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. First, a reddish haze appears in the hardwoods, little dark-red bud-caps protecting new life. Once they fall off, red dots sprinkled on the ground, then 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.
FAUNA There is nothing subtle about the return of animal-life to our region, all taking advantage of an early spring. 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. Commensurate 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, though recent rains have led to the first hatching of Non-Biting (but very annoying) Midges. More and more migrating birds make their way up the Hudson Valley flyway, 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, hawks looking for the hapless small rodent, herons hunting newly awakened Woodfrogs, Spotted Salamanders and Spring-peepers (part of the reason for the sudden burgeoning of these amphibians is to insure against over-predation) - and any small fish they can find. I saw two Great Blue Herons circling and circling, for all the world like they were looking for a nesting-place. The amazing Woodcock -our little Timberdoodle - has returned to our fields, it's plaintive "peent" resonating far and wide. For some local Bald Eagles this is the time for nesting and the eagle-couples will be seen taking turns feeding the new, rapidly-growing hatchlings. Now is when local eagles are most protective of their nest, so this is a good time to give these wonderful creatures some space. FLORA 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 from 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 first of the Spring Ephemerals, Canada Mayflower (Wild Lily-of-the-Valley), and Trout-lily, are starting their seasonal march. For now, just the leaves of the Mayflower (photo below left) are poking up through the leaf-litter, but in May they will sprout their delicate little crown of white. Many square miles - literally - of our forest floor will soon be covered by these little beauties. Trout-lily leaves resemble (somewhat) a trout’s speckled skin and always come up around the beginning of trout-season. Soon, they will present their own yellow, bell-like flowers for our approval. Another fleeting aspect of a Catskills spring is the bright blush of our native flowering spring shrubs - Crabapple, Dogwood, Spicebush, Shadbush, Wild Cherry and others, interspersed throughout the soon-to-be- leafed-out understory, adding temporary color to our otherwise wan early spring woods.
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 on the trails 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. Thank you. WATER IS LIFE Hopefully, this season will be a little wetter than last year. We came perilously close to brush-and forest-fires and hopefully can avoid them entirely this season. 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, like someone tentatively dipping their toe into ice-cold water. Part of this is just our expectations after a long - and weird - winter. It's almost like Spring is getting us ready (ever so gradually) for Summer.
Take Care, "Ranger' Dave Holden
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