Northland Nature: Spring changes at the time of the vernal equinoxWe are now at the vernal equinox time, the beginning of spring. And true to the name of equinox, we have an equal amount of daylight and darkness. From now until next September, the hours of light will surpass those of darkness.
We are now at the vernal equinox time, the beginning of spring. And true to the name of equinox, we have an equal amount of daylight and darkness. From now until next September, the hours of light will surpass those of darkness.
Even though this is the new season of spring, many of winter’s conditions continue to hang on. Unlike March of a year ago, this one is cool, even below normal for temperature during the first half of the month. Ironically, as we enter this new season, this is also the time of the greatest snowpack (the amount of snow on the ground) of the whole year.
And out in Lake Superior, we see the largest expanse of ice as well. We can expect more snow and more cold temperatures still to come, but the longer days will conquer the cold, and though many of the springtime changes are subtle, not as dramatic as what we’d like to see, they are happening.
Trees that have been standing out here all winter take on some changes as we progress into the second half of March. During clear days, the penetrating sunlight will warm trunks, and the nearby snow will form circles around trees. These are best seen at the base of deciduous trees, but I have noted them on conifers as well. See-ing these circles, I’m always reminded that now is also the time when the sap begins to flow.
Twigs of many trees and shrubs show spring attire, too. Willows hold colors of red or yellow as do some dogwoods, while birch woods have a burgundy tint among the twigs. Opening buds of quaking aspen and some willows reveal the furry growths often associated with early spring. Later they will become flowers called catkins.
Nearly every day, I walk by a small stream and it greets me with more open water each time. It is from these sites a couple of aquatic insects, a stonefly and a caddisfly, may be emerging.
A neighbor told me that he saw a migrant trumpeter swan in open waters of a larger river. I will look at these same places to see Canada geese soon.
Along the roads, early migrants have appeared: a couple of field birds, snow buntings and horned larks.
Back at home, I notice how the birds near the house are coping with longer days as well. Chickadees that have been singing their “fee-bee” song for some time now do so with more regularity, as do the nuthatches with their “yank-yank” sounds. The drumming of the woodpeckers, already more than a month old, is now mixed with some of their calls. Hearing the vocals of pileated woodpeckers is almost a daily occurrence.
And the redpolls that arrived early this year and remained all winter, without a day of not seeing them, are changing at this time. Flocks may number thirty to forty, vs. the one-hundred-fifty to two-hundred of weeks ago. The birds appear to be more active and restless and some are now singing the “wheezy” song associated with the springtime. Taking a closer look, I notice that several of the males have been forming more of a bright red head and chest.
Also, as I look at this grouping, I see goldfinches here too. In their drab olive-brown coats they came by at times in January, but I have not seen one with the redpolls for weeks. Not only do I see them now, but they are producing the
yellow feathers around the head region, starting to make the yellow-gold plumage of spring and summer.
In addition to these songbirds, a few raptors are also responding to the longer days. I’ve seen several bald eagles lately along the roads, and I suspect there are a few red-tailed hawks too. I’ve been hearing the barred owls calling nearly every night while their tiny cousins, the saw-whet owls, give their beeping calls more sporadically.
Squirrels and rabbits in the yard are acting differently from the winter-survival mode now that the breeding time is here.
A couple of sleepers wake and wander. The raccoon and skunk make the rounds. I have not yet seen either, but I’ve noticed their signs and scents. Soon another yard resident, the chipmunk, will appear nearby.
And in the coming weeks,
I expect to see migrants such as purple finches, red-winged blackbirds, grackles, robins, killdeer and woodcocks all in the region, while hawks will seek meals among the melting snow.
By month’s end, we will be near thirteen hours of daylight, and I look forward to seeing crocuses and dandelions in bloom.
Welcome to the changes of the vernal equinox and the new season.
Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods” and “Webwood.” Contact him c/o email@example.com.