Author Archive for Site Admin

Species Interactions in a Prairie Butterfly: Puget Blues, Ants and Nectar Plants

Species interactions in a prairie butterfly: Puget blues, ants, and nectar plants.  Post by Rachael Bonoan, Kelsey King and Hanna Brush, Photos by Rachael Bonoan.

Rachael Bonoan (rachael.bonoan@tufts.edu): Rachael is a post-doctoral researcher at both Washington State University and Tufts University. Rachael spends the Puget blue season searching for caterpillars and chasing butterflies in the South Puget Sound and the rest of the year in the lab and analyzing data at Tufts University in the Boston Area. This fall, Rachael will be joining Providence College (Providence, RI) as Assistant Professor of Biology where her lab will study nutritional ecology of bees and frosted elfins.

Kelsey King (kelsey.king@wsu.edu): Kelsey is a PhD student at Washington State University. For her dissertation, Kelsey is investigating the potential of resource mismatches between butterflies and nectar plants, as well as demonstrating the ways nectar resources can impact population dynamics.

Hanna Brush (maria.brush@tufts.edu): Hanna is a Portland, OR native and an undergraduate student at Tufts University who has been helping Rachael study Puget blue butterflies since 2018. This season, Hanna will be investigating nectaring preferences and behavior of Puget blue butterflies for her senior honors thesis.

Species interactions in a prairie butterfly: Puget blues, ants, and nectar plants

This time of year, Puget blue butterflies (Icaricia icarioides blackmorei) have just emerged from their underground pupation at our field site, Johnson Prairie (Joint Base Lewis-McChord). Soon, hundreds of Puget blues will be flitting around the prairie, laying eggs on their host plant, sickle-keeled lupine (Lupinus albicaulis). When it comes to preserving habitat for host plant specialists, biologists rightfully focus on preserving the host plant. This focus, however, may be missing other key interactions in the butterfly’s biology.

Sickle-keeled lupine (Lupinus albicaulis) and other wildflowers on Johnson Prairie.  Photo by Rachael Bonoan

Sickle-keeled lupine (Lupinus albicaulis) and other wildflowers on Johnson Prairie. Photo by Rachael Bonoan

 

Puget blue female with her abdomen curled to lay an egg on the underside of this lupine leaf. Photo by Rachael Bonoan

Puget blue female with her abdomen curled to lay an egg on the underside of this lupine leaf. Photo by Rachael Bonoan

Caterpillars and ants

Soft and squishy, Puget blue caterpillars are vulnerable to predators such as carnivorous wasps and spiders. When threatened, Puget blue caterpillars signal for help via scent, sound, or both. In response, nearby ants come marching. The ants protect the caterpillar by patrolling the plant, physically standing on top of the caterpillar and in some systems, the ants carry the caterpillar underground to their nest. Once the threat has passed, the caterpillar uses a specialized organ to secrete a tiny sugar droplet as a “thank you” to the ants.

Ant receiving a sugar reward from a fourth instar Puget blue caterpillar. Photo by Rachael Bonoan

Ant receiving a sugar reward from a fourth instar Puget blue caterpillar. Photo by Rachael Bonoan

This ant-caterpillar interaction is part of the life cycle of many butterflies in the Lycaenid family. While very little is known about this interaction in Puget blues, the ants are often beneficial for caterpillar survival. For example, silvery blues (Glaucopsyche lygdamus) tended by ants showed 45 – 84% less parasitism than untended caterpillars; experimental exclusion of ants from Reakirt’s blues (Hemiargus isola) doubled caterpillar mortality; and in the lab, Miami blues (Cyclargus thomasi bethunebakeri) raised with ants were significantly more likely to successfully pupate. Though tiny, ants may be an important piece to preserving rare Lycaenids such as the Puget blue and the closely related Fender’s blue (Icaricia icarioides fenderi).

Butterflies and nectar plants

Being a butterfly is hard work. Butterflies need lots of energy to fly, find mates, and lay eggs. So where does all this energy come from? Although butterflies do have some resources saved up from their time feeding on leaves as caterpillars, many species need to supplement their stores by collecting carbohydrate-rich nectar as adults.

