When we leave the greening month of May and move into June, we enter the next phase of the season. With the woods being fully leafed-out now, shade prevails below the new green canopy.
Some spring wildflowers continue to linger here and leafy ferns thrive, but the bulk of the flowering is out from the trees.
One of the signs of the end of spring is when the wildflowers in the open outnumber those of the forest. In addition to the low-growing flowers, we can now see blossoms from trees. Wild plum, juneberry, pin cherry and elderberry began their arboreal flowers a couple of weeks ago and now we see blooms of hawthorn, viburnum, chokecherry, apple and lilac.
Among the birds, we also observe a change. The abundant warbler migrants here recently have settled into their next phase. After returning from the south, they now claim breeding territories and prepare for nesting.
This includes plenty of singing. Walking in the early morning during these days is done in the presence of a chorus of songs from warblers, vireos, thrushes, flycatchers, grosbeaks, robins and orioles. Usually, songs are done by the males and these vocals tell of breeding sites for another season.
Indeed, June is when the breeding bird surveys are conducted. But during these long, warm and often wet days of this month, plenty of other critters are reproducing as well.
Walking or driving along the roads now, it is not unusual to see turtles at the edges. What they are doing is finding a place to dig a nest in the soil to deposit a new batch of eggs. Roadside soil is easy enough to dig into and drop the eggs; though roads may be dangerous. During many morning walks, I have discovered this June ritual — an animal of the water comes up on land to lay its eggs.
Evening walks at this time can often reveal the converse: animals of the land going to water to breed. This is the egg-laying time of two common local amphibians, American toads and gray tree frogs, that spend the whole year (including hibernation) on land, but return to ponds, swamps and lakes to reproduce.
During a recent walk at dusk, I stopped and listened to the calls of both from a nearby swamp. Toads were singing high-pitched trills, lasting for 20 or more seconds. Gray treefrogs proclaimed a shorter loud nasal “waaa” sound.
And while the toad breeding season is short — often not even a week — the gray tree frogs may last throughout this month and into the summer. Both deposit eggs in water that hatch to be tadpoles, reaching maturity and leaving the wetland by the end of summer. Adults do not remain in the aquatic scene after laying eggs.
We call them gray tree frogs, but when viewed by us, they can often more likely be green. The Latin name of Hyla versicolor speaks of it varying its color. Phases are gray or green. Probably responding to the temperature of the substrate, I have observed that they are usually gray when on bark, and green when on leaves. Despite the color change, they are true tree frogs.
Adults have suction cups on their toes that allow for agile climbing. Their breeding calls commence in May and may be from the trees before they go to water. Many of our June nights around Northland lakes are filled with their calls adding more to the darkness. Newly emerged young will often be seen in our yards in late summer.