Monday, March 17, 2008

Marching Into Spring

Puffy white clouds in a wedge-wood sky tell us spring is in the wings. March is known for its chilling, biting winds, but some days bring a soft warm breeze that beckons buds to blossom, birds to begin their dawn chorus and nuptial songs and all around us there is growing greenness.

Trees were late to lose their leaves last fall, some holding onto their precious finery until after the first of the year. But they haven't been loafing these short weeks of the new year, with sunny warm days now and then. Buds on the beech are long and pointed. Sweet gum buds and big and fat and yellow, like dabs of butter. Fattening buds of the winged-elm are reddish-brown and hairy.

To see the first spring flowers, go for a walk in the woods where emerging fiddle-heads of ferns greet you before uncoiling to become feathery fronds. The bird's-foot violet (so named because of its foliage resembling a bird's foot) and the common blue violet are blooming. Blue flags with grass-like leaves hail you when you go tramping in moist deciduous woods.

Trilliums will be easy to spot because they have leaves, petals and sepals in the whorls of three.

Another spring flower is the trout lilly, or yellow adder's tongue. Greenish-purple points emerge from under brown leaves or grasses. Soon after the stems appear, mottled leaves, and then lemon-colored flowers will cover the roadside ditches and sun-filled woods. The beauty of wildflowers is enhanced by the very wildness about them.

Splitting the air with his home-coming call, that black beauty, the fish crow, announces his presence. Others join him. As they move across the pond, the racket diminishes. Sweet warbles of the bluebird fall softly from the perfumed air of crab apple blossoms. The twitterings of chimney swifts bring spring closer.

On one greening and sunny day, you'll hear the chipping sparrow, the dark-eyed junco and the pine warbler singing. All three songs sound much alike. Knowing this, you'll need to search diligently in order to find the songster.

Everywhere, everywhere music! Cardinals singing, Carolina wrens, brown thrashers, mockingbirds, with woodpeckers drumming and hammering. All these natives or year-round songsters, proclaiming spring with their cheerful carols.

The morning chorus in our area lasts longer than in some. Today permanent residents pour out a throaty opera every morning. By the time these are through courting and nest building, they become busy with family chores, which necessarily mean less singing. By then summer residents arrive with spring in their throats. The wood thrush, the great-crested flycatcher, summer tanager, orchard oriole, join in the dawn chorus.

You know spring is hear when you hear the lovely but tireless warbling of the red-eyed vireo.