Puget blue male nectaring on oxeye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare). If you look closely, you can see the proboscis (i.e. butterfly “tongue”) in the flower.  Photo by Rachael Bonoan

Puget blue male nectaring on oxeye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare). If you look closely, you can see the proboscis (i.e. butterfly “tongue”) in the flower. Photo by Rachael Bonoan

We assessed the importance of adult nutrition for Puget blue survival and fecundity (how many eggs they can lay) by maintaining freshly emerged female butterflies on different diets in the lab. We found that regardless of diet treatment, Puget blue females lay about 20 eggs per day. But, even without flying, if fed water alone, they only live for about 5 days. Given as much sugar (i.e. carbohydrates) as they want, Puget blue females lived for about 25 days. This means that with carbohydrates collected from nectar, a female butterfly lives 5 times longer and thus, can lay 5 times more eggs! Our research suggests that we need to conserve both nectar and host plants to preserve and bolster Puget blue populations.

Puget blue female nectaring on Oregon sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum). If you look closely, you can see the proboscis (i.e. butterfly “tongue”) in the flower.  Photo by Rachael Bonoan

Puget blue female nectaring on Oregon sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum). If you look closely, you can see the proboscis (i.e. butterfly “tongue”) in the flower. Photo by Rachael Bonoan

While our lab-based research shows that adult-collected nectar is in fact important for Puget blue population dynamics, little is known about which flowers they visit for nectar. We followed Puget blue butterflies to figure out what they like to eat.

Hanna following a Puget blue butterfly. Can you spot the butterfly on the lupine? Photo by Rachael Bonoan

Hanna following a Puget blue butterfly. Can you spot the butterfly on the lupine? Photo by Rachael Bonoan

It turns out, Puget blue butterflies can be picky eaters. Out of the 50+ species of flowers recorded on the prairie, we observed Puget blues feeding on only 9 species, many of which are introduced. Surprisingly, Puget blue females do not collect nectar solely from open flowers—they spent most of their time (60%!) probing closed flowers of their host plant. To examine this behavior further, we did a bit of chemistry and found that closed lupine flowers contain carbohydrates as well as amino acids (proteins!). Though there is still much to learn, amino acids may also help Puget blue females lay more eggs and/or survive longer.

From left to right, TOP: two closed Lupinus albicaulis racemes, open L. albicaulis raceme; BOTTOM: vetch (Vicia sativa), slender cinquefoil (Potentilla gracilis), spreading dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium), spreading snowberry (Symphoricarpos mollis); BOTTOM: yarrow (Achillea millefolium), false dandelion (Hypochaeris radicata), Oregon sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum), oxeye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare).  Photos by Rachael Bonoan

From left to right, TOP: two closed Lupinus albicaulis racemes, open L. albicaulis raceme; CENTER: vetch (Vicia sativa), slender cinquefoil (Potentilla gracilis), spreading dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium), spreading snowberry (Symphoricarpos mollis); BOTTOM: yarrow (Achillea millefolium), false dandelion (Hypochaeris radicata), Oregon sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum), oxeye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare). Photos by Rachael Bonoan

Bluebird Recovery on the Prairies

Bluebird Recovery on the Prairies, Post by Karla Kelly, photos by various.

Karla is an avian field technician AmeriCorps with the Center for Natural Lands Management currently in her second field season of monitoring Western bluebirds and Oregon vesper sparrows. She attended The Evergreen State College and earned her Bachelor’s of Science degree in 2017. She is looking forward to graduate school in the near future and is working to build a career in avian research and conservation.

Bluebird Recovery on the Prairies, Post by Karla Kelly

The Western bluebird (Sialia mexicana) is a charismatic blue and rust-colored thrush that is considered a Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) in prairie and oak habitat in western Washington. It is also a conservation focus of the Avian Conservation Program at Center for Natural Lands Management (CNLM). Volunteers monitor bluebirds on CNLM preserves and other conservation lands in the South Sound region as part of a large-scale effort to increase their numbers and distribution.

