One of the nicest things about spring is that there is always something new to discover: flowers that have just begun to bloom; birds just arriving from their wintering grounds; animals mating, nesting, and giving birth to young. The flow of water changes constantly, as snow melts, spring rains fall, and the last frost leaves the ground. There is a certain excitement in driving to work in the morning, seeing what has changed since the day before along the way.
This time of year, I don’t feel like I have to go anywhere special to have an exciting adventure. On the contrary, I love going back to my favorite places, to see how spring is progressing there. It’s fascinating to compare notes from year to year – where there is a thick blanket of snow one year, there might be a carpet of wildflowers the next, or a torrential flood might have reduced it to bare ground.
This year, as most already know, has been a sharp deviation from even the wide range of variations that can be considered “normal.” Even more remarkable than the warmth, or the wind, or the lack of rain has been the consistency of that weather pattern through time and across the continent. Here in northeastern Wisconsin, we haven’t had more than a drizzle of precipitation in a month and a half, and although we’ve had a few cool nights, temperatures have been consistently above average for most of that time, including multiple days above 70°F in mid-March! Winds have been strong for weeks, sometimes averaging close to 20 mph – all of which combined has resulted in high fire dangers and prohibition of open burning – putting a damper on anyone who wants to celebrate the warm weather with a bonfire or roast marshmallows on a camping trip. Luckily, though, we’ve been spared from the series of tornadoes that have been ravaging the lower Midwest.
The wild flora and fauna don’t appear to be suffering too much yet from these weather patterns that are making our lives more difficult. Although rivers are comparatively low, our woodland plants are appearing ahead of schedule and animals are as active as ever. You can see some of that spring splendor here, but you can’t hear the chorus of birds that surround me everywhere I go – since the Robins came back a couple weeks ago, they joined the Black-capped Chickadees in seemingly-constant singing. Phoebes started their rough songs a little over a week ago, and in the past few days I’ve gotten to hear some of my favorite bird songs: those of the Wood Thrush and Hermit Thrush. This morning I heard the scream of a Red-tailed Hawk and looked up to see a pair wheeling in circles above me – perhaps protecting their nesting territory? I’ve been listening closely for Wild Turkeys, and though I haven’t heard as many as I want to, the gobbles and clucks are always thrilling to hear. The honking of a flock of geese overhead, or the strident ululating of a pair of sandhill cranes echoing off the hills tends to drown out all other sounds, simultaneously
shattering the peace of a spring morning while evoking the wildness that they represent. Of course, for every bird that has a distinctive and common cry, there are several more out there that I can’t distinguish from the rest of the background… but every time I learn to identify a new bird, or see the first buds on a tree, or spy the first strawberry of spring, it’s an adventure in my own backyard!