Migratory songbirds are back and busy
The air in late May is a golden hue dusted with new life-sustaining pollen. The powerfully extravagant pollen crop of the trees has been prolific this year, showering everything within miles with fine, powdery dust.
The hickories, oaks and maples are green with fresh leaves, and the evergreen conifers are blooming and spreading clouds of pollen in the air. Some of the pollen reaches female tree flowers and produces seeds that keep the earth green. Pollen is so small it floats in the air. Currently it hangs over area pines and spruces, ensuring the continuation of the species. It lays in a film on area ponds, pools and puddles. Pollen is the breath of new life.
Days begin earlier and stretch well past 8 p.m. The morning bird chorus begins about a half hour after daybreak and is full volume until almost 9 a.m. Then the birds are busy hunting natural foods, building nests, feeding babies and taking rest breaks. Some like the Wood thrush sings softly at dusk.
Cranefly orchids are in bloom, along with many other wildflowers now. Hike and photograph them, but never disturb the wildflowers.
The wave of warblers migrating through the Valley is over for the year. Most of the tiny birds continue to move north to breed and nest. The Cerulean Warbler that nests along the Blue Ridge Parkway is a treat for local birders. It has been losing the population war for years. It is rare and breeds in a few isolated places in North Carolina. It has been spotted at Lake Tomahawk in past years. Loss of habitat in Central America and on its breeding grounds in North Carolina are why the warbler continues to decline.
The Cerulean Warbler has a sky blue back and wings and a white neck accented with a delicate chain of black feathers and white underparts. The female is more turquoise above and a yellow-white below without the black feather necklace. It is a small bird, as are most warblers, and it works the treetop canopy for insects, bees, wasps, caterpillars and weevils.
Warblers add nectar to their diets when they return to Central America for the winter. Spider webs hold together nests lined with soft fibers. When the female leaves the nest she does so with a bungee-type jump from the edge of the nest and does not open her wings until she has plummeted several feet.
The warbler diet is primarily insects. Only the male sings, and he is very vocal. Warblers arrive within the breeding range from late April to mid-May. They are on the wing again by August, returning to the mountain regions in Central America and are often found feeding with flocks of tanagers, which are much larger than the warblers. The Cerulean Warblers have only one brood each season, and both parents feed the young.
The synchronous species of firefly (Photinius carolinus) are beginning its brief show of the season. The annual ritual can be viewed in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, one of the few places in the world where the fireflies are found. The peak firefly viewing event is in Elkmont from May 31 through June 7. Viewing is a ticketed event.
Access to the viewing area during the eight days of peak activity is only through a shuttle service beginning at Sugarlands Visitor Center. You must have a parking pass distributed through the lottery system. For more information and to enter the lottery, visit recreation.gov and search for “Firefly Event.” Parking passes may also be obtained by calling 1-877-444-0677. For more on the synchronous fireflies, visit www.ps.gv/grsm/learn/nature/fireflies.htm. If you have never seen these fireflies, it is a short trip that you will always remember.
It is the peak of wild turkey hatches.
Juvenile bears are beginning to cut loose from mothers to find their own territories.
Mothers are moving about with small cubs searching for food. The small cubs are not eating solid food yet.
Young skunks are out following their mothers in a single file.
Young woodchucks are leaving the dens.
Watch when you are mowing because there are many baby rabbits in the nest.
Deer bucks are beginning to grow new antlers.
Keep out plenty of water for bathing and drinking. Scrub the bird baths frequently in the summer so algae won’t become a problem.
If you are pruning shrubs, be careful that you don’t disturb bird nests. When watering hanging ferns watch for bird nests in the ferns.
Watch for ghost lightning bugs locally. They appear blue as they signal each other. Translyvania and Henderson counties have more than Buncombe. They are about the size of rice and stay lit for several seconds.
May you always hear the whisper of wings.