Signs of Spring
By now, Christine Guarino, a regular Welcome Wednesday contributor, needs no introduction. If you don’t know who she is, you can get an idea by reading her previous contribution about banding owls and her tale of chasing an elusive gull. And we 10,000 Birds bloggers think her phrase “unambiguous amphibious” is pretty freaking cool.
When does spring really spring?If you live in my part of the world, the Northeastern United States, or farther north, you’ve probably been anticipating the arrival of spring in all its glory, waiting to be freed of winter’s clutches. The calendar says it didn’t officially start until March 20 but if you’re a birder you’ve probably noticed that spring sprang some time ago. So what was it that got your blood pumping about spring migration? What made you get out the lens cleaning kit and go to town on your optics in preparation for warbler season?
This is a question I’ve been pondering for a while now and I know it varies from person to person and region to region. I live in a place with very distinct seasons and in addition to meteorological cues, I anticipate the living cues that herald spring’s arrival, and often the two are not aligned with one another. For example, just today as I write this, the temperature is a brisk 25 degrees F and it feels like winter, yet the birds in my yard are singing like it’s a beautiful May morning.
So I’ve been trying to decide which of the many avian cues I’ve noticed recently really told me that spring is here. Perhaps it was when I first noticed that my American Goldfinches were starting to look a bit spotty, with random patches of lemon yellow brightening their winter plumage and the beginnings of little black caps starting to show on the males.
Perhaps it was when I saw the Red-tailed Hawks in the area pairing up and exhibiting courtship behavior. They started flying around in pairs, sitting together in trees, behaving aggressively toward other Red-tails. Ah, spring!
Maybe it was when my friend Rich told me his House Finches were singing and I noticed that mine were too. Or perhaps it was when my White-throated Sparrows started polishing up their act. Their off-key whisper songs of winter have recently become perfectly pitched, beautiful renditions of “O’ sweet Canada-Canada-Canada”. That is my favorite bird song, I think.
I know! It was the day that I was working at my computer and I was yanked from my desk by the screams of 2 Red-shouldered Hawks whooping it up in my yard. I ran out with my binoculars and there they were in all their glory, right outside, announcing their arrival and likely intentions to move in for the summer. If you’ve ever lived near a Red-shouldered Hawk nest, you know that they make a lot of noise. But I consider myself lucky to have them because in New York State (where I live) they are considered a species of special concern, which means their numbers are declining and they receive some additional state protection.
Well, actually, maybe it was on February 28 when I heard my first Red-winged Blackbird sing and show off his brilliant crimson epaulets to whomever was looking. No no no it was when the Tufted Titmice in the yard started their incessant “peterpeterpeter” song. Or when my Carolina Wren started letting loose with his loud “teakettle-teakettle-teakettle” song. I’ve got it! It was when the Northern Cardinals began imitating car alarms before dawn! Hmmm…maybe it was when I heard my first American Woodcock displaying in the morning before work. No maybe it was the first Wilson’s Snipe I saw the other day. Or it’s the Song Sparrows that have been singing for a few days. I know it is the Eastern Meadowlarks singing “spring-of-the-year”!
Maybe it was seeing Ring-necked Ducks, Wood Ducks, Green-winged Teal, American Wigeon, Blue-winged Teal, Gadwall, and other first of the year waterfowl sightings in partially frozen ponds. I’m still waiting for my first Pied-billed Grebe, though, so I should wrap this up and get out and look for a few more spring arrivals! Did you notice I didn’t even mention the American Robin as a sign of spring? Truthfully, I’ve been seeing robins all winter here and there, so their reputation as a sign of spring is a little over-rated. The Red-winged Blackbird is a much more reliable harbinger of spring than the American Robin.
As you can see, when you’re looking and listening, there are many signs of spring coming from the avian world and I can’t decide which one is the definitive sign of spring for me. But when you look at how many signals we’ve been receiving, it’s indisputable that spring is definitely here, in the northeast anyway, so get those binoculars cleaned and start limbering up for warbler season. It’s just around the corner! I’m still waiting for an unambiguous amphibious sign of spring – the call of the ubiquitous Spring Peeper (Hyla crucifer) from every puddle and pond around. So, how do you know that spring has sprung where you live?
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