Rachel and I rambled out to visit "the Sourland's only Hearts-a-burstin'" a few days back. Hearts-a-Burstin', also known as Strawberry Bush or Euonymus americana, is a beautiful little woody plant, native but infrequent at best around here. When I first found it out on the Sourland ridge, it took a few seasons before I was convinced it was not some weird exotic Euonymus. Eventually I saw both flowers and fruits, but what really made me trust the little beauty was seeing many of its genuflecting evergreen low stems in the old growth woods at Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest in South Carolina.
Our Hearts-a-burstin' has one upright stem, about six feet tall, and any number of low evergreen stems which are constantly cropped nearly to the ground by deer. I try to check on it regularly to make sure that one stem is still healthy. But someday soon I'll have to lug a hoop of fence into the forest and protect it... even though it's on private property.
As we stood around the Hearts-a-burstin', two chickadees arrived nearby and one immediately set to excavating a little nest cavity in a nearby snag, pulling out wood pulp in its beak. The other perched on assorted branches about 20 feet up and out from its mate, moving circularly in a slow orbit around the nest site. It repeatedly called in a way I imitate as "chick-a-squonk!" Is this a territory-announcing call? Does that make the "hey sweetie sweetie" call of early spring a mating call?
As we listened to the chickadees, Rachel noticed spring peepers calling. We decided to wander towards the noise and found ourselves shortly at a spectacularly large vernal pool roiling with frogs - wood frogs were partying and peepers were invisibly peeping.
Later, we wandered back home circuitously and followed our ears to several other vernal ponds. In one, we removed invasive watercress and I startled up this beautiful lady wood frog-