Wildflower of the Week by Chick Keller

This week’s flower is covering a tree—chokecherry (Prunus virginiana). As you can see from the photos, the plant’s strategy to get noticed is to cluster its blooms not only in space but in time—all together, all at the same time. To a potential pollinator it looks like a large, long, thin flower. Only when it gets closeup does it find that flower to be made up of many flowers. Actually they look something like tiny roses and indeed this plant is in the Rosaceae family—a rose without thorns!
Right now the woods are chock full of these trees in full bloom. In the late summer, many of the flowers will have turned into dark colored cherries. Until they are totally black, they are not ripe enough to eat, and even when they are ripe, they are quite bitter. Interestingly, it is hard to find black cherries later in the season because birds eat them before they are fully ripe. People who grow these to make jelly usually have to cover the entire trees with netting to keep the birds away.
Chokecherry tree laden in flowers.
But for now, go outside and enjoy nature at its most profligate.

Wildflower of the Week by Chick Keller

This one a beauty. As you explore the trails, look for this plant blooming widely in shady places around town. It is a Clematis Columbia.

Many varieties of clematis are sold for gardens, but this one is wild and I’ve never seen it successfully transplanted. Still, it never ceases to please as it winds it’s way among the branches of other plants. In a month it will stop blooming, so go out and enjoy it now.

Wildflower of the Week by Chick Keller

Spring is upon us with nearly 30 plants blooming! One however, is more fun than the others. Some may know it as ‘chimaja’ and and use the leaves to spice up green salads in spring. Botanists gave it the imposing name Cymopteris acaulis, variety fendleri.

It grows all over at lower elevations from Ghost Ranch to Santa Fe. Ours seem to be restricted to the White Rock Rim trail in the open flats For example, the photo above was taken on the White Rock Rim trail, one quarter mile south of the Blue Dot trailhead. As the picture shows, it is a low-growing spread of shiny lobed leaves that taste like spicy celery. which surround the central groups of tiny yellow flowers.

It’s in the Queen Anne family that includes parsley, the toxic hemlock (that killed Socrates), and others. Chimaja is like another early bloomer—wafer parsnip—called parsnip because of its big, bulbous root. But the wafer parsnip has pink flowers and its leaves are not shiny.



Bird of the Week – The Cassin’s Finch

(Photo above: Male Cassin’s Finch)

by Bob Walker

The Cassin’s Finch (Haemorhous cassinii) makes this week’s bird story not because it is a bird we have been seeing around town lately, but because we have not been seeing it. The graph below shows the average frequency of Cassin’s Finches reported to eBird in Los Alamos County in the January through March (winter) time frame for the last eight years. Each bar height is the frequency for that year’s winter.

Female Cassin’s Finch
Yearly Average Frequency of Cassin’s Finch reports

Cassin’s Finches were fairly common in the late winters of 2010 and 2011, then were less common the next three years, and were really common in the winter of 2015. We have not had many reports at all in the last two years. Their unpredictable migration behavior suggests they are an irruptive species, like Pine Siskins, Evening Grosbeaks, Red Crossbills, and Red-breasted Nuthatches, moving in large flocks to new areas when their food supply is lacking in their normal wintering areas. Little detailed information exists for Cassin’s Finches, but what data there is suggests they migrate both latitudinally and altitudinally.

Cassin’s Finches are easily mistaken for House Finches (and vice versa), because of their similar coloration. But, there are several fairly easily recognized differences, if you look closely. Cassin’s Finch males tend to be much pinker than a House Finch male, their breasts and bellies are not streaked, and you may even see the Cassin’s Finch male raise his crown feathers in a small crest, like the bird above. The females are also brown-streaked birds, like House Finch females, but the Cassin’s streaking is much more sharply defined. Both sexes are larger in size than a House Finch, and have conical-shaped bills instead of curved upper bills. Compare to the House Finch photograph below:

House Finches

Find more detailed articles about Cassin’s Finches on these web pages: identify.whatbird.com and allaboutbirds.org.  You can see beautiful photos of Cassin’s Finches at the Brian Small and Jacob Spendelow web sites. For even more images, perform an image search on Google or Flickr, and you’ll find many good photographs.

Wildflower of the Week by Chick Keller

A number of flowers are welcoming the new season, so this week’s flower is actually four: Pasqueflower, Oregon Grape, Valerian, and Kinnikinnick. These are our very first bloomers of the season.
PEEC has a site called What’s Blooming Now, but its dates are set to correspond, not to first date of bloom, but rather for time when they are generally blooming. But folks each Spring are eager to find when species first come out—harbingers of spring. So here are the first four hardy bloomers:
Pasqueflowers can be found on Perimeter Trail behind Arizona Ave. Look downhill in the sunny, open spaces.
Oregon Grape is blooming in several places including the Quemazon/Satch Cowan trail and on Perimeter Trail.
Valerian can be found in Valle Canyon. This photo is courtesy of Craig Martin.
Kinnikinnick is blooming along Quemazon Trail. It can be hard to find, so look for tiny blooms. Not all of the Kinnikinnick plants are in bloom now.