- Established 1982 -


1-10 March 2020

Installment #714---Visitor #website counter

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All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center


Just a note to remind folks that efforts by Punxsutawney Phil, the Pennsylvania Woodchuck, to hoodwink folks about winter/spring weather have been soundly debunked by Hilton Pond Harry (above), the Center's esteemed and ever-accurate White-footed Mouse, Peromyscus leucopus. You need evidence? Well, on Groundhog Day (2 February 2020), fake Phil failed to see his shadow at dawn and predicted an early spring, while honest Harry exited his burrow in bright morning sunlight to forecast six more weeks of winter. As witness to Harry's reliability (and Phil's foolishness), in five weeks and two days since Groundhog Day (through 10 March) Hilton Pond has experienced TWO snow events covering three days--plus NINE nights during which the temperature was 30° or lower (including a frigid 25° on 22 February). Does this sound like "early spring" to you? Of course not. Next year, put your faith in Hilton Pond Harry, not fickle Phil. You'll be glad you did.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center


In 1982 when we first came to what is now Hilton Pond Center, the 11 acres had been fallow for perhaps three years--prior to which it was a working farm for at least a century. Grazing and row crops had depleted the soil, and herbaceous plants were few; instead there were mostly Blackberry vines, Broomsedge, and Eastern Red Cedars (above), punctuated by invasive Chinese Privet and Japanese Honeysuckle. Wildflowers were especially hard to find, likely because a hundred years of plowing had killed any seeds or rootstock of herbs and forbs native to the Carolina Piedmont.

During the past 39 years at the Center we've inventoried a surprisingly small but slowly growing number of native wildflowers, so each year as winter wanes we're alert for any ephemeral blooms we might have overlooked. This year, in early March we were surprised (no, stunned) at dusk to come across a new native wildflower species that elsewhere has been one of our all-time favorites. And here it was at Hilton Pond--growing a mere 20 feet away from the office window of our old farmhouse!

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

We recognized the plant's nearly prostrate leaves (above) from past experience, its elongate mottled green and purple foliage so distinctive the species could hardly be confused with anything else. It is sometimes confusingly called Yellow Dogtooth Violet (because of the tooth-like shape of its white, seldom-seen subterranean bulb), but it's not a violet at all. A better name is Yellow (or American) Trout Lily--especially since its flower structure and leaves with thin parallel veins do put it in the Liliaceae (Lily Family). It's called "trout lily" because its leaf mottling is supposedly similar to marks on a Brook Trout (above right). Technically, it's Erythronium americanum; the genus name comes from a red European relative but could also stand for its showy maroon anthers (see photo below, taken on an excursion elsewhere), while its species epithet indicates this is indeed a native plant. Why it also goes by the nickname Adder's Tongue we are not quite sure.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Trout lilies can sprout from seed, producing a single mottled leaf during the first year, and later on two. ("Immature" one-leafed individuals do not flower.) That implies the specimen we found was at least two years old, so how we missed it last year (or even earlier) is a puzzlement: It was growing right beside a well-traveled trail leading to feeders and traps we use almost daily for bird banding. Perhaps previously the foliage was covered by leaf litter, of which we have plenty in the intentionally un-raked yard around the old farmhouse. The next question would be where our trout lily's seed came from in the first place--there apparently being no other colonies anywhere near--and especially since dispersal is primarily by ants attracted by each seed's nutritious lipid- and oil-rich fleshy appendage called an elaiosome.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center
Trout lily mat photo above courtesy Native Florida Wildflowers blog

Yellow Trout Lilies can be highly colonial in hardwood stands across eastern North America, with local propagation occurring primarily when the bulb produces an underground stem that eventually forms a new bulb and new plant. Such colonies can develop into extensive mats (above) that are quite long-lived; one documented colony is more than 300 years old. (There are numerous other Erythronium species, most in the western U.S. where they range in color from deep pink to white to yellow. Taxonomists now recognize a second yellow southeastern species, E. umbilicatum, Dimpled Trout Lily, with pale brownish spots or stripes on its inflorescence. The dimpling refers to a depession on the seed pod. Some authorities claim this "new" species is actually far more common than E. americanum.)

