By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator
You just never know what you’ll find when you are walking in a forest, and Spring is perhaps the season with the most pleasant sights and surprises along a woodland trail.
While monitoring a conservation easement this week near White Clay Creek State Park, sharp-eyed Charlotte Greenewalt spotted a roosting Red Bat! The tiny bat, with its tiny head tucked into its wings, hung from its hind legs, upside down in a clump of leaves about 12 feet off the ground. We enjoyed seeing the beautiful white blaze on the chest of this tiny flying mammal.
Red Bats(Lasiurus borealis)are about four inches long, with a 12-inch wingspan. They have reddish-brown fur, are typically solitary, and feed in woodlands and along streams. On warm days during the winter and early spring, Red Bats may be seen feeding upon early-emerging insects. Otherwise, these creatures are nocturnall just like the rest of their clan(the Chiropterans, meaning “hand wing”)
During the same walk, we came across another true treasure: a small colony of Showy Orchis, a rare orchid of Piedmont Woodlands. These tiny wildflowers hoist a white and pink bloom above their glossy green leaves, while looking elegant as only a 4-inch tall orchid can.
Showy Orchis(Galearis spectabilis) is one of the prize plants to find in the spring, and it is also prized by plant collectors. The novel “The Orchid Thief” profiled the mania which mankind has for the members of the Orchid family, and even our tiny native orchids are not immune to this phenomenon. If you have the opportunity to find a Showy Orchis in the wild, you will see nature’s artwork at its finest.
Of course, not just the rare and unusual are of interest to the woodland-wandering observer. Sometime a simple combination of colors catches your eye, as with this Smooth Yellow Violet(yes a yellow violet!) growing amidst the common Northern Blue Violets.
Now is a fine time to explore local woodlands and enjoy the diversity of life that abounds in our native forests– you never know what you will find!