Grass has been growing here for about a month.  Some meadow grasses already have flowers.  So what’s the status of the invasives?

Knotweed got an early but feeble start. I’ve pulled about 30 shoots, none of them more than a foot, many only a few inches. That’s all currently above ground.

That might be Black swallow wort in the photo. It must not get going until later in the season because the photo shows the entire crop to date. Wait, I can’t say that. The photo shows all the shoots of that plant that I came across in the areas that had had Black swallow wort last year. When I looked online for photos to use as comparisons, I found my own shots!

Black swallow wort?

And, dear reader, I know you are waiting for the update on the Bittersweet! Rest assured, Bittersweet is still in the meadow. But, it has not been this absent since it began invading the field more than two decades ago. It is most prevalent in those places in the north east section where I could not spray herbicide because it was too tightly interlaced with desirable broadleaved plants.

It is also coming back in relatively greater strength than in other parts of the meadow in an area I hand pulled last April to the south of the path to to the former bee yard. Does this suggest that hand pulling is less successful than spraying?

A patch to the south of the Barberry heather had a minor resurgence as well. That area was another where I had to be careful not to spray desirable plants so I had used herbicide extremely sparingly. This spot, and other areas that did get some herbicide, show something else as well: many of the youngest leaves of the Bittersweet are wilting. is the wilt from a lack of rain or is the plant systemically weakened? Maybe I’ll know after a rain, although I am cutting back as many shoots as I can so I am reducing my ability to tell. I want to keep my need for further spraying to a minimum. I also want to keep after the Bittersweet before it further tangles with the plants I want to preserve.

Youngest Bittersweet leaves wilting

So, on first blush, the herbicide treatment seems to have been a resounding success. And wildlife appears not to have been too disturbed. These butterflies were mating while I snipped around them. They were using a old, cut Bittersweet stem but note the strawberries flowering below them. (These butterflies are orange when they open their wings; I better learn to identify these meadow residents!)

The poison ivy seems undaunted, although it collapsed immediately when sprayed last summer. The dewberry is debating how to fill some of the gaps in its network of foot-snaggers. I’m confident it will find brilliant new routes.

All I planned to do was clean up the bee hives. But four hours later having moved on to meadow clipping, I was startled to hear Bluebirds calling, Bluebirds fighting to be exact. Two males kept flying into each other, their wings whacking, while a female looked on. From time to time, a male would land on one of my Bluebird boxes. Then they’d fight again.

“I have three boxes,” I called out, “you needn’t squabble.” But there was only one female. The fight was over her not the boxes.

Find the Bluebird?

Meanwhile the Red-bellied woodpecker was picking away for the third day at a nest its making in the old Norway maple. In between pecks, it examined the perfectly round hole it has made and screeched with satisfaction.

Even a slow circling flyby on the part of the Red-tailed hawk could not deter the mating and nesting.

(You have to take my word for all this bird activity. My camera battery was dying and the birds are too small and distant for my point-and-shoot. I wished for the camera and their operators from the Panama birding team!)

The bad news, beside the dead bees, is that lots of Bittersweet stems still have life in them. But maybe an equal number of stems snap when touched and roots shed their orange sheaths when pulled from the ground.

My scratched wrists attest to the successful overwintering of lots of Dewberry. Its red stems are easily visible in the brown debris of last year’s foliage. I snipped 3 wheelbarrow’s worth of its prickly branches in the area to the south of the bee hives. While it grows together with the Bittersweet in that sunny, dry and sandy part of the meadow, I found almost no Dewberry when I moved to the south west corner of the meadow where its shady in the morning and again by mid afternoon and the soil is loamier and retains more moisture. Maybe that’s another piece of good spring news.

The second day of the Cornell Ornithology Lab’s GBBC and again my feeders are nearly birdless. I will report a Downy woodpeckers, a male Cardinal, a female American Goldfinch, a Rock dove and a couple Black-capped chickadees from 15 minutes of watching around noon. I heard a Red-winged blackbird but did not see it. That’s a highly abbreviated list of who’s out there.

Needing to measure something, I put a tape alongside the feeder shadow at solar noon. The shadow is about 27 inches. The last time I measured the shadow of the feeder, in late December, it was about 33 inches if I remember correctly. I seem not to have made a note in my garden book. Today sun is 12 degrees higher in the sky, .771 km x 10 to the 6th closer, and the day is an hour and a half longer than it was on 21 December.

Another report: I caught a vole beside the old front door.

The GBBC will not take those statistics. Hope I get some birds at the feeders before the GBBC closes Monday.

An Eastern bluebird alighted on one of the nesting boxes in the meadow. It was 15 January.

Last year, I saw a bluebird on a box on 2 April. That’s more the season when it might build a nest. But no bluebird honored me with a nest in one of my boxes last year.

The Eastern bluebird who came last spring but did not stay to nest.

This year’s bluebird might well be roosting here for the winter but might fly north later for nest building. The bluebirds looking to nest will come up from somewhere further south in the spring. After this year’s bird had flown, which also happened to be before I could snap a picture, I checked the contents of the box. A House wren had left behind a layer of twigs from an unfinished nest that I had not yet removed. But the twigs now also had some small blue feathers on them. Was the Bluebird adding insulation to a roost?

I checked the 2 other boxes. The middle one still had a Tree swallow’s nest from last season. That nest, lined with magnificent owl feathers, was such a gem that I had not wanted to remove it. The 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act prevents me from collecting feathers but I can leave them in the nest.

Owl feathers from a House wren's nest

The third box, with its special 1and a half inch diameter entry hole fashioned by a carpenter working on the house renovation of 2009-10, was empty. I had removed the wood chips that the House sparrow deposited last year when chiseling that special entry to a size that better suited him. If the House sparrows are gone, maybe a bluebird, maybe three bluebird families, will feel more comfortable and nest in the meadow come spring.

Winter here on the 41-degree latitude brings chilling winds, mostly from the northwest. Vistas into the woods lengthen in the absence of leaves. The landscape’s pallet looses chroma and brilliance. Shadows stretch to their longest, even at noon. And that noon arrives at its annual earliest, daylight itself shortened to a brief nine hours.

The habit of seasons gives our trees the problem of provisioning for severe cold, on the one hand, and high heat of the other. The sweep of temperatures can be accompanied by too much or too little moisture. I empathize with our trees. A temperate climate keeps us living creatures a little out of balance or at least weighing tradeoffs.

And so it is with shadows and the length of the day. The longest shadows, the lowest arc the sun makes through the sky, the shortest day are the trademarks of autumn. The wind may pick up in winter, the temperature may drop precipitously, snow may fall but for sure the days start getting longer. This most reliable condition is, for me, the salvation of winter.