Northland Nature: Walking after the snowmeltThe lake is still covered with ice: I’ve never seen it frozen this late before. But the series of warm days at the end of April has melted the snowpack greatly; only patches remain in the woods.
The lake is still covered with ice: I’ve never seen it frozen this late before. But the series of warm days at the end of April has melted the snowpack greatly; only patches remain in the woods.
It was just a couple of weeks ago that I was able to snowshoe over a well-settled snowpack of about two feet. Now I go out for a walk in the same sites after the melt.
Just as the snow cover reveals signs of critters living here, so does the lack of snow. In the grasses that were buried all winter and still wet from the recent melting,
I see the threads of snow mold. Such an opportunistic fungus, it grows only in this time immediately following the melt.
Under the snow all winter field mice had created a labyrinth of tunnels and now they are easy to see in the grasses; hard to believe how common they are. These are the sites that get examined by recently-awaken queen bumble bees as they fly low in search of a location to begin their next colonies.
Also here in the grasses, I see several wolf spiders. They scamper about to find insect meals. Like the field mice, wolf spiders remain active under the snow all winter. Seldom seen at that time, they are quite easy to notice now, maybe the best time of the year to observe them.
And there is some potential prey here too. A woolly bear caterpillar crawls across the lawn in the warmth. Unlike most moths, this caterpillar, a larva form of the Isabella moth, spent winter in this stage, not a cocoon.
The sunlight on the bark of trees is a great spot for a butterfly to bask. And here I see the dark-colored mourning cloak. Since they hibernate as adults, they are nearly always the first butterfly seen in spring.
Plenty of bird seed had fallen from the bird feeder during the winter and now migrant gray birds called juncos are gathering it. They are joined by four kinds of sparrows, the white-throated, song, fox and tree, all scratching in soil.
I walk from the yard into the woods and I’m met by sights of the beginning of greening. The woods greens from the ground up and it starts small. Mosses that were under cover of snow for months now put forth new leaves.
And in the leafy litter of the forest floor, I find that wild leek (onions) leaves are rising. Though leaves abound in some woods now, these plants don’t flower until the shade of summer.
However, with some searching, I do find the first wildflowers of the spring: a hepatica, in bloom. This first one is flowering in early May. Last year by this date, I had found nearly twenty kinds. Late, but still flowering, I see this blossom as the start of a beautiful series of flowers in the May woods. Red maples are opening their clusters small flowers while the shrub hazel has both its catkins (male) and small purple flowers (female) in bloom too.
Thanks to the snow and cold of this late spring, the migration is not as far along as usual by early May; but as I wander in the woods,
I do see hermit thrushes with their reddish tails, and hear the drumming of two kinds of woodpeckers, the yellow-bellied sapsuckers and flickers.
Flitting through the branches and chipping often are a few yellow-rumped warblers with a diminutive ruby-crowned kinglet singing its long loud song. A broad-winged hawk soars and calls overhead, and I expect that it will be nesting in the top of these tall trees again this year.
The snowmelt has filled a nearby vernal pond and I’m glad to see this much water. Frogs will be soon taking advantage of this new site to breed. Tiny chorus frogs have begun calling. I heard the first one on April 30. They were followed by wood frogs on May 5 and I expect spring peepers will soon join to make this a trio of spring singers.
Out on the road beyond the woods, I find a couple of blue-spotted salamanders. These dark amphibians were recently roused from hibernation and heading to the pond to lay eggs as well. Wood ducks and mallards have discovered this water and rest here before nesting.
Woodcocks and snipes feed in the wetland soil. During mornings and evenings of the last few days, I have noted their displaying flights.
As I turn to walk back towards the house, I hear a great sound of spring: a ruffed grouse drums from a favorite log.
The snow cover of the last five months is gone and quickly plenty of spring critters move in for the next phase. I look forward to many more walks in this 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.