While sitting at my desk watching the weather go from sleet, rain, snow, frosty, windy and (occasionally) mild, it struck me that my handy, dandy Old Farmer’s Almanac nailed it even though the Almanac was printed many months ago. For the end of March it says, “Showers, mild. Snowstorm, then sunny, cold. Showers, seasonable.”
And then, for the beginning of April the Almanac’s prognosticators go with, “Snow, then sunny, turning warm,” early in the month, and then, “Rain and snow showers,” through April 10.
What all this means from an outdoorsman’s point of view is that while winter tended to fizzle early spring is taking its own sweet time getting here. Most of my bulbs (daffodils, crocus and anemones) have been up and threatening to bloom for almost a month. They’ve endured below-freezing temperatures, snow, ice and rain in the interim yet they have not been beaten down – their flower heads are ready to burst. I expect that the first few days of warmth and sun will stimulate a grand awakening among spring flowers, which is usually the case no matter what the weather or the predictions thereof.
The last few days of March were dreary, indeed, but the birds kept singing, with new voices added to the chorus every day. The more vocal species (crows, turkeys, titmice, robins and chickadees) could be heard throughout the day but here and there I’d hear a note or two from blue jays, Canada geese and mallards, plus the muted calls of the shy and reclusive bluebird.
One cold, gray morning I woke up to the call of the black-billed cuckoo, a bird we rarely see but can easily hear because its voice seems to be coming from everywhere. These birds rarely stray from the interior of the woods, staying well out of sight along forest edges, coming just close enough to woodland openings to make their presence known. From a birder’s standpoint the cuckoo is perhaps the most frustrating of all “list” subjects because they rarely come out where you can see them. You’ll hear their calls all day long but getting a look at them is another thing.
After dozens of close calls I decided to dedicate an entire day to finding and spotting a cuckoo and, after several hours of up-and-down, back-and-forth runs through the woods I finally got a glimpse of one, albeit through my 10x binoculars. The bird allowed me about five seconds of observation time and then he flitted off into the foliage. I remember that encounter every time I hear one now and am content to listen. I know who he is and where he is – that’s good enough for me.
The birds are not the only ones stimulated by the promise, if not the coming, of spring. In the last several nights I’ve had a veritable parade of critters showing up at the feeding station including raccoons, opossums, red and gray squirrels, flying squirrels, skunks and some larger beasts including deer, a coyote, two gray foxes and, most recently, a red fox. Some of these animals have been daily visitors all winter but others, including the coyote, foxes and smaller hibernators, showed up only in the last week or so.
In recent days the feeders have been mobbed by crows, which I’ve seen very few of all winter. Now, suddenly, there’s a flock of 20 or so that comes in first thing every morning and lays waste to any grain, seeds or apples that the nighttime marauders may have missed. Crows are among the most common of our resident birds – step outside any morning or afternoon and you’re likely to hear their loud, raspy calls. Crows seem to be as enthusiastic as any bird during spring, and peace be with anyone who happens to have a crow’s nest nearby. The noise from the nest can be deafening, relentless and grating while the young crows are fledging. The cacophony won’t end till mid- to late summer, so good luck with that.
The only thing worse is if ravens happen to build a nest nearby. Now THAT is what I call noise! Raven chicks can raise the hair on the back of your neck and, being related to crows, the discord can be endless as well. However, I find the calls, clucks, croaks and clicks uttered by ravens to be among the most entertaining of all. They seem to enjoy soaring overhead making all sorts of clever noises, and many times they are the only show in town.
I’ve never heard of a raven doing any damage, raiding chicken yards or creating havoc in any way (other than saying, “Nevermore,” once too often!), and I think their reputation for being dark and dreary downers is undeserved. I’ve had them in the yard a time or two but they don’t stay long and don’t eat much, either. I guess typical backyard feeder fare is not their cup of tea.
As part of my “trout season opens two weeks early” experiment I have been probing local streams with garden worms and spinner rigs for the last two weeks but so far I haven’t had the first bite. I’m not sure what makes it “too early” for trout when ice-fishermen have been catching them all winter where ice could be found, but I’m guessing it’s a matter of water temperature and flow. The brooks I’ve sampled have been low and clear, but the temperatures have been in the mid-40s.
Science says brook trout start feeding heavily when the water temperature is in the mid-50s, and so far this seems to be the case. As we get closer to true spring the leaves will come out, the ground (and water) will warm up and the trout will start biting. This has been the way of things for the last two centuries or so, and pushing the envelope only produces a crumpled envelope.
One day soon we’ll all feel the sudden warm, balmy blast of spring that triggers all and everything, and just like that we’ll be gardening, fishing, painting and mowing. Cold and rain notwithstanding, spring is just around the corner!