Signs of Spring – April 2

grackle_cropped.jpgThe past few weeks have been a return to winter here in Western Pennsylvania. Temperatures have been in the 20’s and 30’s (with a few tumbles down into the teens) and there have been a series of snow squalls that for minutes at a time, anyway, look like a return to the blizzards of February. The snow melts quickly, though, and the patches of blue (or slightly less cloudy) skies roll over us.

The crocuses have flowered and faded. The daffodils in the warm soil next to the house are flowering (the deer ate the tulips…maybe next year). The “feral” daffodils in the orchard are standing tall and green, but their flower buds are still tightly closed. The lilac by the street and the honeysuckle at the edge of the field are covered with fat, green leaf buds and are waiting for a couple of warm days to open up. One errant honeysuckle growing in the shelter of the low branches of a spruce tree has actually leafed out already. Its light green leaves glow in the dark shade of the spruce.

This morning I woke up to a dark, low sky and a steady fall of snow. This winter view contrasted with the chorus of bird songs that was rising up with the dawn. Robins, cardinals, Carolina wrens, and titmice were all in great voice and volume. The males are doing all of the singing, and their intentions are more fundamental than pure joy and aesthetics. The long, cold nights are quite stressful on birds. They use up a substantial amount of their energy reserves just keeping their bodies warm enough for survival. On awakening, a male can really show off his vigor and fitness by blasting off into long, loud, complicated songs. The chorus is intended to both intimidate potential male competitors and also impress potential female mates! It is reproductive and evolutionary warfare going on right before our ears!

More and more spring and summer birds have arrived in our area. Red winged blackbirds are staking out territories along the streams and wetlands. Common grackles are investigating the bird feeders and leaf piles for food. Eastern bluebirds are flying around the edges of the fields looking for tree hole nesting sites. I heard the piliated woodpecker out on the campus Nature Trail two weeks ago and am watching out for the migrating kinglets and spring warblers.

Last fall, I left great piles of fallen leaves all around my yard and field. I am very happy to report that the robins, juncos, blue jays, and grackles congregate around these piles and spend many hours each day digging through the leaves in search of insects and worms. The leaf piles have added a great deal to the overall quality of my yard ecosystem! I never liked raking leaves anyway!

Also, Spider, my box turtle started eating a week and a half ago. He’s into his second container of strawberries and at the end of his first dozen nightcrawlers. He looks great and is ready for warm days and long runs (in his own way, of course) across the front lawn.
More soon! Enjoy the forming season!   

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