8-14 May 2006

Installment #315---
Visitor #count webpage traffic

(Back to Preceding Week; on to Next Week)


We first heard the phrase "Blackberry Winter" about 20 years ago and have been intrigued ever since for numerous reasons. First of all, "Blackberry winter" is a seeming contradiction; even here in the balmy Southland we don't have blackberries when long, cold, dark winter nights arrive. Second, for us the term literally rolls off the tongue in a poetic sort of way; we like the way it sounds. Then, too, we're pleased by the phrase because we once watched late, great piano lyricist Loonis McGlohon of nearby Charlotte NC play "Blackberry Winter"--a beautifully haunting melody written by Alec Wilder and well worth having in your jazz collection. But our main reason for appreciating this unusual couplet is that we've come to understand its folklore meaning AND because we actually experienced "Blackberry Winter" just this week at Hilton Pond Center.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Here in the Carolina Piedmont, Blackberries begin blooming in April and most fruit by the end of June; it is with great anticipation we look forward each Fourth of July to stuffing ourselves with the last of the season's succulent, seed-laden berries. The structure of the blackberry flower--a five-petalled blossom with its tangle of pollen-bearing stamens (above)--is a sure sign Blackberries are in the Rose Family (Rosaceae). Because there are dozens--perhaps hundreds--of Blackberry species, there is amazing variation in petal shape (from long skinny ones to the almost-round paddle shape shown here) and in petal color (ranging from pure white to delicate pink to near-lavender). At Hilton Pond Center one Blackberry variety or another is in flower from about the second week in April through mid-May, which is where the phrase "Blackberry Winter" comes in.

It seems almost every Carolina Piedmont spring begins with on-going warm, balmy days and weeks that lull us into thinking summer, too, is nearly upon us. Invariably, as soon as we have packed away our winter sweatsuits and exchanged them for a fair-weather wardrobe of shorts, T-shirt, and flip-flops, temperatures drop markedly in early May. This "cold snap" never ceases to surprise folks, and the phenomenon has its own name: "Blackberry Winter," for it occurs after the Blackberry vines have begun to bloom.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

We did indeed have a "Blackberry Winter" this week at Hilton Pond Center, when nighttime temperatures dropped into the mid- to upper-40s and daytime highs hovered at or below 60. Skies were cloudy, humidity was up, and it sure enough felt like winter was descending once again on the local Blackberry patch. It wasn't cold enough to kill the Blackberry blossoms, of course, but the weather did seem to have an impact on other organisms. For example, a little two-foot-long Eastern Garter Snake (above) was motionless for at least a quarter hour in an open area near our small water garden. Although we didn't catch it for close examination, the snake appeared to be a female because of the broadness of her body just ahead of her vent. The snake didn't budge when we leaned over and took photos from a mere three feet away, and she barely even stuck out her red tongue to sense the air around her--likely because the cool ambient temperatures weren't all that pleasant for such a poikilothermic ("cold-blooded") creature.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

We also had the season's first two Rose-breasted Grosbeaks show up at Hilton Pond during our "Blackberry Winter." They literally camped out at one of the sunflower seed feeders for two straight days, eating the energy-rich oil seeds almost non-stop from dawn to dusk. We finally pulled the feeder to re-fill it, and within 20 minutes both birds were caught together in a nearby trap that also contained sunflower seeds. In the hand we could see both grosbeaks had also found some succulent berries to snack on; the bird in the photo above had dried red fruit juice stuck on its rather substantial bill. These grosbeaks were just passing through on their way to breeding grounds in Appalachia, the northeastern U.S., or Canada and won't be back until the fall. We were a bit surprised NOT to see an adult male this spring, but we don't get many Rose-breasted Grosbeaks anyway; since 1982 we've banded only 33 at the Center.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Despite the chill of this week's "Blackberry Winter," we still went out riding every day on our new carbon fiber 20-speed Fuji road bicycle. We've always enjoyed pedaling the back roads of South Carolina, in part because it's a much better way to look at nature than from the isolation of an air conditioned auto whizzing down the highway at 60 mph. We're grateful there are numerous quiet by-ways still left here in western York County, where in spring one of our favorite things about riding is the smell of flowers as we glide past one floral patch after another. During "Blackberry Winter," the air is heavy and damp and odors hug the ground so smells can be very intense--almost intoxicating. Such was the case this week when the two sweetest spring flowers--Japanese Honeysuckle (top flowers above) and Japanese Privet--teamed up to waft their fragrances in our direction. As much as we detest the damage done to local habitats by these two invasive plants, for a few weeks each spring we relish the pleasant feeling we experience breathing in their delicious scent as we pedal down some country lane.

