Northland Nature: May walks at dawn, daytime, dusk
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.
I find that these spring days, after snow and ice have receded and before warmth and mosquitoes move in, are excellent for taking leisurely walks and noting what is happening in nature. And these wanderings three times per day are never disappointing.
Dawn: It’s cool, in the 30s, clear and calm when I walk. The show of Jupiter, Venus, Mars and Saturn is lost in the rising sun, but much more is going on. In the yard, I hear drumming of sapsuckers that found maples with dripping sap. Here, too, are songs of robin, phoebe, song sparrow and mourning dove. Ruffed grouse drum in the woods and a loon calls from the nearby lake; finally free of ice.
My route takes me past a swamp and a pond. Without ice, there is plenty of bird activity — some to rest, others to nest. On the surface are mallards, wood ducks, buffleheads, hooded mergansers, as well as a group of about 30 ring-necked ducks. A pair of Canada geese are beginning a nest along the shore.
Also at the edge, red-winged blackbird males are singing; after a month, females will join. In the distance, I hear loud calls of sandhill cranes. A new May day has begun.
Daytime: Temperatures have climbed to the 50s when I return for the mid-day walk. Once again, pleasant conditions prevail, making for a slow movement through the woods. No pesky bugs, but I do see a couple insects of note.
At one sunny site, I am greeted by two basking butterflies: a Compton tortoiseshell and a mourning cloak, and both are awakened anglewings.
Some arriving migrant birds are seen, too. A group of juncos feed on the forest floor. Tree and white-throated sparrows join them. A brown creeper works its way up a tree trunk while small birds flit in the trees. I recognize a yellow-rumped warbler and two of the smallest birds of the Northland: a ruby-crowned kinglet and a winter wren. There’s also a silent hermit thrush here and a loud-calling flicker.
The nearby vernal ponds that I pass abound with calls from wood and chorus frogs (first heard April 28).
Scanning the forest floor for spring wildflowers, I locate only hepatica in bloom — a bit later than normal, and others will follow. Here, too, are the abundant green shoots of wild leek (ramps). The trees tell more. The minute purple flowers of hazel are opening near their catkins. Red maple buds are numerous with their show of color. And the large buds of elderberry speak of leaves to come soon.
Dusk: The evening is clear, a waxing crescent moon in the west and a cooling temperature in the 40s. It’s another great time for a walk. Before I leave the porch, I hear a sound that I have been waiting for recently. From overhead is the winnowing sound of the Wilson’s snipe. Snipe are shorebirds that feed along the edges of wetlands, putting their long bills into the damp soil in search of small prey.
Mostly brown, they are easy to pass by unnoticed. But now, when the male is trying to get the attention of the female, he does so by movement of wings and tail in flight, causing the air to flow and produce a whirling “hu-hu-hu” noise, known as winnowing — a regular part of dusk and dawn sounds.
Walking past a vernal pond, I hear that wood and chorus frogs have been joined by a third kind: spring peepers. A couple barred owls call. Canada geese and sandhill cranes are flying and calling. A wonderful May day is passing into darkness, and there will be more.