What are you seeing out there? We'd love to hear from you! Please enjoy our April edition. The following posts are from some of our local Harpswell Nature Watchers. All of the contributions below are seen immediately in our Facebook group.

Click here for more information about Harpswell Nature Watchers.
Our earliest native perennial just might be trailing arbutus, Epigaea repens. This lovely, low, spreading flower is already blooming in sunny spots along the forest paths and edges. The flowers are often white, but they can be pink as well. This little flower’s fragrance is wonderful! What would become the New England Wildflower Society (and is now the Native Plant Trust) came into existence to rescue trailing arbutus from continued over-picking by enthusiasts who could decimate local populations. It is worth getting your nose to the ground to get a sniff of this flower’s scent!
(Submitted by Priscilla Seimer, April 29, 2020)
Every year we host a groundhog in our retaining wall made from giant granite boulders. She has been visible most mornings lately as she moves around our property seeking out tender new shoots of grass. After months in hibernation, the grass helps to jump start her digestive track and gives her critical nutrition to regain weight. She probably has young ones in her burrow so she needs energy to produce enough milk for her babies.
(Submitted by Ed Robinson, photo by Impr2003 iStock, April 29, 2020)
This trout lily leaf ( Erythronium americanum ) popped up through the snow after our last snowstorm. Trout Lilies are named for the mottling on the leaf, which resembles the markings on trout. Trout lilies are one of our earliest ephemerals (those plants that come up before the trees leaf out, and then die back). Trout lily flowers are a lovely yellow. They will be blooming soon, and can be seen throughout Harpswell.
(Submitted by Priscilla Seimer, April 28, 2020)
We have had plenty of black-capped chickadees around this winter. Their thoughts have turned to love now, and you can often hear their high-pitched three-note song as they seek to attract a female. Today as I approached our feeder with fresh seed, a chickadee sat on the perch until I was about two feet away, obviously comfortable with my presence as long as I came bearing food.
(Submitted by Ed Robinson, photo by Jill McElderry-Maxwell, April 27, 2020)
Here are some interesting videos posted by HHLT:
  • Depending on the species, plants either have separate sexes, like most animals, or they are bisexual. But how can you tell a plant's sex in winter, when there are no flowers? Check out this VIDEO. (Submitted by Nat Wheelwright, April 26, 2020)
  • American beech is actually easier to identify in winter than in summer, even at 60 mph, because it holds onto its dead leaves all winter. The reason? Their ancestors evolved in the tropics where plants photosynthesize year-round. Beeches just happened to keep a tight grip on their leaves when they moved north. Learn more from this short VIDEO. (Submitted by Nat Wheelwright, April 20, 2020)
  • As soon as the ice melts from ponds, wood frogs emerge from hibernation, filling cool spring nights with the sound of their duck-like croaks. To tell males from females, just look at their hands. Males have absurdly muscular thumbs, the better to hold onto females in the brief but fierce competition for mates. Watch my Nature Moments VIDEO for a better look at these interesting creatures. (Submitted by Nat Wheelwright, April 13, 2020)
Red maples are flowering now. They are one of the first signs of color in the trees—a lovely red hue at a distance. When you look closely at the flowers, however, you discover that they are truly beautiful. Any particular red maple tree might produce all male flowers, all female flowers, or some of each. The photo shows the male flowers with long stamens dangling beyond the petals. The female flowers look very different because they have a single bulb-shaped stigma. So, two red maple trees can appear dissimilar depending on which types of flowers are blooming. It is the female flowers that will produce the winged seeds sometimes called “whirly birds” or “helicopters.” Red maples prefer areas with moist soils.
(Submitted by Lynn Knight, April 24, 2020)