Male Western Bluebird in Flight, Photo by Tony Varela

Male Western Bluebird in Flight, Photo by Tony Varela

 

Formerly common in open prairie and oak habitats, the species disappeared from much of their range, including mainland and island habitats north of Tacoma and the Olympic peninsula. Bluebirds are cavity nesters and historically built their nests in hollowed-out spaces in trees. Today, they mostly rely on artificial cavities. By building wooden nest boxes and strategically placing them on trees in prairies around the South Sound, we can compensate for the loss of available cavities which was a major factor in their decline.

A Common Design for Bluebird Nest Boxes, unknown photographer

A Common Design for Bluebird Nest Boxes, unknown photographer

 

Over the last five years, CNLM and its volunteers have been establishing and monitoring boxes at over six preserves and other conservation lands. In response, bluebirds have occupied new areas and increased their numbers. These conservation efforts in South Sound may also benefit other populations, such as smaller reintroduced populations to the north on San Juan Island and Vancouver Island (Canada).

Five Beautiful Blue Eggs-More Bluebirds on the Way, unknown photographer

Five Beautiful Blue Eggs-More Bluebirds on the Way, unknown photographer

 

Nestling, Only a Mother Could Love These, unknown photographer

Nestling, Only a Mother Could Love These, unknown photographer

 

All of the work that we do with bluebirds would not be possible without our dedicated volunteer nest box monitors. Their keen interest and willingness to participate ensure that bluebirds are counted and boxes are maintained, producing positive outcomes for the conservation status of this iconic species in South Sound.

A More Rustic Take on Bluebird Box Design, unknown photographer

A More Rustic Take on Bluebird Box Design, unknown photographer

 

State of the Prairies 2020 as Estimated by One Lowly Land Manager

State of the Prairies 2020 as Estimated by One Lowly Land Manager, Blog and Photos by Sanders Freed

Sanders Freed- Thurston County Program Manager for CNLM began working on the South Sound Prairies in 2001 with the Nature Conservancy. Manages the restoration of 18 properties throughout the Puget Trough, with varying ownerships, and more recently a property in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. Reptile, amphibian and bat enthusiast.

State of the Prairies 2020 as Estimated by One Lowly Land Manager

It is hard to imagine the loss of our 25th annual Prairie Appreciation Day (PAD) due to a virus that has resulted in a step away from nature and into our homes. Each and every year, the prairies of the South Sound and the Willamette Valley offer us a renewed flush of fertility and showmanship- just begging to be seen and enjoyed- or eaten if you are an elk on Glacial Heritage Preserve. I can recall sending photos and declaring it the year of a different species annually- while 2020 is arguably the year of the paintbrush.

Paintbrush at Glacial Heritage Preserve, Photo by Sanders Freed

Paintbrush at Glacial Heritage Preserve, Photo by Sanders Freed

The job I agreed to complete as the manager of these systems was to restore them to their greatest grandeur, so that all species that ‘historically’ inhabited them can once again do so. Generally our focus lands on the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly, who requires high quality prairie to persist- with abundant native flower diversity for both host and nectar, and limited to no non-native, invasive species. With habitat restored to this bar, the other prairie species are presumed to be able to persist as well.

Taylor's Checkerspot at the Tenalquot Preserve.  Photo by sanders Freed

Taylor’s Checkerspot at the Tenalquot Preserve. Photo by sanders Freed

Over my last twenty years, our battle has waged to remove invasive species- Scotch broom, tall-oat grass and a dozen noxious weeds- so that our less competitive native species have a chance to flourish. Our war has used many weapons- fire, manpower, chemicals and mechanical means. And with a robust toolbox, we have been successful at eliminating Scotch broom from several sites, and have a method that has proven successful. It has taken many years and all of the tools available to accomplish this behemoth task, not to mention a lot of stubborn individuals. Removing these invaders, including Douglas-fir, has allowed the return of native species through another immense undertaking- seed production. Our early attempts revolved around planting plugs, with limited survival and success. The game has changed with development of a nursery and seed production- replenishing the seeds of species long gone from once homogeneous Scotch broom forests. With our toolbox of invasive control methods, the reintroduction of fire has also improved the success of seeding, providing the perfect conditions for seed/soil contact. With our ever-improving restoration abilities, prairie quality is increasing at remarkable rates, with natural recruitment of native species. We have even begun to attempt transforming homogenized industrial agriculture sites back to native prairie- with some success and constant learning. Species evolved in these systems respond readily.