The morning after we discovered our new wildflower prize at Hilton Pond Center, we went out with camera, tripod, and macro lens to take photos of the bloom. We were sorely disappointed to find something had nipped off the single yellow blossom at the top of the flower stalk; you can barely see withered yellow petals below the apex of the leaves in our top photo. Fleshy leaves of this late winter wildflower at the Center will likewise wither as weather warms, so we'll mark its location and watch for our Yellow Trout Lily again next March.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

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Don't forget to scroll down for Nature Notes & Photos,
plus lists of all birds banded or recaptured during the period.

"This Week at Hilton Pond" is written and photographed by Bill Hilton Jr., executive director of Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History

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Thanks to the following fine folks for recent gifts in support of Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History and/or Operation RubyThroat: The Hummingbird Project. Your tax-deductible contributions allow us, among other things, to continue writing, photographing, and sharing "This Week at Hilton Pond" with students, teachers, and the general public. Please see Support or scroll below if you'd like to make a gift of your own.

We're pleased folks are thinking about the work of the Center and making donations. Those listed below made contributions received during the period. Please join them if you can in coming weeks.

Gifts can be made via PayPal (; credit card via Network for Good (see link below); or personal check (c/o Hilton Pond Center, 1432 DeVinney Road, York SC 29745). You can also donate through our Facebook fundraising page.

The following made contributions to Hilton Pond Center during the period 1-10 Mar 2020:

  • None this week.
  • The following friends contributed via the "Donate" button on one of the Center's Facebook postings or fundraisers; some may be repeat contributors via Facebook or other means. None this week.
    (* = past participant in Operation RubyThroat Neotropical Hummingbird expedition)
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The Piedmont Naturalist--Vol. 1--1986 (Hilton Pond Press) is an award-winning collection of newspaper columns that first appeared in The Herald in Rock Hill SC. Optimized for tablets such as iPad and Kindle, electronic downloads of the now out-of-print volume are available by clicking on the links below. The digital version includes pen-and-ink drawings from the original edition--plus lots of new color photos. All sales go
to support the work of
Hilton Pond Center.

1-10 March 2020

American Goldfinch--
Dark-eyed Junco--2
Chipping Sparrow--12
Carolina Chickadee--1
Northern Cardinal--5
White-throated Sparrow--2
House Finch--
Blue Jay--1
Mourning Dove--4

* = new banded species for 2020

9 species
31 individuals

14 species (39-yr. avg. = 63.7)

261 individuals
(39-yr. avg. =

(Banding began 28 June 1982; since then 171 species have been observed on or over the property.)
127 species banded
69,951individuals banded

6,355 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds banded

(with original banding date, sex, and current age):
Carolina Chickadee (1)
08/20/19--2nd year unknown

Northern Cardinal (3)
08/25/19--2nd year male
09/22/19--2nd year female

09/22/19--2nd year male

White-throated Sparrow (3)
02/08/16--6th year unknown
12/04/16--after 4th year male

02/19/19--after 2nd year unknown

--As of 10 Mar, the Center's 2020 Yard List stood at 44--about 25.7% of 171 avian species encountered locally since 1982. (Incidentally, all species so far this year have been observed from the windows or porches of our old farmhouse! If you're not keeping a Yard List for your own property we encourage you to do so, and to report your sightings via eBird. You, too, can be a "citizen scientist.") New species observed during the period: Fish Crow, Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

--Our immediate past installment of "This Week at Hilton Pond" was about a trio of winter woodpeckers. It's archived and always available on the Center's Web site as Installment #713.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Oct 15 to Mar 15:
East of the Rockies please report your sightings of
Vagrant & Winter Hummingbirds

(immature male Rufous Hummingbird at right)

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Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History is a non-profit research, conservation & education organization in York, South Carolina USA; phone (803) 684-5852. Directed by Dr. Bill Hilton Jr., aka "The Piedmont Naturalist," it is parent organization for Operation RubyThroat. Web site contents--including text and photos--may NOT be duplicated, modified, or used in any way except with express written permission of Hilton Pond Center. All rights reserved worldwide. To request permission for use or for further assistance, please contact Webmaster.