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It’s in your nature: Springing up everywhere

The nighttime hours of April 14 brought rain and a thunderstorm, but to me it also meant a frontal passage.

It seems, that just overnight, many new bird species arrived in our region.

I ventured to two of my favorite birding areas along the Lizard Creek in East Penn Township.

In a few moments I had my first yearly sighting of a blue-gray gnatcatcher feeding among the budding spicebush and willows.

They are tiny active birds jumping or flying from twig to twig, or as the name suggests, darting out to grab a small flying insect or a “gnat.”

A few minutes later I heard a familiar bird song for the first time since last summer; “drink your tea, drink your tea.” I notched my first sighting of an eastern towhee.

Thirty minutes later when I walked back to my truck, he was still singing at the same location. In that half-hour I saw 20 more bird species.

That morning, as the sun “hit” the old beaver dam, I also saw my first painted turtle pull itself up onto a rotting log to get out of the cold water and warm itself in the sun. When I checked back to the pond later, he was joined by a half dozen more.

A short distance away, where the runoff water enters the pond, I photographed a less common turtle species, a spotted turtle. I had seen a few at this location about 10 years ago and I was glad to find they are still around.

A few yards later a garter snake slithered off the trail into the grass nearby. I guess for those reptiles, hibernation time was over.

In the wet areas, skunk cabbage, now about half its mature size, pock marked the marshy ground. Service berry trees, with their small white flowers, added some spring touches to my walk.

I then moved on to another locale, the German’s Bridge area. Tree swallows darted above the Lizard Creek’s surface snatching some emerging insects and I was pleased to see my first rough-winged swallow of the year join in the feeding.

I surprised two female wood ducks that apparently were drifting under the bridge when I arrived. They exploded from the water and winged downstream.

After a few minutes I looked skyward and I saw my first broad-winged hawk catching a rising thermal generated from the warm April sun. Shortly it was joined by three more. In the next moments I saw another eight. They were heading north to nesting areas after spending the winter months in the Amazon Forests.

Later at home, I checked bird record log and, in most years, I recorded the first “broadie” between April 12 and April 18.

Nature never stops amazing me and if you’re anything like me, you can’t wait to see what the next month will bring with reptiles and amphibians emerging from hibernation and our summer birds arriving in waves. Get out there ….

Test Your Outdoor Knowledge: Serviceberry is known by other names, these include: A. June berry B. Shadbush C. Ironwood D. Both A and B E. all of these

Last Week’s Trivia Answer: Actually, I answered that question in today’s column. The Serviceberry blooms earlier than dogwoods and its tree blossoms were dotting the hillsides the past few weeks.

In some of the damp areas and roadside gutters, lesser celandines added their color to this April morning. BARRY REED/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
Unlike the chokecherry you find along roadsides and fence rows, the serviceberry tree usually is found scattered on forested hillsides, or like this day, in this damp forested area in East Penn Township.
Nothing like its tropical appearance as a mature fern, ostrich fern fiddleheads take a close second. They “push up” in early to mid-April in damp areas.
A number of tiny and active blue-gray gnatcatchers were active on my morning walk.
A painted turtle basks on a rotting log. It was the first one I saw this year and may have only been out of hibernation for a few days.
Not as showy as its cousins the tree and barn swallows, it was nice to see my first rough-winged swallow, like this one photographed last year, feeding above Lizard Creek.
Skunk cabbage, whose early blooms encased in hoods offer early pollen to bees, are now about half grown. Crush their foliage and you'll know why they got their name from that pungent smell.
A little later that April morning I saw a spotted turtle taking a “breath of air.” This one was the first I've observed in quite a few years.
In some areas along my route the damp forest floor was covered with blooming trout lilies, adding a splash of color to the dull, leaf covered forest floor.
Since my birding outing began early in the morning after a rain, I found three different groups of turkey vultures still on their nighttime roosts. Most were spreading their wings like this one I photographed a few years ago. They were drying their wings. Find out other reasons they do this in an upcoming column on our vultures.
A male Eastern towhee sings announcing his return to his breeding territory.