IF YOU'VE EVER wanted to find out more about early spring wildflowers, get your boots on now -- the next week or two is the peak time to do it.
"The last week in April and the first week in May are the best times to see them," said Mary Alice Tock, who teaches wildflower identification for the Buffalo Museum of Science and is an environmental educator at Tifft Nature Preserve.
Get Mrs. Tock into the woods and she can spot the tiniest and most delicate of specimens. Last week, in the Shale Creek nature area, she went right to plots of yellow violets, bloodroot, trout lilies and hepatica, flowers that bloom only before the forest canopy closes.
A bonus for those who visit Shale Creek is a view of a picturesque waterfall, which has a flame burning beneath it, fed by natural gas.
A caution: This area has a high bank overlooking a ravine. There aren't any trail markers or fences, so young or rambunctious children should be left at home. Also, you may encounter teen-agers who camp here on weekends.
Beginners can learn easily from Mrs. Tock, who points out color, leaf arrangement, number of petals, etc. as identifying marks. But even novices can get clues with a field guide in hand. She recommends the "Golden Guide" for beginners; and Newcomb's "Wildflower Guide" and the Peterson field guide for the more advanced.
Even though the winter has been relatively cold and snowy, Mrs. Tock says these flowers bloom on predictable schedules. "They're ready to come out just like we are."
Her next classes through the museum are Monday and May 9. Registration is $8 for non-members. (Call the Museum of Science special programs at 896-5200, Ext. 247, for information.)
Other areas recommended by Mrs. Tock for spotting early spring wildflowers:
The Losson Nature Trails in Stigelmeier Park, Losson Road, Cheektowaga, with wet and dry areas.
Akron Falls Park, a mature woods along a stream. Follow directions on the "county park" sign located on the right side of Route 5 in Akron.
Also, the Genesee Country Museum Nature Center in Mumford will hold a spring wildflower event from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 8, including a 2 p.m. guided wildflower walk, dedication of a new water garden and sales of nursery-grown potted wildflowers.
The Nature Center is adjacent to the village and has more than four miles of hiking and interpreted trails through meadow, old fields and woodlands, past ponds and fossil-laden geologic formations.
Admission is $2 adults; $1 for children 6 to 12. Ask at Thruway Exit 47 for directions or call 538-6822 for information.
Directions to Shale Creek: Take the Thruway to Exit 55. Take Route 219 south to Armor Duells Road. Turn right at the exit. Turn right at Route 277 south and follow that past Chestnut Ridge Park; turn right at Seufert Road. On the right-hand side you'll see two white brick pillars with an iron gate, which is the entrance to Shale Creek.