As Spring returns to the Catskills, life itself flows back into the land, much the same as the sap returns to the tree-trunk - in fits and starts - ebbing and flowing in that great seasonal tide. A light-green haze gradually sweeps up the mountain valleys, buds bursting forth, green grasses jumping up to the new sun. Vernal rains wash away all but the memories of the winter past,
leaving only vestigial grey-white piles hidden from the high angle of light under north-facing ledges, gradually leaching their precious liquid into the land, like secret whales of winter joyfully beaching themselves in sacrifice to the new season.
There is nothing subtle about the return of animal-life to our region. From the raucous calls of Canada Geese as they teem overhead on their way to the far north and the strident busyness of the Redwing Blackbirds and Robins, Spring announces itself with noisy abandon. Commen-surate with the increase in bird-life will always be an increase in insect-life as the two life-forms are inextricably bound together for untold millennia as predator and prey. Indeed, there has been an outburst of every form of insect, including Compton Tortoise Shell and Mourning Cloak butterflies, and myriad moth-species haunting light-bulbs large and small (enjoy the relative bug-free early spring while you can!). More and more migrating birds make their way up the Hudson Valley, following ancestral routes deeply etched in avian DNA and guided by starlight and the earth's magnetic field. Numerous species of Hawks and Herons hunt their way northward, stopping to feed along their way, looking for the hapless small rodent or newly awakened Woodfrog, Spotted Salamander and Spring-peeper. Part of the reason for the sudden burgeoning of these critters to insure against over-predation. The amazing Woodcock -our little Timberdoodle - has returned to our fields, it's plaintive "peent" resonating far and wide. Illustrating the difficulties of when to migrate (or not), this was a bad year for many a Woodcock as they arrived a tad early, starving in late season snowfall which kept them from foraging for insect and worm. Biologists believe climate change caused them to miscalculate the timing of their northern arrival (see "An Early Bird Gets Caught In The Snowstorm", NYTimes, March 17, 2017). For some local Bald Eagles this is the time for nesting and the eagle-couples will be seen taking turns keeping the egg(s) warm or feeding. Now is when local eagles are most protective of their nest, so this is a good time to give these wonderful creatures some space.
As the world "greens up" around us, we know Spring is here. Fields and lawns are rapidly becoming brightly verdant. Ajuga, Crocuses, Daffodils, Ferns, Spring Beauties, Wild Chives, many species of wild grasses, all are awake with life now. Every day more plants pop out little (or not so little) buds, soon to become flower or leaf. With mild days and cool nights, the sap is flowing well in all the hardwoods, most notably Maples. The beautiful, ecru-colored, chattering Beech-leaves, dried and dead from 2016, will soon be pushed off their branches by their new generation of buds. This is a naturally-occurring process, called "marcescence", a throwback to ancient times when all trees kept their leaves year-round. This is not to be confused with the dark-brown dead leaves still clinging to other hardwoods after dying and drying during last years drought. I'm curious to see if new growth pushes them off (all of the high winds we've had all winter certainly didn't). Hopefully, by the time I write part 2 of this piece (it's such a rich season, I want to cover it in two segments), a light green haze of new, brightly viridescent leaves will be permeating our forest. Also, the first of the Spring Ephemerals are about to start their seasonal march, Canada Mayflower (Wild Lily-of-the-Valley), and Trout-lily, among them,
WATCH WHERE (AND HOW) YOU STEP
This is a particularly sensitive time for many of these small plants like the Spring Ephemerals. After having been protected by snow and ice, they are almost exposed, barely hiding just under the surface. If we wear the wrong shoes right now, and avoid mud-puddles, we can cause unnecessary damage both to these delicate little beauties (a number of which are struggling back from being Endangered/Threatened) and to the trail itself. By not walking down the middle of the path, we make it wider, so - PLEASE! - wear the right boots and stay on the trails, even if it means walking in the mud.
WATER IS LIFE
Many might not have known, but up until this week, New York was still under a Drought Warning (the least severe drought condition), but finally, after all the rain we've had, the drought is officially over - and just in time for Spring! Hopefully, this season will be a little wetter than last year. We were all lucky there were no more brush- and forest-fires than there were. Have a great early Spring everyone. It's a beautiful, if frustrating, season because it sometimes seems to take forever as it makes up its mind whether it wants to be warm or cold (part of this is just our expectations after a long - and weird - winter). It's almost like Spring is getting us ready (gradually) for Summer.
Take Care, "Ranger' Dave Holden (845)594-4863 firstname.lastname@example.org ; I invite you to please Like Woodstock Trails on Facebook. Thanks.