I stepped out onto our deck a few days ago and stood, in the lee of the house, and in the high sun of noon, without a coat on, watching and listening for signs of spring. They were all around!
Our Carolina wrens (who have been singing off and on all winter) were now in full voice. The male wren who “owns” my back yard was up in the red maple tree rolling out his “weedeater-weedeater-weedeater-weet!” chorus. A very exciting new wrinkle to this song, though, was an answering call from one of the mulberry trees at the bottom of the field. Another male Carolina wren was either debating the borderline between his lower field territory and first wren’s backyard space, or maybe he was challenging the first male’s entire concept of ownership! The backyard male has had quite a time over the years hanging onto mates (just last year another male swept in and stole off his partner in the middle of the summer!) but the edges of his territory have always been secure! Maybe this is the start of his retirement?
High up in one of the black locust trees two crows were making grinding, croaking calls at each other. They bobbed their heads and clattered away. Their black feathers must have been soaking in the heat of the sun. It had been months since they had felt this warm!
One crocus has pushed its still folded yellow flower up out of the soil in front flowerbed. Everything else is still underground and still. A few more sunny days, though, and the soil surface will be pierced by a whole array of forming flowers.
The silver maple at the far northwest corner of our field has branches covered with swelling flower buds. The buds are red against the blue sky and seem to get bigger and bigger even in the few minutes you are watching them! This tree is always the first to flower in the spring followed in a week or so by the red maples. The red maple flower buds are still quite small except for the branches that stretch out over the street. The warmth of the heated street surface (or maybe the southerly orientation of these branches?) are driving these buds out ahead of the trees that are scattered out through the more central areas of the yard and field.
The oaks are still quiet. The younger scarlet and northern red oaks that are steadily replacing the thinning, aging spruce trees have most of last year’s leaves still attached. Watching these leaves finally fall, ironically, will be a true sign of spring!
We went for a walk three weekends ago up at Harrison Hills Park to check on the overwintering bluebird houses and to stretch our winter stiffened legs a bit. Crossing the open fields to reach some of our relocated nesting boxes we walked through a shallow bowl in the terrain. The soil in this depression was extremely wet with accumulated water from the recent snow melt. We sank several inches down into the soft mix of mud and dead surface vegetation. Interestingly the surface of this wet depression was covered with old sugar maple samaras!
These seeds must have blown into the swale and gotten stuck in the wet way back in the early summer. Why no squirrel, chipmunk or rabbit or bird for that matter had found them and gobbled them up was a mystery to me. This was the only spot where I saw these old maple seeds. If there was no mowing of this field this patch would become a dense copse of sugar maples. On the drier upper sections of the field we saw a few tiny, black Pardosa spiders running about on the dry vegetation.
We hiked a loop out along the bluffs over the Allegheny River (part of the Rachel Carson Trail) and then cut back on another trail to circle back to the parking area near the Environmental Learning Center where we had parked. We saw no birds, and we didn’t even hear the usual pileated woodpeckers who almost always make themselves known out on these trails by their pounding on the insect-rich black cherry trees. We did see lots of other people enjoying the first mild day in quite a while. Most of them had a dog or two (or three or four!) with them. The dogs were covered in mud and looked as happy as dogs can be! A couple of them deigned to sniff my outstretched hand, but most were so absorbed in the smells and feels of the almost-spring that they couldn’t be bothered with civilities.
Back at the parking lot we had to remove our boots before getting into the car. We put them on top of plastic bags in the trunk and listened to them rolling around on the drive home. We had forgotten about the mud part of spring hiking. Each boot felt a good pound (or more) heavier with accumulated material that had packed its way into its hard waffle-grid sole. I drove home in my stocking feet and had to put off the spring ritual visit to the drive in car wash until I got something on to keep my feet dry.
I guess that this is another sign of spring! A clean car! I got my tennis shoes and drove out to the car wash. It’s amazing! The car is red!