Northland Nature: New migrant arrivals in woods
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Late April is a delightful time to walk in the woods. With the snow cover nearly all gone (only patches on the sheltered north-facing hillsides), the wandering can be easily done on or off trails. The less-appreciated insects are not yet here thanks to recent cold temperatures.
In fall, there is a period of time after the leaves drop from the trees and before the snow cover that I refer to as "AutWin." So now, the time after the snow has melted and before the greening of the forests, I like to call "WinSprin."
At the base of trees, on logs and rocks are greening mosses. With some searching as I walk, I find green wild leek emerging from the ground. Also, I see leaves of hepatica, pyrola and wintergreen — all these stayed green under the snow. But mostly, the green woods is yet to be.
As I wander, I hear singing frogs from the vernal ponds. The early spring trio of chorus frogs, wood frogs and spring peepers blend well together. Also, I hear the drumming of local ruffed grouse, gobbling of turkeys and the resonating sounds from pileated woodpeckers. All have wintered here.
I’m searching for the next group of migrant birds. Migration has already been going on for several weeks. In open waters, a variety of aquatic birds have settled either to rest or nest. These include geese, swans, mergansers, ducks, grebes and pelicans. Great blue herons and the first shorebirds are appearing along the edges of wetlands. Many are quite large or colorful and fairly easy to see.
Raptors also have been flying over for weeks: eagles, hawks, harriers and vultures, along with the loud sandhill cranes.
Among the songbirds, red-winged blackbirds and robins seem to have set the pace. Both are into their territories and singing. Their arrival was quickly followed by groups of sparrows. Often in flocks, the gray-black juncos fill the roadsides and often our yards. Song, fox and tree sparrows frequently scatter with junco flocks. We have seen plenty of these early arrivals.
Now, in late April, come the next migrants.
As I walk, I listen and look for two diminutive songsters. Ruby-crowned kinglets and winter wrens, both about 4 inches long, are tiny bundles of energy and both sing long and loud songs upon arriving here. Also, there is a pair of migratory woodpeckers that have recently returned from wintering in the south: flickers and yellow-bellied sapsuckers. The latter, coming into our yards and giving its drumming on trees in the early morning, may annoy us.
But I’m looking for two other migrants of late April in the woods. The first warbler of the season is always the yellow-rumped warbler — I have never seen an exception — and I seek to locate the hermit thrush.
Unlike their cousins, robins and bluebirds, hermit thrushes live up to their name and remain deep in the forests. Mostly brown with a reddish-brown tail (which they often pump up and down), these 6-inch birds, smallest of Northland thrushes, mostly stay under cover. Occasionally, they will appear in our yards where they hop in a manor like that of a robin.
Despite their small size and secretive ways, hermit thrushes sing a very pleasant flute-like song, often letting us know of their presence. (Maybe why it is the state bird of Vermont.)
As I step from the woods, I hear a calling loon, telling me of ice-out conditions on the nearby lake. Yes, migrants — songbirds and others — are here and more to come during May.