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Northland Nature: Blooming dandelions a welcome sight

Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him via Katie Rohman at krohman@duluthnews.com.

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Dandelions will become a more common sight in the Northland in late March. (Getty Images)

When we are concerned with our health and our safety, it is easy to become so enamored by the difficult issues that we may miss what else is happening around us.

Despite the present possible sickness, now in late March, spring is unfolding in the Northland. The pace may be a little slower than what some of us desire, but the new season is happening.

Since the vernal equinox of last week, the amount of daylight each day is longer than darkness, and continues so. A bit slowly, temperatures are rising and the snowpack that has exceeded 15 inches for more than 110 days is shrinking. We can see bare ground at many sites now. Some local wildlife responses to this have been slow, but they are here.

I now have daily sights of chipmunks in the yard. What began as occasional glimpses has become regular.

During the morning walks, I have been seeing flocks of pine siskins and snow buntings along the roadside. A neighbor reported purple finches at the feeder and there has been a scattering of robin and red-winged blackbirds in the region. Crows are calling in flocks each morning and woodpeckers continue to drum on tree trunks.

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One day while walking, I heard the honking Canada geese flying over, and not to be outdone the following day, I watched and listened as two large and loud trumpeter swans came by. Finding no open water here, they moved on. Raptors have also flown over and I’ve observed bald eagles often. Some of these large birds may have wintered, but others are northing.

Also going north are a few hawks: red-tailed, rough-legged and harriers. Raccoons and skunks have been active for a while after waking from a long sleep. And I have heard a few reports of drowsy wandering bears in the vicinity. Northland wildlife are waking and migrating. Spring is happening.

Passing by on streets and roads, I’ve also noted changes in the trees. Willows in wetlands hold branches of yellow or red while the small red-osier dogwoods are entirely red. The swamps also host pussy willows with scores of furry buds while the larger quaking aspen has theirs looking similar.

Branches of the abundant shrubby speckled alder (sometimes called "tag alder") take on a purplish glow at this time as their catkins expand, forming pollen that will be seen soon. Looking at the buds of silver maples, we can see they will soon be opening in female or male flowers — very common in early April.

Many Northlanders have crocuses near their houses. These minute plants put up green leaves quickly and in the sunlight of late March will open blossoms of white, yellow or purple. While going by a building recently, I noted that the snow was all gone from its southside. March is a month of microhabitats and in these south or west-facing sunny sites, spring comes earlier than elsewhere.

Taking a closer look, I saw greening of grasses and in its midst was a dandelion in bloom. Though often called a weed and usually not appreciated, I find the sighting of these yellow blossoms after the long winter is one that we are glad to see — nearly always the No. 1 plant to bloom. A long taproot extending far into the ground allows this hardy plant to survive winter.

There will be more dandelions — they may lose their appeal — but this first one seen in bloom at a time when other things can take our attention, was a good sight to behold.

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Larry Weber
Larry Weber

Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books.
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