Thom Smith | Naturewatch: It's springtime throughout the Berkshires and Shires of Vermont

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I left the frozen Berkshires one Sunday for a week of birding, botanizing and boating and returned to temperatures in the 70s with spring peepers peeping their single, high-pitched notes, repeated about once a second. Larger females are only "1 -inch from nose to tail" as Tom Tyning, local naturalist and professor at Berkshire Community College, likes to say. Males are smaller and measure of an inch. Rarely seen and far more often heard, these little frogs are often found in forested wetlands and wet shrubby meadows.When looking for one, regardless of where you think the sound comes from at first, look closer to the ground than above your head. And be still. With patience you will find one!

Q. I meant to write you sooner, but following the last storm, sleet more than snow, I saw a black patch on top around a smallish tree, when I got close it was alive, thousands of tiny black things moving about.

Any ideas what it or they were and do you have any information? I never saw this before, and my eyesight isn't all that great now.

— Charlie, Pittsfield

A. Individuals in these black patches are tiny, tiny insects, believe it or not, and are most often noticed on snow during warmer winter days. They are more commonly seen on snow around tree trunks, where it may melt more quickly allowing the insects to easily reach the surface.

They are springtails, and because of the dark color of the species you saw, the name given is often "Snow Fleas." They are wingless and have a hump-back appearance. The name springtail comes from an appendage attached to the underside of the abdomen and acts like a spring that can propel them into the air giving the appearance of fleas. Most species of these insects live in leaf litter or rich soil, where they feed on decaying plants, molds and fungi. They are also found under bark or in decaying wood. Springtails are among the most abundant of all macroscopic (tiny) animals.

Q. I remember mother would bring home at about this time of year, a few white flowers about 1 -inches across and, if I recall, yellow in the middle that would stain her hands a red-orange color. Any idea what it may be and where I could see these again?

A. Wait until late April through most of May and look in rich woods, where they seem to be most common. I am relatively sure the flower is bloodroot, a member of the poppy family. It has a large lobed leaf from which grows a single long stem with a single flower. And most memorable is the orange liquid that oozes from a broken stem.

COMMENTS

We have two black squirrels in our yard. They, along with several gray, eat my bird seed daily. I serve them hearts of sunflower seeds and they love it! I live on the east side of Bennington and know there are several more on this end of town. My aunt was afraid of them ... she thought they looked evil ... I think they are beautiful

— Jeannie, Bennington, Vt.

A. I agree, they are quite eye-catching, though not to be confused with black cats! If feeding squirrels primarily, why not choose a less expensive seed?

A common redpoll showed up at our thistle feeder yesterday and was back this morning. There have been three or four pine siskins around for about 10 days, but never thought we'd see a redpoll this year.

— Joe & Betsy, Lenox

I read your article on Sunday about the cardinals and wanted to let you know that all winter I have had five pairs of cardinals (male/female) and they all seem to get along just fine. I spread the black oil sunflower and safflower seeds under the bushes for them. I also wanted to let you know that I had seen a black squirrel in the Bellevue Cemetery in Adams, Mass., and one in Dalton, Mass.

— Maureen, Adams

Thom Smith welcomes your questions and comments. Email him at Naturewatch @ live.com or write him care of The Berkshire Eagle, 75 South Church St., Pittsfield, MA 01201


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