Early spring in the forests of Frederick County (and a Catoctin Mountain gallery)

EDITOR’s NOTE: This blog was posted here a year ago. On this snowy first day of spring, it seems a good time to post it again.


Meteorological spring began on March 1st. Astronomical spring began with the equinox on March 20th. No matter what you consider the official start of spring, however, there’s no doubt that our longer and snowier and colder than usual winter has delayed many aspects of spring…which unfold gradually, in any case, every year.

New leaves and spring blooms are off “schedule.” Wood frogs and Canada geese have been waiting for the ice to melt on vernal pools and mountain ponds. And now we might get more snow this week! But signs of spring abound, and the spectacular fecundity of the season is upon us.

bloodroot260wMuch of the beauty of spring in the forests of Frederick County is found in April, well before the green wave sweeps up the river valleys and over the gentle ridges. A walk in the woods can be a joy any time of year, of course, but it is a special delight before the budding trees cast a summer-long shadow on the forest floor.

Waiting until the forest is green means missing out on the magic of frog music. Summer visitors to woodland ponds can count on hearing the solitary burps of big bullfrogs and green frogs. But the vernal pools and wetlands and ponds in the woods resonate with the sounds of wood frogs and spring peepers and gray tree frogs and American toads. If that doesn’t sound like a treat to you, it is only because you haven’t had the pleasure!

The wonders of the early spring forest also include colorful songbirds that rarely venture beyond the forest interior. No doubt, our homes are enlivened by the sounds of cardinals and mockingbirds and other birds that have adapted to city and suburbs. But you have to walk in the woods to enjoy the sights and sounds of a scarlet tanager or wood thrush or many other arriving residents and migrants passing through.

Our sunny home gardens bloom throughout the spring and summer, but, while you can find some flowers in the woods until late autumn, the great riot of native wildflowers happens early, when the bright sun still reaches the ground. The fallen leaves of last year are pushed aside by the vigorous growth of colorful wildflowers. The ground is dotted with bloodroot, rue anemone, spring beauty, trout lily, hepatica, large-flowered bellwort, Dutchman’s breeches, Virginia bluebell, and patches of wild ginger, trillium, cutleaf toothwort, yellow violet and more.

We all see countless lovely daffodils and tulips and azaleas this spring and every spring. But you can just as easily go a lifetime without hearing a chorus of spring peepers or the song of a hermit thrush, or seeing the delicate beauty of a showy orchis.

Many of the best places to find mature and rich woodlands in Frederick County are in the public lands along the Potomac and C&O Canal, in the parks and preserves on the Catoctin and South Mountain ridges, and on Sugarloaf Mountain.

Consider yourself encouraged to get out there over the next few weeks! Go a number of times, if you can, to see the changes…which bring new wonders every day this time of year.


Below are a couple dozen images that offer a bit of what April offers in the mature forests of Frederick County. All of these were taken in the Catoctin Mountains, in April (or late March).

(PLEASE NOTE; Click on any of the images below to open a larger version.)

Redbuds in bloom

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Round-lobed Hepatica

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Masses of wood frog eggs in a vernal pool

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A small white flower and skunk cabbage

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Mountain pond

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Nesting Canada goose

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Mossy rock with a view

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Cutleaf toothwort

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Highbush blueberry blossoms

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Skunk cabbage growing in a creek

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Morel mushrooms

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Creek bends

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Interrupted fern

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Mossy islet in a vernal pool

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Tulip trees near a mountain stream

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Pool in the creek with patch of skunk cabbage

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Violets growing and blooming along the edge of the creek.

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Trout lillies

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Mountain stream

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Marsh marigolds

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Mayapple

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Jacobs ladder

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Ash with new leaves

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Dwarf ginseng

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Jack in the pulpit

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Mountain pond with Canada geese

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Carpet of wildflowers

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