SPRING IN OUR STEP
Finally, the Spring of 2023 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 finally looks like the myriad animals, flowers, shrubs and trees can all start their seasonal cycles. As the light green of spring ever-so-gradually courses up the valleys - first low, then high - the season of new life begins in a steadily increasing stream of verdure, soon (not soon enough!) to become a raging, unstoppable torrent of vibrancy. Yet, before the hardwoods can leaf out and become green, we will see a dark-red haze among their branches - the little red bud-caps that precede and protect the actual buds. Then these old, old mountains will again ring to the cries of new life as Spring progresses inexorably on. The natural signs of Spring abound - millions of bright green shoots are, well - shooting up; the Daffodils are out and Coltsfoot will be lining our roads; the shoots of new Beech-leaves pushing off last year’s dried golden leftovers; Black Bear cubs seeing their new world for the first time; wild grasses greening up for the season in the valleys and the plaintive “peent” of the Woodcock. As I write this the Wood-frogs (Lithobates sylvaticus) are cavorting wildly in their Vernal Pools. Amazing, since these woodland pools may still have ice in them - a testimony to the incredible adaptiveness of these little amphibians that have a natural form of antifreeze - a glycol-like substance - coursing through their system. This is the same adaptation that allows them to lie frozen under the leaves all winter, suspended, waiting for this day. If the Woodies are out, then the
Spotted Salamanders (Ambustoma maculatum) must be, also. These wet nights that are about 40 degrees is when both species will crawl and hop to their ancestral breeding areas, so please be careful on the roads near ponds and let the Sallies and the Woodies cross the roads safely. For more on this, or to volunteer to help protect them in their perilous journey, visit www.dec.ny.gov. If you do move them off the road, wet your hands first (no nitrile gloves - they will absorb the chemicals on them). Soon, Spring Peepers (Pseudacris crucifer), with their higher pitch call, will be out. They are a species of tree- or chorus-frog that will be with us all summer. So many firsts, now and to come. More and more moths and the first Mourning Cloak butterflies (shown above, right). They’re always among the first because they winter full grown under bark or siding and then wake up ready to go, already having gone through their metamorphosis last year. With more and more insects unfolding there will be more and more birds to feed on them as the migrators return, most notably now are flocks of Blackbirds and Grackles (and Hummingbirds in late April! Yay!). The larger avians - Bald Eagles, Great Blue Herons and Ospreys - are taking advantage of the burgeoning fish populations in the now-open waters of creek, pond, reservoir and stream and welcoming soon their own new progeny.
BIRDS-EGGS & FAWNS - If you can replace an egg that fell from its nest, please don’t hesitate - I’m sure their parents will appreciate it. You can touch a bird-egg since they have no sense of smell. This is in contrast to a newborn fawn, which - amazingly - is born without scent. This incredible adaptation allows the doe to leave it in tall grass while she desperately feeds to regain strength, knowing that predators (Black Bear and Coyotes, for instance) will not smell it. So bird-eggs, yes, and fawns, no. Actually, if you handle the fawn you may imbue it with your scent and mom will most likely reject it, so please. IT’S CRAZY how Winter overlaps with Spring, the seasons battling for supremacy. Nature evidently runs on its own cycle. Just because we mark time with our silly calendars and make exhaustive notes of the "signs of spring", the earth is not constrained in any fashion. It is probably not concerned with us. That may deeply disturb many people who have been raised to think how powerful we are, that the earth somehow revolves around our tiny little selves. On top of all that, climate-change is real and is contributing greatly already to drastic changes the earth (and us) are experiencing (everything is running a week or two earlier than 10 years ago). That being said, and even taking into account what (obviously) crazy months March and April can be, Spring is still "just around the corner". I can see the effect that the higher sun-angle adds to the longer days on our recent white "snow-gift", encouraging more - and more rapid - melting than we would experience in the shorter days of mid-winter.
WINTERSPRING - As you can tell, I love Spring (who doesn’t?). The only issue I have with it is that it takes seemingly forever for it to come to fruition. All of the other seasons fairly zip along by comparison. For one thing, with March as an excellent example, early Spring is really hard to distinguish from late Winter. We’re still apt to dive below freezing and to get snow. It is some consolation to know any white stuff we do receive won’t last because of the sun’s higher angle and the ground is warmer than it had been, yet it always frustrates us. Maybe it would help if we made four minor seasons in between the four major ones - Winterspring; Summerspring; Summerfall and Winterfall. Then it might be easier to adapt from one to the other. Still I think Spring will always suffer from our green expectations after so long without verdure.
FOOTWEAR - I can't emphasize enough how important the correct footwear can be on the trails. Without the correct shoes people have a tendency to walk around muddy spots, thereby going off the trail and possibly damaging delicate endangered plants-to-be, still buried just off trail (our soon-to-come Spring Ephemerals), and making the trail-keeper's job more difficult by unnecessarily widening the trail. Remember - please wear the right - waterproof - footwear and walk THROUGH the mud. Thank you all for your continued encouragement and support. Let's try to enjoy this early spring, but please be safe in doing so.
Take Care, "Ranger" Dave Holden
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