What You Can See on March 3
Submitted by Ted Williams on Fri, 03/03/2006 - 09:44.
Feline Flowers Now, as the top of earth’s axis tilts sunward, look for pussy willows in low, wet places across Canada, south through New England to Maryland, and west to Kentucky, Missouri, and South Dakota. This shrub or small tree was named for the silver, catlike fur on the seeds of its newly opened, staminate flowers—which, for the same reason, are also called catkins. If the catkin you are stroking with your thumb has yellow stamens, it’s a male, and so is every catkin on the branch because willows are dioecious—that is, only catkins of the same sex appear on a plant. When you place pussy willow cuttings in a vase, be sure not to add water, because it will permit the flowering that quickly destroys the catkins’ fur. Pruning pussy willows encourages vigorous new shoots—a useful bit of information if you get yelled at when cutting them on someone else’s land. Sky Dance While robins bask in the South, woodcocks waft north by night until, backlit against the dawn, they flutter mothlike into brushy draws from the Maritimes to the southern Appalachians and west to the Great Plains. The woodcock is an upland snipe—a strange, gnomelike bird with stubby legs, a brain that lies almost upside-down, high-set eyes that give better vision above and behind, and a long bill equipped with a hinged upper mandible, the better to grasp worms. Just before dusk, take a seat in an overgrown pasture, and you may witness the mating display of the male. When the light fades you’ll hear a nasal peeent, then another and another, closer and closer together until at last, with a twitter of wings, he launches into the twilight. The twittering rises and falls as he orbits under the first stars of evening, sometimes climbing to 300 feet. Presently the twittering gives way to a liquid warble, and he drops earthward, slicing and dipping like an oak leaf. At the last possible instant he levels off and glides back to his spot. Then, strutting with drooped wings and spread tail, he resumes his singing and, soon, his sky dance.