June is Busting Out All Over
June is here, and like the old Rodgers and Hammerstein’s song from the musical “Carousel,” it is busting out all over with blooms and the warming sun announcing the coming Summer Solstice. I did a bit of research and was not surprised to discover June frequently places in the top three favorite months of the year, along with May and October.
Since October I have used the first column of each month as a reminder to get out and experience the beauty that is all around us. This month there is so much to see it is almost impossible to list all the splendor that await us. Here’s a sample of what I’ll be looking for.
Pink Lady’s Slipper:
This is the month when I frequently see pictures on social media of the exquisite lady slipper – the ephemeral forest flower of June. Already this spring I have found some of the other slow-growing wildflowers of the woodlands like trillium and trout lily, but the lady slipper is my favorite. The woods where I grew up had lady slippers, and we even named one location lady slipper rock, so it is a plant that holds my fascination and a special place in my heart. Some folks call them moccasin flowers, but most know them as pink lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule). It prefers acidic soil and is especially a treat if found in groups. The stalk is between 6 to 15 inches tall and at the top holds the distinctive pink inflated slipper-like lip petal. If you see them, do not pick them or try to dig them up, as they propagate slowly and are difficult to grow. I’ll be on the lookout for them on walks this month at Old Furnace State Park in Killingly.
This is the month when our Connecticut State Flower is in bloom. Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) is very common in our woods and along roadways. When the blooms are abundant it is almost as if there is snow on the branches. Mountain laurel is a large evergreen shrub with beautiful clusters of deep pink buds and pinkish-white flowers that can be three-quarters to one-inch wide. Mountain laurels are protected from picking in the wild but can be purchased at most nurseries. If you’re interested in seeing a beautiful collection of mountain laurel in full bloom, I suggest you head over the Mountain Laurel Sanctuary on Rt. 190 in Union. It is part of the Nipmuck State Forest and is easy to find, just west on Rt. 190 after the intersection of Rt. 84.
That strange night-time sound you hear from high up in your tree is not a croaking bird, but the diminutive nocturnal gray treefrog. They are very active right now and I hear them on most warm nights in our backyard. They are a small frog at only one to two-and-a-half inches long. They have gray skin, but it can change color and can be white or bright green. They have a big voice for such a small animal and can be found throughout The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. They use shrubby marshes and wetlands for breeding with the adults coming down from their arboreal domain to breed and lay eggs. They overwinter by digging burrows in the ground and can survive being completely frozen. I love to listen to them. To me they are a nighttime sound of late spring and early summer.
This is the month of first flight for many of our bird species. Throughout our region, from robins to bald eagles, it will be a leap of faith and first flight from the safety of their nest and home tree. I help monitor a bald eagle nest and keep track of several others monitored by other volunteers here in The Last Green Valley. We report our findings to the CT DEEP so it can keep track of the number of bald eagles in the state. I know this is the month these eaglets will be growing fast and by months end will be the size of their parents. The nest I monitor has two eaglets right now, and hopefully in the next few weeks I’ll see them flapping their wings and preparing to join their parents as soaring eagles.
Readers of this column will know of my affinity and enjoyment of fireflies, or what some call lightning bugs. Despite their name, fireflies are beetles and get their name because they are bioluminescent in both the adult and larva stage. This month I’ll be looking for their night-time blinking lights – my favorite sign of summer. They live underground in the larva stage for up to three years and as larva are voracious predators of other underground creatures such as snails, worms and slugs. They bite and inject a numbing chemical into their prey to immobilize them prior to dining. In early summer they emerge from the ground as adults to live only a few weeks in their evening pursuit of breeding and laying eggs. It is the males you see flying about with their “love lights” blinking. The females are flightless and climb a bush or tall grass shoot to light up and attract a male. To provide a good area for firefly larva and adults I purposely don’t mow or remove leaves from part of my side yard. I refer to it as my firefly breeding ground and can report success with an increase in firefly activity at my house. I can’t wait to see them this month.
We are fortunate to live in a placed called The Last Green Valley. Our region has so many excellent locations for exploring all that nature has to offer. I hope you’ll join me, and together let us care for it, enjoy it, and pass it on.
Information for this column was sourced from the CT DEEP Wildlife Division fact sheets on Tree Frogs, and The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers.
Bill Reid is the Chief Ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. He has lived in and explored the region for over 40 years and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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