A Nature Walk in Early April: Plants, Birds, and Fungi

Nature is awakening rapidly where I live. It’s a wonderful and busy time of year. I try to go for a walk every day and to travel in as many directions as possible because I’m afraid of missing something.

The snowdrops and crocus flowers have already come and gone. Though it was sad to see them go, other buds and flowers have appeared to take their place. They’ll be replaced by still more plants as the season progresses. After a calm winter with relatively little activity, nature is filled with the spirit of renewal.

I saw so many “firsts” for this year on my latest walk that I’ve chosen just a few to feature. The rest will have to wait for another post (or posts). There’s never a shortage of topics for nature writers, especially in spring, summer, and early fall.


Skunk cabbage beside a trail

I always look forward to seeing western skunk cabbage in early spring because of its brilliant yellow colour. It grows in swampy areas and forms a vivid contrast with the dark background. It’s sometimes called swamp lantern for this reason. Its scientific name is Lysichiton americanus.

The yellow part of the plant is known as a spathe. The spathe is wrapped around the flower-bearing part, or the spadix. The plant produces a strong odour that attracts its pollinators, which include beetles and flies. The skunk cabbage is one of the first plants to bloom in the new year. Finding a patch of swamp lanterns is always a nice discovery for me.


A tree and a red-breasted nuthatch

The tree above was at the edge of a golf course. I took the photo because I thought the buds and the moss on the tree were attractive. As I was focusing my camera, a red-breasted nuthatch flew into the tree. He or she is a little hard to see, but if you start at the dangling branch and then move your eyes upwards, you should see the bird. I’ve included a cropped and enlarged photo below. The bird was accompanied by several others flitting through the trees, but I wasn’t able to get photos of them.


A cropped and enlarged photo of the nuthatch

The red-breasted nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) travels over branches and tree trunks to find its food. It probes holes and crevices and lifts flakes of bark as it searches for insects and spiders. In winter, it often eats conifer seeds. It often hides seeds in a cache in a tree crevice during summer. The bird is usually seen in coniferous forests, though it’s also found in other areas. It’s quite confident around humans.

During the reproductive season, the male and the female create a hole in a decayed trunk or stump. They build a nest inside the hole. The pair then surround the nest entrance with pine or spruce pitch (or resin), which they transport with their bills. The reason for this behaviour is unknown. One theory is that it prevents other animals from entering the cavity. The nuthatch pair fly straight into the nest cavity so that they avoid the pitch.


Attractive bracket fungi beside a trail

Fungi are interesting organisms. They aren’t classified as plants because they don’t produce their own food by photosynthesis. Their body consists of thread-like, branching structures called hyphae that spread through the soil or another source of food. The hyphae of a particular fungus are collectively known as a mycelium. The hyphae release digestive enzymes into their surroundings and then absorb the digested food.

The mushroom of a fungus is a reproductive structure that releases spores. Bracket fungi are also known as polypores because their mushrooms have pores on their undersurface. The spores are released through these pores. The mushrooms often grow in a shelf-like arrangement, as shown in the photo above.


Giant horsetails (Equisetum telmateia) growing beside Squint Lake

Horsetails belong to the genus Equisetum. In my part of British Columbia, I see both the giant horsetail and the common or field horsetail (Equisetum arvense), which is shown below. The plants produce a short-lived fertile stem first of all and a separate sterile stem soon afterwards. The stems are produced from an underground rhizome. They are ridged, jointed, and hollow. The central cavity in a stem varies in size in different species.

The plants tend to grow in moist soil. The fertile stem is brown in colour and bears a cone-like structure at its tip. This produces and releases spores. The sterile stems are green. Their branches are arranged around the stem in whorls and elongate as the stems mature. (Some horsetail species have no branches on the stems.)

Horsetails are vascular plants. Their leaves are tiny and are reduced to dark bracts wrapped around the stems. These bracts generally don’t carry out photosynthesis, but the green stems and branches on the sterile stems do. The vessels that conduct water and nutrients are found in the tissue located around the hollow centre of the stem.


A fertile stem and some immature sterile ones growing beside a creek

Northwestern crows (Corvus caurinus) are very common where I live. They are found in the Pacific Northwest region of North America and are entirely black in colour. I see them on the beach by the ocean, but they are by no means restricted to this habitat and are seen in many other areas. They are clever and adaptable birds. They are highly omnivorous and will help themselves to garbage and human food if they can reach it. They are known to grab a mussel or another shellfish, fly high, and then drop the mussel on a rock to break its shell open.

In winter, the crows in my area roost in the thousands in trees located not far from my home. It’s impressive to see large groups of crows flying towards the roost at dusk. In summer, they stay in mated pairs. Both genders build the nest. The pair are generally monogamous, staying with their partner for life. Youngsters from the previous year may help to care for the current hatchlings.


Northwestern crow beside Squint Lake

It’s surprising how much can be seen when a walker looks up, down, and around. This is especially true on a nature walk. Spring is my favourite time of year because there are so many new things to see. March was nice, but the activity accelerates in April. It’s a lovely month.


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