these striking wading birds, check out this Audubon profile page. To view the following images in full-size, click here.

Tiny Flowers: Shepherd’s-purse

Photo of Shepherd's-purse flowers

Now that the green season has taken hold and a handful of wildflowers are blooming, it's time again to break out Newcomb's Wildflower Guide. I noticed a plant with tiny (<1/4") white flowers last week in Wells and was pretty sure I knew who I'd found. Keying out the plant confirmed my hunch.

I began by determining the plant's 3-digit code:

Flower type: 4 Regular Parts (4--)
Plant type: Wildflowers with Alternate leaves (43-)
Leaf type: Leaves Toothed or Lobed (433)*

Then, on page 4, under group 433, the key asked if the flowers were yellow (no) or white, pink, or purple (yes), and if the leaves had an arrow-shaped base, which clasped the stem (yes, though this is not well depicted in my photos) or were not arrow-shaped (no). The key then pointed to page 136.

Of the six plants described on that page, only one description fit my mystery plant. Basal leaves deeply lobed; pods triangular (to me the pods are triangular/heart-shaped). A drawing of the plant on page 150 provided visual confirmation. The plant I'd located was Capsella bursa-pastoris, known as Shepherd's-purse, a member of the Mustard (Brassicaceae) family.

Shepherd's-purse is a widespread, weedy species who typically grows in disturbed soil in full sun. The flowers, immature seed pods, and tender leaves and shoots are edible, especially for those who enjoy a spicy mustard flavor (boiling can reduce the flavor, if desired). The mature pods can also be used as a spice. Arthur Haines documents many medicinal uses for this herbaceous annual in Ancestral Plants (Vol. 2, 2015, p. 126-27). You can find more photos of Shepherd's-purse at GoBotany.

To view the following images in full-size, click here.

*Note: Looking at the basal leaves (instead of the stem leaves), you might wonder whether they're considered divided or toothed/lobed. Newcomb's guide accounts for this confusion by directing you to Shepherd's-purse whether you choose the former or the latter.

17.16 | Nature Notes (Apr 16-22)

Photo of Killdeer and Tree Swallows
Killdeer and Tree Swallows | Sanford, ME | 18 Apr 2017

Highlights of the Week

Flowering: Red and Silver Maple trees, Shepherd's-purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris), Coltsfoot, Spring Whitlow-mustard, and Hairy Bitter-cress.

I hit the road this week to see three rare birds found by other birders: Vermilion Flycatcher, Fieldfare (while looking for this bird, another birder pointed out my FOY Blue-headed Vireo), and Tricolored Heron (FOY). The first were Life Birds for me, and were featured on a front page article (Double Rarity Has Birders Flying High) in a local paper and in an online version titled Birdwatchers abuzz at 2 rare sightings in 3 days. You'll recognize at least one birder mentioned in the piece.

Other FOY bird sightings were Brown Thrasher, Barn Swallow, Bank Swallow, Virginia Rail, and Sora.

Wild Edible of the Week

I enjoyed the fleshy leaves and slightly sweet bulbs of American Trout-lily, both raw and cooked -- my first wild vegetables of spring!

Moon Challenge Report

I got up and outside before sunrise on 2 days this week.

Jenny enjoyed 5 sunrises this week, including an Easter sunrise at the ocean. On one of her early morning walks, she ended with an amazing hour-long visit with a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers.

Nature Challenge of the Week (for you, the reader)

Eat one leaf or flower of Common Dandelion every day. If you're not a forager (yet), simply observe a Common Dandelion plant every day.


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My work as a naturalist is supported by readers like you. To pledge a monthly contribution of $1 or more, please visit Patreon. Thank you!

Foraging Wild Flowers: Coltsfoot

Photo of Coltsfoot

Native to Eurasia, Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) now grows in a variety of disturbed habitats (e.g., roadsides, stream banks, railroad beds) across New England. Coltsfoot's bright yellow flower heads, which consist of narrow ray flowers and tiny 5-parted disk flowers (Common Dandelion has only ray flowers), are among the earliest wildflowers to bloom in spring. Flower stalks are hairy, with small, scale-like leaves; green leaves emerge later, and have densely hairy undersides.

Coltsfoot has both edible (the flowers, fleshy stems, and young leaves can be eaten raw or cooked) and medicinal (preparations of the leaves can help with treatment of coughs) uses, but since all of the local patches I know of are growing in spots that are unsafe to forage in, I've yet to experiment with the plant. For more details, read the account of Tussilago farfara in Ancestral Plants (Vol. 1, 2010, p. 190-91) by Arthur Haines and this Edible Flowers article by Green Deane.

To view the following images in full-size, click here.