We are in mid-March. Cold and snow may still be happening, but the springing things continue.
Cold may be here, but subzero readings are far less likely. As we have seen from a few recent springs, snow may persist into the next several weeks.
With all these changes, the longer days are consistent. Now with the sun rising shortly after 7 a.m. and setting a little after 7 p.m., we approach the vernal equinox. Following this astronomical event, daylight exceeds darkness each day. And nature responds to these lighted times.
These are the days in which we look out at the feeders of winter and try to locate some early migrants mixing with chickadees, nuthatches, blue jays and woodpeckers that wintered here. I have often seen purple finches and juncos near the house by mid-month while horned larks and snow buntings — birds of the fields — congregate along roads.
It may be a bit too early for the anticipated robins, grackles and red-winged blackbirds to have returned, but other migrants are arriving.
In open waters, it is not unusual to see some mallards, mergansers, geese and perhaps a few swans. Along the highways, red-tailed hawks, harriers and kestrels can be seen doing their hunting.
Looking elsewhere, I have been seeing the furry open buds of willows at a local swamp and quaking aspens with similar buds nearby. These buds remain in this phase until later in spring, but now they tell us of what is to come. And maple trees resume their sap movements.
March is the month of micro-habitats, and often in this longer-lasting sunshine, things happen in small, well-lit sites. Bare ground can be seen along south-facing roadsides. Here too, the snow has gone from large ant hills.
Close to buildings, in sunlit sites, along south or west walls, we can see the movements of early waking ants and flies, bringing out opportunistic predators of wolf and jumping spiders. Wolf spiders patrol the ground, jumping spiders search the walls. Here, too, is where we’ll find the first dandelions and crocuses starting to bloom. And there is more in the springing yard.
Recently as I looked out, I saw a new arrival among the tree squirrels that had been so active all winter: abundant gray squirrels mixed with a few smaller reds. But as I watched, I saw an even smaller one with stripes on its sides scamper across the yard: a chipmunk.
Chipmunks are a very well-known and usually well-liked type of ground squirrel that has learned to live near our houses. We watched last fall as they gathered seeds and nuts for their winter cache and then in late October, they were gone.
While tree squirrels remain active all winter, ground squirrels, for the most part, hibernate. These include the deep-sleeping groundhogs (woodchucks), Franklin ground squirrels and thirteen-lined ground squirrels.
Most are still in a deep sleep, but not so with the chipmunks. Theirs is a waking sleep. They went into a dormant phase last fall a couple weeks before our lasting snow cover began and here, they remained for the coldest winter.
Unlike the deep hibernators, they wake some times. Usually not leaving their dens, they relieve themselves, have a snack and go back to sleep. However, on mild days, they may wander from the sleeping site.
I have several times seen chipmunks in January and February. These drowsy winter sights do not last long. But now in mid-March, seeing a chipmunk is a spring arrival and likely to continue activity in and near our yards.