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June is bustin’ out all over Culpeper

For nature lovers, this is a great time of year, especially in Virginia’s Blue Ridge and Piedmont regions. By the first week in June, spring was going at full blast. Wildflowers were blooming everywhere in meadows and along forest and road edges, attracting clouds of butterflies and other pollinators. At night up here on the mountain, huge moths were drawn to the light coming through my windows, and strange beetles were showing up during the day. Many bird species are working on their second broods of young and, down at the lower ponds, more frog species added their voices to the chorus of mating calls. The blooms from the forest’s spring ephemeral wildflowers, from Bloodroot to Mayapples, have come. The canopy of leaves has now closed in over them and blocked out much of the light, but Mountain Laurel and some other later-blooming plants will use the light that is available to start their bloom season soon. In low, damp areas that are sunny or partly shaded, the bright-orange blooms of Tiger Lilies are bursting open.

Many flowers that are happier in drier, sunnier spots provide a blanket of color along roadsides and other areas. Years ago, to replace wildflowers lost to development, the Virginia Department of Transportation, in partnership with other organizations and communities, planted a variety of drought-resistant wildflowers along Virginia’s highways. Those blooming now or that soon will be include native Black-eyed Susan, Bee Balm, Butterfly Weed, Purple Coneflower and Lance-leaved and Plains Coreopsis, along with nonnative California Poppy and two cosmos species from Mexico. Also included are other species that bloom later, providing continual color along our roadsides into the fall. A mix of other volunteer, more-subtle volunteer blooms serve as a backdrop to these brightly colored flowers. Crown Vetch, a lavender colored nonnative, was introduced to prevent bank erosion but has proven to be highly invasive and blankets many roadsides and fields. Bright white-and-yellow Oxeye Daisy, a European plant brought over by colonists, mixes with several smaller-bloomed but similarly colored species of native fleabane, prolific in any place that offers a little bit of light. Wanted or not, all of these flowers have spread their seeds, providing an ever-changing canvas of color throughout the bloom season. A fruitaholic, I’ve been picking native Black Raspberries as they ripen along the yard edge. Frustratingly small and few, they are still well worth the harvesting effort. Wineberry, an invasive nonnative, is on its way to ripening. While its fruit has a more subtle flavor than our native berries, it’s more prolific, so these berries will also end up on top of my morning cereal soon, followed by Blackberries later in the summer. Plants are not the only wild things in full reproductive mode. Up here on the mountain, birds have been busy for months raising their families. Although our Eastern Bluebirds lost two broods to a marauding bear, we’ve seen Carolina Wrens and Eastern Phoebes successfully raise their first broods and start working on their second. The newly fledged first crop of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are competing with adults at my nectar feeder, fighting an aerial war from dawn to dusk. With the mild winter, many bird species got started early and are likely to raise more broods than usual this year. Down at the ponds, the banjolike plunking of Northern Green Frogs and deep croaking of American Bullfrogs joined the Chorusing of Spring Peepers and Northern Pickerel Frogs briefly, although the latter two species seem to have finished their breeding and gone silent. While the fish in the lower ponds have apparently gobbled up the frog eggs there, the pond up the mountain, which is free of fish, has been black with squiggling tadpoles for weeks. Two, lone, Grey Treefrogs, one at each location, have been trying out their mating trills for a few weeks, but more should join them as their breeding season gets into full swing. On the mammal front, some bear sows are now out and about with their new cubs. Yearlings, like the one that has been showing up here at my house and likely is responsible for the loss of the bluebird broods, are figuring the world out on their own having been kicked out by mom's who are ready to start a new family. Young fox cubs have been spotted playing near dens and newborn fawns should be showing up in increasing numbers in June.

The heat has brought out reptiles, too. Young, Five-line Skinks with their break-away blue tails, scurry across my porch regularly. Driving through the hollow, I spend a lot of time figuring if a squiggle on the road is a frost heave, a heat mirage or a Black Rat Snake seeking warmth, and have stopped to help a couple of Eastern Box Turtles finish their journey across the road to destinations unknown. Insects are everywhere. Large moths from the earth-toned Io, Promethea and Tulip to the green Luna have been drawn to the lights in my house, clinging to the exterior walls and window screens to take a break or to wait for mates. During the day, hulking Eyed Click Beetles and Coreid Bugs have joined the hordes of gnats, ants and other small nonvertebrates in the yard. Of course, nature’s spring largess is not all great for us humans. As the seasons progresses into summer, the biting bugs and a tangle of vining, thorny and rash-inducing plants will proliferate, and the heat and humidity will rise. Still, it’s worth suffering through the downside to be able to enjoy the incredible biodiversity that Virginia offers this time of year.
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