Every year, in October, Bernheim Forest celebrates the arrival of autumn with ColorFest. I admit the changing color of the leaves is quite pretty and seems to make the forest glow like a late summer sunset. For me, however, the full spectrum of color is best experienced in spring. Despite the fickle weather, with roller coaster temperatures and late season snows, spring has arrived. With it comes an assortment of colors unmatched anywhere. We just need to look a little more carefully.
Start with a walk around the arboretum. The grass is growing fresh and green, perhaps dotted with the bright sunny yellow of dandelions. Now, look closer, toward your feet, and you’ll discover all the violets you overlooked, hiding in plain view in the grass.
Next, take a hike on any one of the many trails Bernheim has to offer. Once again, slow down and look around a little more carefully. You’ll see all the wildflowers popping up through the fallen leaves of last fall. They always remind me of splatters on a painter’s drop cloth. There are trout lilies with elegant blooms of yellow and cinnamon, powder blue “Quaker Ladies”, and tiny white rue anemone. Maybe you will find some Virginia bluebells or some other wildflowers blossoming. Even the trees and shrubs are getting in on the act. And there’s more – for every bloom or blossom you find, there is probably a bird to match! Palm warblers sport the same colors as the trout lily. A house finch blends right in with the redbud. Color abounds!
So, for the grand finale, find a quiet spot to sit by the trees, and wait. What happens next is like magic. The color will come to you. Birds begin to appear, seemingly out of nowhere. Spring migration is in full swing and birds of all sorts and colors are passing through Bernheim on the way to their summer breeding grounds. You may never have heard of a golden crowned kinglet, or a yellow-rumped warbler, but once you’ve seen one, you’re not likely to forget. (With names like that, could they be anything but colorful?)
Spring is also the start of courtship season for many of the birds that call Bernheim Forest home. As a result, they are displaying a remarkable array of color. These are birds we often overlook simply because we see them all the time. Look closer and you’ll see blue jays and cardinals are showing their best color of the year. Goldfinches have become notably brighter in the last few weeks and our resident bluebirds haven’t been this brilliant since last year.
So, bring your binoculars and your camera. Start with a walk around the arboretum. The grass is growing fresh and green. Next, take a hike on any of the many trails Bernheim has to offer. See the wildflowers popping up through the leaves. Finally, for the grand finale, find a quiet spot to sit by the trees, and enjoy the full spectrum of color that spring provides. It’s all there. We just need to look a little more carefully.
–Jim Scout, Volunteer Naturalist