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The consensus among homesteaders this year is that spring arrived a bit earlier than normal. Perhaps the most dramatic indication that things were not as they should be is when our Governor Baldacci approved an early opening of the fishing season. With no snow to speak of and little rain, the streams and rivers where anglers hoped to catch a few trout and salmon were almost a month ahead of themselves as far as fishing conditions were concerned.
Another interesting revelation was that our wild turkey population was already in breeding mode as early as mid-March. The traditional hunting season for these big birds has always been the month of May, set for generations to coincide with the spring mating ritual. I have photos from all over Maine of gobblers strutting, gobbling, fighting and even mating with hens – before April 1! That is astounding from a hunter’s point of view, because if the birds are already nesting, or even raising poults, by May 1, there isn’t much incentive for a gobbler to respond to the usual seductive calls of a hunter in waiting. The reports I’m getting now, in mid-season, are that there are few gobblers around and those that are doing some gobbling don’t seem very interested in anything more than that. Hunters who took their birds early on opening day last year are now telling me that they haven’t even seen a bird yet! With a full month open to turkey hunting this year, it will be interesting to see how things pan out. At worst, there will be fewer birds shot, which translates into a slam-bang season in 2011, when the woods will be flush with 2- and 3-year-old gobblers looking for trouble.
It looks as if the trout and turkeys weren’t the only wild things affected by the unusually “early” spring. I was mulling over the possibility of putting out some hummingbird feeders in the next week or two, about the time when I’d start seeing them again in my area. Well (and this is the truth), while I was sitting on the porch considering the idea a hummingbird flew up to one of my still-empty fuchsia pots, buzzed around quizzically for a few seconds and then zipped away in search of some other source of nectar. This was obviously one of last year’s hummer’s – he knew where the food should have been – but he didn’t waste time waiting for it. According to my years of record-keeping, the return of the hummers occurs at least two weeks later. Records aside, I quickly put up a feeder and, the next morning, had three ruby-throats buzzing around me while I had my morning tea.
At the same time, yet another “what’s going on?” revelation struck me. Most years, I don’t put out my pine straw until the mid-May, a week or two before the bluebirds start to show up and begin nesting in my neck of the woods. Well, while I’m having tea with the hummers, a pair of bluebirds show up and start gathering bits of dried grass off the lawn! Normally, they don’t arrive here till a week or so after I’ve put the straw down. Every one of my bluebird boxes will have a nest consisting of three or four inches of tightly-packed pine straw, but this year every box was full of “natural” materials – I guess they came early and could not wait for me to get my landscaping self in gear!
One of my favorite birds (though probably not yours) also showed definite signs of the early coming of spring. Where I live, there’s a stand of tall pines in the distance that crows use as a rookery in spring. Most years, these loud, boisterous birds start nesting around May 1 and the young crows entertain the valley with their endless, strident, off-key cawings for as much as a month later. Well, this year, the noisy birds (which nest in long-term family groups – adding to the cacophony!) were on the nest before April 5 and, about 15 days later, the raspy serenade began. So unusual was this event that this May actually seems quiet now compared to most years – without the young crows’ incessant, grating begging calls, it seems as if there’s something missing in the world; as if we’re going to slow or too fast and nothing is on time.
Those of us who closely watch the ways of our wild neighbors tend to be a tad too concerned about such things, but lately I’ve heard from folks all around the East who say the same thing: “It seems like spring got here way too fast!”
I’m sure weather experts will dismiss the whole thing as a normal blip in the barometric order of things, but humans are among the least sensitive of all Earth’s creatures when it comes to feeling the subtle changes in our world – we are the last ones to know when a weather event or season is coming or going – but this year we are definitely sensing something unusual.
While we can all point to some sign or other that says spring sprung surreptitiously this year, it’s always possible to find some comfort in the things that take continue their normal role in our world. For me, it is one fat little chickadee that, sometime last winter, lost every feather in its tail. The bird looks like an egg in flight when it leaves the hemlocks at the edge of the yard and comes barreling in to the feeder to take his one little sunflower seed and fly off again to eat it. This little round chirper has come to the window feeder every single day since last fall and, early spring or not, has yet to miss an appointment. I sit and drink my tea, he pauses to show me which seed he’s selected, and so we converse each morning on as regular a schedule as our species would allow.
Some things are early, some are late, but it’s comforting to know that certain things never change. I have had a chickadee near my door, wherever my door has been, every morning for close to 50 years. When that little ritual changes, then I will start to wonder!
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