SPRING IN OUR STEP
As the days get longer and the sun moves higher in the sky the arctic jet-stream that brought forth our record cold temperatures retreats northward. Finally, the Spring of 2021 is becoming free to unfold. The vernal season is a notoriously fickle one in our part of the world and this year is a perfect example, oscillating warm and cold, sun and cloud, three steps forward, two steps back. With the recent warming trend, it now looks like the myriad flowers, plants and animals can all start their seasonal cycles. Epitomizing early spring is the reddish haze of the bud-caps of most of the hardwoods. Once they fall off, collecting in dark-red drifts, then that extraordinary bright green of Spring will ever-so-gradually course up the valleys - first low, then high - the Season of New Life unfolding in a steadily increasing stream of verdure, soon (not soon
enough!) to become a raging, unstoppable torrent of vibrancy. These old, old mountains will once again ring to the cries of new life as Spring progresses inexorably on.
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 (two of the earliest to come out, because they both winter over fully grown - the “First Flutterers” I call them), 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. Our first amphibians of the season - the indomitable Woodfrogs and Spotted Salamanders - have woken from their frozen slumber (they are able to survive nearly-frozen due to having a glycol-like substance in their blood ) and will soon be cavorting raucously (the Woodies, at least) in vernal- and woodland-pools still brimming with ice. Before they do so, however, many of them will have to cross busy roads to get to their
ancestral pools. Please try to be careful on roads near ponds and let them cross the road safely. 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 Woodies, Sallies 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.
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. This early period when the forest is wide open to the warm spring sun and sometimes even warmer south winds serves to give all these flowers and plants of the forest understory a chance to grow but also can present a problem as the leaf-litter on the forest floor dries out and becomes susceptible to spring wildfires. We’re running a week earlier for the arrival of spring hereabouts and it is definitely more evidence of Climate Change in my opinion.
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. I thank you, trail-keepers thank you and our little plant-beauties thank you.
THE EXCITEMENT OF SPRING
The increased daylight and higher sun-angle has not only triggered primordial responses from the animal- and plant-worlds but also from the realm of people as we prepare to venture forth into the green. For we respond to the same activators but in different ways, many of them in response to natural “triggers”. Right about now, hiking boots and clothing, tents, packs and miscellaneous gear are being hauled out of closets, garages and sheds, examined for repair or replacement, as we start planning on exploring new, now (mostly) snowless, trails. Also, as the ice leaves ponds, streams and rivers, kayaks and small boats are uncovered and being apprised of seaworthiness, soon to slip into the clear, cold waters of spring. Fishermen and turkey-hunters will begin the age-old ritual of preparing for the advent of their time to come on the waters and in the woods. Please remember the basics as you get ready - most importantly, please be safe out there. There is still apt to be ice on the hill-tops, so don’t stash the traction-devices just yet. Keep hats, gloves and extra layers handy. On the water, double-check all life-jackets and such, as well as watch out for new hazards in the water.
Bring back out of the woods whatever you take in (including dog-waste)(Google “Leave No Trace 7 Principles”). Spring Turkey Hunting Season runs from May 1- May 31, so please be extra-cautious (and courteous to hunters you may meet on the trail) and perhaps wear bright colors if around hunting areas. The DEP does have designated No Hunting areas accessible for hikers (www1.nyc.gov ) - you must have a permit, which is easy to get. Please be kind and considerate to others - animal, human or plant. If this means leashing your dog to avoid conflict, please do so. Let’s give wildlife extra space now as they all are nesting in one form or another.
STEPPING INTO SPRING
Some suggestions: in Kingston - the new Empire State Trail running through the old Hutton Brick Yard near Kingston Point Beach (empiretrail.ny.gov); in Saugerties - the Saugerties Lighthouse Trail, Falling Waters Preserve, Esopus Bend Preserve, Sloan Gorge Preserve and the Israel Wittman Preserve (woodstocklandconservancy.org); in W.Hurley-Olive, the fantastic new Ashokan Rail Trail and the Maurice Hinchey Visitor Ctr.(trail and new firetower); in Woodstock, the Overlook Trail, the Byrdcliffe Trail (woodstockguild.org), Snake Rocks Preserve, Wilson State Park, Mink Hollow Trail.
Pick up a copy of the informative
“Pocket Guide to Woodstock”, by Will Nixon & Michael Perkins, at The Golden Notebook and H. Houst & Son, in Woodstock.
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 winter. It's almost like Spring is getting us ready (ever so gradually) for Summer. Thanks.
"Ranger' Dave Holden
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