Balsamroot and other Forbs at Glacial Heritage Preserve.  Photo by Sanders Freed

Balsamroot and other Forbs at Glacial Heritage Preserve. Photo by Sanders Freed

The reintroduction of prairie forbs to sites once dominated by non-native grasses are readily colonized by the Mazama Pocket Gopher. Our restoration efforts have also resulted in the introduction of the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly to several sites, with varying success. A recent reintroduction has begun at Tenalquot Prairie Preserve, a property obtained in 2005. This property underwent the typical restoration process- remove invasive species- repeat- introduce native species – repeat. Do these things enough with dedication and perseverance- they become ready to be called home once again to species that need them. There are always challenges, each year new problems are addressed and learning begins anew. An annual fescue is currently giving the conservation community trouble. A nasty little clover also lurks about. And Scotch broom annually tries to regain its’ foothold as the dominant prairie species, which it would quickly do without the commitment of so many to beat it back.

So as a whole, based on my limited knowledge, the prairies are doing better than when I began in 2001. There are more protected sites. More populations of listed species are established on protected sites. There are mechanisms being put in place to protect our remaining prairies- including the Tumwater and Thurston County HCP’s. We are developing methods to build prairie from scratch on agricultural lands. We are working with the grazing community to increase compatibility between conservation and grazing. And we are constantly learning, adapting and appreciating our prairies.

Oregon Spotted Frog Egss at New Conservation Site.  Photo by Sanders Freed

Oregon Spotted Frog Egss at New Conservation Site. Photo by Sanders Freed

My optimism is balanced by my pessimism. The prairies of the South Sound are fragile. They persist on the edge, between succession and active management. They were maintained by regular burning by indigenous people. They will require continual management to persist in perpetuity. They are under threat by development, agricultural conversion, succession, a horde of invasive species, climate change and the whims of politics and culture. They need our help. They need it more now than ever- a spring without broom pulling from our dedicated volunteers has strained my ability to manage these gems. Hopefully a spring without the prairie will inspire people to value it more.

April 29, 2020 Spring Comes Late to the CNLM Native Seed Farms

Blog Post by Sierra Smith, Photos by Sierra Smith and Ruth Mares

As this image shows, Social Distancing is nothing new to the CNLM seed farms whether spring or winter.

Jessika Blackport cheking the fields on a winter day by an unknown farm staff member

Jessika Blackport cheking the fields on a winter day by an unknown farm staff member

This year we had a March that was colder than our January. As a result, spring has crept in with a whisper instead of hitting suddenly as in years past. However, our earliest natives are blooming strong including:

blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia magniflora)

Collinsia magniflora by Ruth mares

Collinsia Magniflora, Blue-eyed Mary, by Ruth Mares

shooting star (Dodocantheum pulchellum)

Dodocantheum pulchellum by Sierra Smith

Dodocantheum pulchellum, Shooting Star by Sierra Smith

field chickweed (Cerastium arvense)

Cerastium arvense, field chickweed by Ruth Mares

Cerastium arvense, field chickweed by Ruth Mares

and western buttercup (Ranunculus occidentalis)

Ranunculus occidentalis, western buttercup by Sierra Smith

Ranunculus occidentalis, western buttercup by Sierra Smith

but we expect the real show to begin after another week or two of warm weather.

On the farm we are still neck deep in the “spring dig”, getting the winter’s weeds out as they get big enough to pull. We sowed all our spring annuals in February and are planting our spring transplants. The annual irrigation repair after winter weather and coyote chewing is nearly complete and then we will be sowing our spring cover-crops on all open ground.

It is a beautiful time on the farm with lots green, new shoots and baby birds. The spring is always so full of promise and with the gradual warm-up we are feeling on-the-ball and ready for the first seeds to start forming.

April 27th, 2020 -Birding on South Sound Prairies

Blog by Bob Wadsworth, photos courtesy of Tim Leque and Dennis Plank.