Back here at the Center, "Blackberry Winter" may slow things down a bit, but it never gets so blustery that Blackberry blossoms die. The cold snap doesn't last very long and by week's end the weather was almost back to normal for mid-May--allowing all those tiny green Blackberries around Hilton Pond to begin their ripening process. Rest assured we won't forget to think about this week's "Blackberry Winter" when we pluck our tasty Blackberry fruit from prickly vines come June or July.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

ANCILLARY NOTE: Although not related to "Blackberry Winter," we did get an item in the mail this week from the federal Bird Banding Laboratory in Patuxent MD. Bird banders are always excited to receive an envelope from that address because sometimes it reveals one of our banded birds has been encountered at another location. That was indeed the case with our latest receipt, which included a coveted "Report to Bander."

Described in the RTP were details that bird #2270-65988--an American Goldfinch banded at Hilton Pond Center as a hatch-year female on 11 December 2004--had been found dead almost a year later on 2 September 2005 in Rumford, Maine, by Pat Riemensnider. Pat reported the bird through the BBL's new Web Site Form; a toll-free number (1-800-327-BAND) also could have been used. This goldfinch, which we banded within its wintering area, undoubtedly was still on its breeding grounds when Pat found it in Maine--869 straight-line miles from Hilton Pond.

Of more than 47,400 birds banded at the Center since 1982, only 50 have been reported outside York County SC--an admittedly low rate of only .11%. The recent Maine encounter was our fourth American Goldfinch found elsewhere; its predecessors were all in New York towns: Albion (650 miles from York), Shortsville (594 miles), and Dryden (580 miles).

Please see Hilton Pond Bird Encounters for a complete list of individual birds banded at the Center and found or recaptured elsewhere.

(payable to:

All contributions are tax-deductible on your
income tax form

See list of recent supporters below

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Comments or questions about this week's installment?
Please send an E-mail message to INFO.

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 contributions allow us to continue writing, photographing, and sharing "This Week at Hilton Pond."

  • Lenore Berry

Be sure to scroll down for an account of all birds banded or recaptured during the week, plus other nature notes of interest.

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

You may wish to consult our Index of all nature topics covered since February 2000. You can also use the on-line Search Engine at the bottom of this page.

For a free, non-fattening, on-line subscription to "This Week at Hilton Pond," just send us an E-mail with SUBSCRIBE in the Subject line. Please be sure to configure your spam filter to accept E-mails from

Please refer "This Week at Hilton Pond" to others by clicking on this button:

Follow us on Twitter:


If you enjoy "This Week at Hilton Pond,"
please help

Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History.
It's painless, and YOU can make a difference!

Just CLICK on a logo below.

Make direct donations on-line through
Network for Good:
Donate a portion of your purchase price from 500+ top on-line stores via iGive:
Use your PayPal account
to make direct donations:


8-14 May 2006

American Goldfinch--1
Tufted Titmouse--1
House Finch--23
Brown-headed Cowbird--1
Rose-breasted Grosbeak--2

* = New species for 2006

5 species
28 individuals

20 species
822 individuals

(since 28 June 1982)
124 species
47,404 individuals

(with original banding date, sex, and current age)
House Finch (4)
01/31/04--after 3rd year male
12/14/04--after 2nd year male
05/24/05--2nd year female
09/08/05--2nd year male

--A cloud of recently fledged House Finches descended on Hilton Pond Center this week, indicating the species is doing well in hanging baskets and other likely nest spots at the Center or on adjoining properties. Often, juvenile HOFIs were in the same sunflower-baited traps with already banded adults, mostly males
(see "Notable Recaptures" below left). Perhaps these were parent birds that got re-trapped when teaching their youngsters about an abundant, well-known, and easily acquired food source.

--Although we've seen one or two adult Ruby-throated Hummingbirds hanging around the Center's feeders, our number of new captures here at Hilton Pond in 2006 still remains at zero.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

This Week at Hilton Pond
is part of the

Please report your
sightings of
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

(Back to Preceding Week; on to Next Week)

Up to Top of Page

Back to This Week at Hilton Pond Center

Current Weather Conditions at Hilton Pond Center

You can also
post questions for
The Piedmont Naturalist

Search Engine for
Hilton Pond Center

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

Pasadena California