Flora and Fauna To Look For This Spring

During the month of May, keep your senses aware of the ecological changes happening around you.



During the month of May in New Jersey, the world around us flourishes with life with such speed, that it can be challenging to keep track of all the ecological changes. The once seemingly slumber of the winter turns the world into shades of greens, yellows, reds, pinks, and more when May rolls around.

A sure sign that spring has arrived in the Pine Barrens can be seen in the wildflowers blooming and the melodious songs of birds from the south making their way north to breed and nest for the upcoming season. The folk who adventure into the Pine Barrens this time of year may be greeted by the unique shape of the pink lady slipper, the inviting shade of yellow from frostweed, the energizing sounds of the common yellowthroat’s songs, or the presence of the great crested flycatcher.

This is an image of a pink lady slipper
(Cypripedium acaule)

The pink lady slipper, Cypripedium acaule, is an orchid that blooms in the Pine Barrens woodlands. As the common name suggests, the orchid is pink but can rarely be found with white blossoms.  This orchid also has a common name as whip-poor-will’s shoes because it blossoms around the time that whip-poor-wills make their way to the Pine Barrens of NJ from the south. For the orchid to be pollinated, pollinators such as bees and other insects must force themselves through the narrow slit. This orchid requires a symbiotic relationship with fungus that helps the plant to receive food and nutrients for its survival, especially during the plant’s youth. As the plant matures, the fungus will extract nutrients from the roots, creating a beneficial relationship for both the plant and the fungus.

If you can witness the first wildflower blossoms of frostweed in May, Helianthemum candadense, then consider yourself lucky. The beautiful and bright yellow cup-like flowers open only in the sunlight and last for one day. As the season progresses, the plant will have a multitude of small flowers without petals. In late autumn, the sap from the cracked stems crystalizes and looks like frost, hence where the common name originated. This time of year, swollen bladderwort, Utricularia inflata, can also be seen blooming on quiet backwaters. The swollen bladderwort is a carnivorous aquatic plant with several yellow flowers on its stem.

Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas) Source: Wolfgang Wander
CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

While exploring for wildflowers, don’t forget to keep your ears and eyes peeled for the common yellowthroat, Geothlypis trichas, and the great crested flycatcher, Myiarchus crinitus. The common yellowthroat tends to be more seen than heard since it is often found along bodies of water in low-lying bushes and shrubs. The song of the common yellowthroat is easily recognized by the witchity-witchity-witchity-witch sound it makes. If you have the pleasure of seeing the common yellowthroat, you’ll see that the bird is named appropriately, as it has a bright yellow chest and throat on both male and female birds.

The great crested flycatcher is often found in open pine and oak-dominated woodlands after it makes its way from the south. The great crested flycatcher has a variety of colors on its body from dark olive to gray-white, yellow, and red-brown. The birds are often seen eating insects after perching on the end of a branch, scoping out their prey, which is why it has its common name as a flycatcher. The song of the flycatcher sounds like a repeated wheep-wheep as it makes its calls.

Being aware of what is around you in your environment is a beautiful way to connect with and appreciate the natural world more. When we appreciate the natural world more, we are more likely to want to protect and preserve it because we see that we are connected to it.

Join Pinelands Adventures for a guided ecology tour by land or water this summer!  Check out this link for the list of trips.  On June 24th we are holding our Wildflower Exploration hike.  Learn more or sign up here.

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