When I first started birding on South Sound prairies, I didn’t think I’d be seeing very many species. It seemed that like a suburban lawn, there wouldn’t be much habitat diversity to attract lots of species. I was wrong. The recent listing on the e-Bird database shows a total of 124 species recorded at Glacial Heritage Preserve over recent years. To help better appreciate birds in the prairies I offer the following observations.

Habitats at Glacial Heritage Preserve – There are five main habitats on the preserve: the prairie itself is an expanse of grass and forbs (wildflowers), with a few scattered large trees. Bordering the prairie is a conifer forest with douglas-fir as the primary tree species. Also scattered in the prairie are areas of upland oak forest and a riparian oak forest with Oregon white oak as its primary species runs along the Black River, and finally there is the shoreline and channel of the Black River. There is also an old gravel pit along the northwest boundary of the preserve which has grown up to alder which while not a part of the preserve, does influence its bird life.

Satellite view of the Glacial Heritage Preserve from Google Maps

Satellite view of the Glacial Heritage Preserve from Google Maps

Bird migrants coming and going – The month of May is a time when many migrant birds have arrived from points south and others, who spent the winter here, have left for points north or the mountains. Arrivals include purple martins, savanna sparrows, chipping sparrows, western tanagers, Swainson’s thrush, black headed grosbeaks, flycatchers, vireos, warblers, and osprey. Winter visitors have moved north to nest including golden crowned and ruby crowned kinglets, varied thrushes, and fox and golden crowned sparrows. A group of species that remain in the winter include bluebirds, Meadowlarks, ravens and resident hawks including kestrels, Harriers, red tailed and eagles.

Willow Flycatcher, a summer resident Photograph by Dennis Plank

Willow Flycatcher, a summer resident. Photograph by Dennis Plank

Golden-crowned Sparrow, a winter resident Photograph by Dennis Plank

Golden-crowned Sparrow, a winter resident. Photograph by Dennis Plank

 

American Kestrel, a year round resident Photograph by Dennis Plank

American Kestrel, a year round resident. Photograph by Dennis Plank

Unusual birds – Occasionally a few bird species show up or pass through Glacial Heritage. These include sandhill cranes which have passed over or landed briefly during migration; whimbrels, which though normally a shorebird spend some time inland while migrating; northern shrike, a predatory songbird that hunts other songbirds, and some may spend the winter on prairies and other open country; nighthawk, a more common bird in western Washington in the past, which can be seen occasionally; and finally, barn owl, a relatively common owl in open areas, but as with other owls, hard to spot because of nocturnal habits.

Northern Shrike, a rare visitor Photograph by Tim Leque

Northern Shrike, a rare visitor. Photograph by Tim Leque

Barn Owl, fairly common, but rarely seen Photograph by Dennis Plank

Barn Owl, fairly common, but rarely seen. Photograph by Dennis Plank

Check the following link to the online eBird app for a full list of species seen at Glacial.

April 22nd 2020, First Earth Day Remembrance

by Janet Strong

My husband, Jim, and I and our 4 kids lived in Butler, PA, north of Pittsburgh. We had joined a friendly group of natural food devotees and we learned about the coming Earth Day Celebration. One friend, a teacher, organized a series of talks featuring a lot of environmental issues, leading up to Earth Day. The last class was on Earth Day. Out of this group came a bunch of us who then organized a group we called B.E.A.T. (Butler Environmental Action Team) and worked very hard to set up a recycling center in the city of Butler. We had to find a place (donated space by a local industry), then places to deliver all the recyclables and how to pay our expenses. We got barrels donated by the local steel mill (who didn’t want us to bother them later) plus other donations. We were open every other Saturday. People couldn’t get over how we thanked them for their “rubbish.” I was the Treasurer and all of us were volunteers. We kept it going successfully for about 3 years and then had to give up because the space became unavailable and we were all exhausted and needed to get on with our lives. And I have been recycling ever since, for 50 years. I celebrate Earth Day every year in some way or another. Happy 50th Earth Day, everybody! Do something wild and wonderful for the Earth.

