I am known by those who read my blog as WinterWoman. I do love the winter… but I must admit a special affection for spring, too… even when it means the dog must be bathed after every muddy walk. Each day brings a new delight.
It seems to start with sounds. A Cardinal sings outside my window in the mornings announcing to other males that this is his territory and to females that he is available. I’ve seen him at my feeders all winter but heard only his little high-pitched chips… Now he is rolling out the whole repertoire. I’m no female cardinal, but let me tell you: I AM impressed!
Skunk Cabbage with its high springtime metabolism melts its way through the remaining piles of snow. It is said that a thermometer placed inside the spathe that protects the spadex will read several degrees higher than the air. An unusual fragrance like that of rotting meat attracts early-emerging insects like flies who think they will find food. While investigating the inside of the strange meat-colored hood, the fly unwittingly pollinates this first flower of spring. Eventually, the flowers will be hidden beneath the some of the largest leaves the forest produces. Now, the marshy wet areas of the woods are covered with pointy little shelters that look nothing like flowers, really.
Also hard to think of as a proper flower are the Pussy Willows. While all the other branches sport only buds, these shrubs have dioecious fuzzy flowers – that is some flowers are “boys” and others are “girls”.
Skunk Cabbage and Pussy Willows come early, but this is only the beginning. With each week we will see new flowers blooming on the forest floor… Violets, Spring Beauties, Trillium, Hepatica… more species with each passing day.
On a warm, windless, sunny day under leafless trees, something catches my eye… a flutter of dark wings edged with cream and a row of blue spots… A Mourning Cloak butterfly who spent the winter, perhaps, behind a flap on the Shagbark Hickory is stretching its wings. It seems to be dancing in the sunlight, as delighted as I to see the changes in the forest day by day.
I like to walk the edges of the ponds in the late afternoons to see if I can find a snake or turtle basking. One afternoon, I sat basking and relaxing on the bench of the boardwalk over Spatterdock Pond when suddenly I was treated to an amusing performance. Two male muskrats swam back and forth defending invisible boundaries. A flirty little female teased them both by swimming into and out of their territories. Each male would pursue her until she crossed out of his protected space, and then he would turn back. I don’t know which male she chose, whose territory she preferred. It wasn’t long… just a few more weeks, and a walk across Spatterdock Boardwalk provided a chance to see muskrat babies swimming in the cattails.
Male Red-winged Blackbirds are dripping from the trees, exercising their voices at top volume: “Conk-la-ree! Conk-la-ree!” I’m handsomer than you; this is my territory. The females will return soon. For now, all their squawking is just practice and posturing.
If you haven’t been out for a springtime walk, do it now! It’ll wake up your senses.