It’s official

budding redbud branches in foreground of bridge
… even if it’s nonsense for the most part. Today marks the first day of “spring,” as I am the very first to inform you of because of course you start your day right here. Most people associate spring with flowers and pollinators and trees in bud and birds nests and all that, of which we are slowly seeing the signs of here, just not today, which is rainy and overcast. So all of the images from this post were taken in “winter,” though only a few days ago. On a trip to a botanical garden, I danced around in various positions to place the redbud branches, among the first buds to appear in this area, framed around the red bridge – no ducks or geese were inclined to cooperate in the composition. Cultivated flowers were able to be found elsewhere, but they don’t count.

unidentified blue wildflowersDoes this count? I have to admit I’m not sure, since they were growing in a patch of lawn in the same garden, and I can’t vouch for whether they simply appeared there on their own or were planted – I’m leaning towards “natural,” for whatever definition of that vague term you like. I have not identified these yet; you know, most of our more specific names for colors actually come from flowers, so trying to narrow the search choices down from “blue” or “purple” is hard to do without skewing the results towards something that you know isn’t right.

But while I’m here without any further trivia about these flowers, I’ll insert trivia about the season instead. The more distinctive trait about the day is being the vernal equinox, when the amount of daylight and nightdark hours are the same, one of only two days in the year when this occurs, and the sun rises and sets directly east and west – when it’s not overcast and rainy. This is an effect of the axial tilt of our planet as it revolves around the sun, so it’s more specific and much better defined than “spring.” Ancient cultures that paid attention to such details used this as an accurate calendar, resulting in Stonehenge and similar structures rather than relying on Google Doodles to clue them in; they were much more likely to notice the position that the sun rose in the morning than the fact that day and night hours were equal, since clocks were still centuries in the future. And yet, I imagine bosses of some kind would still look at their employees arriving and hold a hand up judiciously against the sun and the horizon, coldly informing them that they were “a finger late.”

European honeybee Apis mellifera got it going onDuring the same trip, the pollinators were still pretty scarce, but one (yes, unidentified) bush was attracting most of those to be seen; this is a tight crop of one frame while a European honeybee (Apis mellifera) displays its pollen collection. Now, a curious thought as I’m typing this. Most of the stinging insects, as well as numerous other species, display the high-contrast, aposematic coloration (usually black and yellow) to make them memorable to species that might eat them; combined with the stinger, these are evolved traits that protect them from predation. Curiously, the coloration on honeybees is much more muted, and at the same time they are the only species with a barbed stinger that typically lodges in the flesh of whatever they sting, getting ripped out and resulting in the death of the individual bee. I suspect that the lack of more distinctive colors is related to this trait, preventing the genes from the more brightly colored individuals from passing along, but I’m not sure this follows directly. I suppose I could look up what educated people have to say about it…

blue lungwort Pulmonaria officinalis blossomsI’m going to consider these cultivated, given their location, which was in a planted area in the NC Botanical Gardens about a week later, back on Thursday. While the garden mentioned above was a decorative and display area, NC Botanical Gardens are an educational facility that typically features native plants, so these blue lungwort blossoms (Pulmonaria officinalis) might actually be found growing wild at this time of year, not too far away. However, I just liked them for the delicate mix of colors, a tiny patch of variety among the sparse plants making their first appearances – it’s still early. You can see how the dappled sunlight provided a mix of lighting, but direct sunlight might have washed out some of these colors. ‘Low contrast light for high contrast subjects’ is a good starting guideline.

Basking American bullfrog Lithobates catesbeianusIf one looked close, some of the leopard frogs that resided in the garden could be found, as well as a handful of tadpoles, but this is an American bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus,) usually hard to spot because they’re both secretive and primary nocturnal. None of the amphibian species were sounding off yet, save for one isolated call – they were simply basking in the sun, absorbing energy after their winter hibernation. There was nothing I could get into this image to show scale very well, but if it helps, I would have recommended keeping small children and lap dogs away from this specimen, notably larger than my fist. Given the very small size of the pond it was within, this is likely the only frog species to inhabit it, since bullfrogs will readily eat other frogs, as well as just about anything else. However, it was successfully avoiding two massive snapping turtles that also inhabit the pond – it’s a little surprising the balances that can take place even in very small habitats. It’s also quite possible that the presence of both species successfully prevented the increase in population between them, each preying on the offspring of the other. Either way, dabbling one’s fingers in the pond is not a recommended activity…

green anole Anolis carolinensis being coyWere either of those species responsible for the foreshortened state of my next subject? It’s impossible to say, though in this area, birds are far more often the culprit. Since the garden is a prime habitat where they are frequently seen, I had been watching carefully for any sign of my friends the green anoles (Anolis carolinensis,) wondering if it was still too early for them to be out – obviously not, though it might have been the first day this year. This one scampered around with only moderate shyness, though often remaining in the shade, and it took some careful observation and timing to capture it when it turned enough to produce a reflection of the sun from its eye, known to photographers as a catchlight – that little spot of white on the eye is enough to make any species seem much more vibrant and ‘alive,’ and it’s a goal most nature photographers should at least keep in mind, especially among those species that have dark eyes with no visible iris. It’s not quite as necessary when the subject has detailed irises, like this next one.

Copes grey treefrog Hyla chrysoscelis hiding away from the sun
This is the same specimen seen in the previous post, only the following day. After being out for a while to warm itself up, it decided that it was getting too much sun (it really did get pretty warm those days,) and nestled down within a crevice to shade itself as much as possible. I liked the baleful look that this angle provided, though I admit it was hard to get an ominous feeling from something as long as the top joint of my thumb.

And I close with another image of cultivated decorative flowers – I just liked the contrasting colors of the daffodil and the grape hyacinth. Actually, the daffodil was a lone specimen among the thematically blue flowerbed, and I suspect it was a stray bulb that got mixed in – if so, it’s a shame because the colors work well together. But either way, enjoy the vernal equinox!
daffodil Narcissus and grape hyacinth Muscari

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