Janet Strong Bio:

Well, mostly I raised 4 kids and was a Girl Scout leader for many years in PA. Then I went to grad school in biology and while there helped my Ornithology prof found a new Audubon chapter around 1980. Others helped, too, including my husband Jim. That chapter is still going and has gotten much bigger and manages their own habitat lands now. Moved to WA in 1984 and in 1988 started work to help protect public resources (Wildlife, fish and water quality) for the next 13 years under the Timber, Fish and Wildlife Agreement. In 1994, a group of friends and I started the Chehalis River Basin Land Trust, headquartered in Centralia and operating in the entire Chehalis Basin. I was President of it for about 17 years. Presently it manages about 2,000 acres it owns and about 2,000 acres of Conservation Easements. I’ve always been active in Audubon so helped with the Grays Harbor chapter and now am President. Couldn’t do it without the excellent board we have.

Earth Day is the time when I gain hope that things are improving and at the same time wonder if humans will ever stop being cruel and exploitative to the environment.

Fifty Years Later and Still Working for the Earth

Janet- second from the right.

Janet is second from the right.

Like PAD, Earth Day 2020 will be a virtual event. Please check out their website.

 

Also, if you have access, check out the Opinion Piece in the April 12th Edition of the Seattle times by Earth Day’s first national coordinator, Denis Hayes, now President of the Bullitt Foundation.

April 1st, 2020- Early Bloomers Shine!

Photos and blog post courtesy of Deborah Naslund

I was very fortunate to visit to our prairies last week and capture (in photos only!) some of our star early bloomers. So, while we are all stuck at home for now, I want to share with you the walks I took last week through Scatter Creek Wildlife Area and Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve just before state agencies had to close these public lands due to COVID-19 protection measures. Here’s the first installment: Scatter Creek.

On Tuesday, March 24th, I wandered through the south unit of Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife’s Scatter Creek Wildlife Area. This area contains a beautiful fragment of our unique South Puget Sound prairie/oak woodland ecosystem. In addition to mounded prairie, there are stands of Garry oak and riparian wetland areas. Because of this diversity of habitats, Scatter Creek Wildlife Area supports a wide variety of native plant and animal species.

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Quercus garryana

Garry oak communities were once widespread on the west side of the Cascade Mountains, in the lowlands of the Puget Trough. Now, because of extensive development and agricultural clearing, less than 5% of the original extent of these communities remain. More on these unique plant communities in future post.

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Dodecatheon hendersonii

Walking along the trail paralleling a stand of oaks, I was greeted by the delicate and aptly named broad-leaved shooting star, Dodecatheon hendersonii. This beauty is one of our first prairie perennials to bloom. The unique structure of Dodecatheon flowers make them dependent on pollination by native bumble bees.

For more in-depth information on the dependency between South Sound prairie plants and their pollinators, see Cascaidia Prairie Oak’s post on Pollinators.

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Fragaria virginiana

Wandering around to the other side of this stand of oaks, I was delighted to find a wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) in bloom. Usually blooming from May to August, these individuals are thriving in the warm microclimate between mima mounds, extending their flowering season by months. It’s not surprising to find these wild strawberries growing in a variety of microclimates on the prairie; their overall distribution in Washington ranges from ocean shores to subalpine mountain environments demonstrating their adaptability to a wide range of habitats. The leaves of Fragaria virginiana often appear noticeably blue-green as you see in the emerging new leaves in this picture, giving rise to its other common name, blueleaf strawberry.

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Fritillaria affinis

Back under the oaks, several chocolate lilies, Fritillaria affinis, were sprouting, bring the promise of flowers to come. Like camas, the starchy bulbs of the chocolate lily have been and continue to be an important food source for many Native peoples of the Puget Sound area. But note: they don’t taste like chocolate and must be cooked properly to be edible! These flowers are uncommon on our prairies and should be left undisturbed by the general public.

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Cardamine nuttallii

On my final swing through the area, I found several Nuttall’s toothwort (also known as oaks toothwort), Cardamine nuttallii, poking up through the leaf litter near the woodland edge. Another early bloomer and harbinger of spring, I find these in my yard under old Douglas firs and along our community open-space trails. So, when the rain clouds clear this week, take a walk through your neighborhood green space and see if you can find these beauties, or any other early bloomers that are brightening our spring days.