First spring bloom – Hepatica

Spring has arrived in our backyard.  Five years ago we replanted the backyard focusing on Kentucky native plants and shrubs that would attract birds and butterflies.  It’s been an enjoyable and ongoing learning experience and I’m glad to be at the start of another growing season.

Hepatica bloom close-up

I was delighted this past week to discover the very first bloom of the season, a small 3/4 inch hepatica blossom (Hepatica acutiloba).  This one is growing in dry shade conditions under our large pine tree along with several other native spring wildflowers.  I look forward to more blooms soon.

3-lobed Hepatica leaves

I also like the distinctive hepatica foliage that will appear later in the spring and be attractive all summer (photo above).  The leaves often turn bronze to dark red in winter.  The leaves also give the plant its name.  Hepaticus means “of the liver” in Latin, and refers to the three-lobed shape of leaves.

I’ve long enjoyed native Kentucky wildflowers in the woods in early spring.  Now it’s a special treat to have some of them close-at-hand.

Tadpoles and Polliwogs

Can I grow a frog?  Time will tell.  I now know that tadpoles and polliwogs are  both names for the early life stage of frogs and they are the subject of my latest learning adventure.

tadpole blob

A friend who lives in the country brought me frog eggs last week.  They were small black ovals in a clear jelly-like blob. Two days later, I was delighted to see tadpoles swimming in the water.

I did some research to find out how to take care of these wee ones and the information at How to Raise Tadpoles was especially helpful.  My current plan is to:

  1. Provide them with clean non-chlorinated water (preferably rain water).
  2. Feed them small bits of cooked spinach or lettuce.
  3. Watch them grow!

tadpole close-up with feathery gills

The tadpoles are now six days old and about one-half inch long.  For a closer look, I used a magnifying glass and was surprised to see details I hadn’t noticed before.  I like their mottled coloring, the two big eyes and I’m fascinated by their feathery gills.

I was pleased to be able to capture these details using the macro setting on my small point and shoot camera.  This is another instance of how taking a closer look has given me a different perspective and a renewed appreciation for the wonders of nature.

Scarlet Cup Mushroom (Sarcoscypha coccinea)

Scarlet cup mushsroom

Mushrooms seem magical to me. I found these last weekend at Natural Bridge State Resort Park, near Slade, KY. I was looking and hoping for signs of spring and not having much luck. Then I spied these small, bright red mushrooms peeking out from the brown and gray leaves and twigs. The largest one was about the size of a silver dollar.

Later, I checked The Mushroom Hunter’s Field Guide by Alexander H. Smith and Nancy Smith Weber, to identify them as scarlet cup mushrooms. To my surprise I found that I had indeed discovered a sign of spring. They usually appear before the trees leaf out and “they may last for several weeks if the weather remains cool.”  I’ll be watching for more of them in the next few weeks.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied woodpecker

This red-bellied woodpecker was a recent backyard visitor. She wasn’t interested in the feed we offer, but apparently found something good to eat in the cracks and crevices of our fifty-year-old silver maple.  I’m saying “she” because our bird book says “red covers the crown and nape in males, only nape in female.”  I questioned why it was called red-bellied until several years ago when I was able to see a subtle red tinge to its belly.

Photography note: I recently rented a 100-400 mm Canon zoom lens from Murphy’s Camera in Lexington, KY as an experiment in backyard bird photography.  I’m pleased with the sharpness of this cropped image, but even with the larger lens I find photographing birds quite challenging.  It would help a lot if they didn’t move around so much!

Unexpected Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

This was not our unexpected visitor, but it bears a close resemblance. Harry and I were surprised to look out our window last week to see a Great Blue Heron. We’ve recently added a water feature to our backyard, and apparently the heron was checking on the possibility of fish. Finding none, it soon took flight.  It was exciting to see, and we have a new entry for our backyard bird list.

This image was taken at Warriors Path State Park in Kingsport, Tennessee .  Will I get one in our backyard?  Time will tell.  Some fish may help my chances.