Late Spring Blogging Schedule

Photo of Prairie Warbler

I've decided to modify my blog posting schedule for the remainder of spring in order to focus my efforts on birding, foraging, and teaching birding and foraging. I'll continue to publish my weekly Nature Notes, but don't expect regular posts on Wednesdays and Fridays until mid-June.

If you need some inspiration in the meantime, check out my New England Wild Edibles Monthly Guide, or browse my blog's complete index which includes 34 Life List Bird Games and 175 Nature Quizzes. Also, consider attending one of my upcoming walks or talks or hiring me for a private birding outing or foraging lesson!

Enjoy Spring!

Foraging Wild Flowers: Common Dandelion

Photo of Common Dandelion flower

Common Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) offers many gifts to the modern forager. In April and May, the flower buds and brightly blooming flowers are a delicious snack, salad ingredient, or soup component. The flowers can also be infused to make a delicious tea.

Photo of Common Dandelion flower

I've written previously about foraging the leaves of Common Dandelion, but for those new to eating wild plants, it's the mild tasting yellow petals that I find make the best introduction. To avoid the bitterness that the green parts contain, simply loosen and remove the yellow petals by rolling each flower head between your thumb and pointer finger.

Photo of Common Dandelion flower

Note: You may notice an increased need to urinate soon after consuming Common Dandelion parts. Consult an herbalist or herbal reference for more on the medicinal actions of this abundant perennial.

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.