Two male Northern cardinals have been calling every morning from the trees around our house. They arrive early from their winter haunts and stake out a territory for mating, then defend it by calling repeatedly. Today at our bird feeder I watched one male tenderly feeding seeds to a female hoping to win her fancy! Read more about cardinals on our website: CLICK HERE
(Submitted by Ed Robinson, photo by Steve Byland, iStock, April 22, 2020)
Heron on Doughty Cove—if the herons are back you know spring is here!
(Submitted by Gina Snyder, April 19, 2020)
In my opinion, bluets (Houstonia caerulea) are one of the sweetest early Spring flowers. They are starting to bloom in sunny protected locations now, but will soon come out in full force and dot some lucky lawns and grassy fields with their white flowers. The southwest section of the field at Curtis Farm will have lots of them soon, decorating the grassy field edges. You have to look closely to see their delicate blue edges and yellow scalloped centers. They are part of the Rubiaceae family of perennial herbs, which include bedstraws and partridgeberry.
(Submitted by Lynn Knight, April 17, 2020)
Check out this article about getting involved in citizen science from your own backyard!
(Submitted by Ed Robins on, p hoto by Curt Chipman, April 16, 2020)
By the parking lot at Long Reach Preserve - some of the first flowers other than crocus that I've seen!

The flower is coltsfoot unfortunately a non-native invasive plant. It was introduced by Europeans who probably brought it here because its leaves were used to make cough syrup or a fragrant tea. It invades moist disturbed areas. The large colts foot-shaped leaves will appear later.
(Submitted by Gina Snyder and Lynn Knight, April 13, 2020)
The Eastern phoebes are back in town to my delight. They are lovely little birds, in soft gray with a cream-colored belly and a bright black eye. They love to build under the eaves at my cabin, or under over-hanging branches. The bird is distinctive for its habit of sitting on a branch and moving its long, forked tail up and down for balance. I enjoy watching them swoop for insects over water to feed their young. They sing a lovely two-note song: Fee' bee.
(Submitted by Ed Robinson, April 9, 2020)
I encountered a flock of turkeys in a small clearing yesterday. The hens were busy feeding but the gobbler was spreading his lavish tail feathers and strutting for the ladies' pleasure. Of course the ladies paid him no attention!

Two white-tailed deer were feeding in a brush lot while enjoying the mid afternoon sun. Notice that their coats look a bit scruffy right now since they still have the long, thick guard hairs that provide added warmth in winter. In coming weeks the deer will shed those hairs, getting down to their sleek tan summer coats that look beautiful in nice light.
(Submitted by Ed Robinson, April 8, 2020)
Skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) is emerging now. It is one of the earliest wildflowers to bloom. It grows in floodplains of rivers and streams, and the edges of forested freshwater wetlands. It’s emerging spadix (calla lily-type flower) produces chemicals that can melt the snow around it to allow sprouting to occur. This year, there isn't snow to melt, but it is a fascinating phenomenon and clever strategy on the part of the plant. The flowers give off the smell of rotting meat that attracts flies, one of the few pollinators around this early in the season. Native Americans used the leaves of the skunk cabbage as a sort-of wax paper to line berry baskets, drying racks or steaming pits. They also used skunk cabbage as an early Spring famine food after steaming or roasting it.

I'm interested in collecting some pictures to assemble a photo series depicting the spring emergence of the flowers and leaves of this plant. If you run across some, please post some pictures here to share and eventually become part of a photo collage I will assemble. You may have to look closely now. As you can see, it is hard to spot early in the season.
(Submitted by Lynn Knight, photo by Lisa Burke, April 6, 2020)
With warmer weather this weekend I had a couple "firsts of the year" to report. A sizable garter snake was sunning on my lawn and moved slowly due to the temperature, but she managed to slither over to a stone wall when I got close to her. She'll give birth to live babies in a few weeks. At Houghton Graves Preserve I encountered my first red-winged blackbird of the season. The small wetland there is a favorite spot for these lovely birds with the cheery songs of spring.
(Submitted by Ed Robinson, photo by Michael Tatman iStock, April 6, 2020)
I just returned from 10 days at my cabin, far from any possible sources of the coronavirus. With warmer weather, the birds were arriving from winter homes and starting the annual process of breeding and nesting. Each day a new species would come to my trees or bird feeders - blue jays, dark-eyed juncos, goldfinch, white-breasted nuthatches and house finches. When the finches descend on a feeder they park themselves on a perch and keep feeding until something scares them off. No limits on social distance or take-out-only dining for these hungry birds! More about wildlife on our website CLICK HERE
(Submitted by Ed Robinson, April 2, 2020)