I have been reading back over some of my “Signs of Spring” from previous years to try to get ideas about the right places to look for hints of this year’s elusive spring. There has to be some positive things happening around us even in this interminable winter!
My first stop was my glassed-in, front porch on a sunny afternoon (outside air temperature was ten degrees). I looked for any ladybird beetles coming out from behind the aluminum siding, but they weren’t buying the day’s feeble attempt at spring-time warmth. I even looked inside the folded deck umbrellas and in the stack of empty birdseed bags for some active, brown marmorated stink bugs (how desperate is that?), but they weren’t ready to wake up either. I did find one walking stink bug on the wall in the inside hallway of the house. I dealt with him via the O’Hara Method (see blog on October 3, 2014).
I have been alert in the early mornings for the smell of skunk knowing that the males start wandering about in the middle to late winter looking for mates. My old dog Kozmo used to be a master at finding these early skunks (he just couldn’t help himself, I guess). I did come up with a very good recipe for de-skunking a dog, though, thanks to all of the trial and error opportunities he provided me. If anyone needs it, I am happy to share. Izzy has yet to see a skunk, and neither of us has detected any fresh scent out under the bird feeders or in the side yard.
The gray squirrels are acting increasingly goofy around the bird feeders. One of the squirrels will suddenly break away from its obsessive gorging on my (really expensive!) black oil sunflower seeds and start chasing one of the other squirrels around the yard. They go over and around the heated bird bath, and then up the front spruce tree. They are just saying “hello,” I am sure! We’ll watch their “winter-born” litter grow up this summer. So many more squirrel mouths to feed!
In the early morning while walking Izzy I hear the male cardinals doing their “birdie-birdie-birdie-birdie” songs all the way to completion now. Even on the very cold mornings the males are singing at each other trying to emphasize how fit they each are and that their genes are something to be greatly desired! How they can be so energetic without coffee, though, is beyond me.
The female sharp-shinned hawk has not yet come to the top of the gnarly black locust tree out back to screech for her mate. I am sure that if they are going to have any eggs this year they have at least started their courtship rituals, but the afternoons out back have been quiet. I found several blood and feather spots in the snow out and around my yard and field. The sharp-shins are preying on the feeder birds. From the feather piles I infer that they mostly take doves and cardinals.
The usual time for the robins to return to southern Armstrong County is the middle of February (usually the 13th or 14th of the month). This return date has been very consistent over the 25 years that I have been watching. There is no sign of them around my house yet this year, though. Too much snow and ice covering all of the places where the earthworms hide! It’s just been too cold for them to ease them out of the sheltered valleys and woodlots. I am very happy to report, though, that my Ecology students who are surveying the birds on campus saw a robin and several male bluebirds last Tuesday! They were down at the edge of the Nature Trail woods at the end of the soccer field. Soon the big flocks will arrive!
Spider, my box turtle has also kept his head down (or in his shell, as it were). He has moved about a bit on our few sunny days but has not taken up his “feeding” pose where he stretches out his surprisingly long neck to stare up at the top of his terrarium (food always drops in from above!). He is not thinking of strawberries and earthworms yet, but I do wonder what his winter dreams are like!
So, everything is really waiting. The signs of spring will all wash over us all at once just as soon as these arctic air masses stop pouring across us and the warm, humid Gulf of Mexico air starts its northward push. Those winds from the south will blow the migrating birds our way and the warm air will trigger the leaf buds to open and the flowers to bloom. Everything will happen all at once!
I am going to go out to the campus nature trail this week to see if the skunk cabbage has melted its way up through the snow yet. I’d rather be seeing flocks of robins and the blooms of crocuses, but I’ll take the skunk cabbage if that is all that I can get!