Sights, sounds announce impending arrival of spring
Exploring The Last Green Valley, Sunday, March 3, 2019
“No winter lasts forever, so spring skips its turn.”
— Hal Borland
Welcome to March, when days are longer, the sun suddenly feels warm on your face, and spring will finally arrive in just a few weeks. Will March go out like a lamb? Or, will it end with storms and snow this year? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see as the month progresses.
I like to use the WILI Radio Eastern Connecticut Weather Calendar to find historical trends and for March the monthly averages are temperatures at 37.8 degrees with precipitation at 3.62 inches and snowfall at 6.4 inches. The 2019 Farmer’s Almanac calls for frigid temperatures mid-month and a major storm March 20-23.
For me, this is the month when the natural world begins to awaken from its winter slumber and new life begins to stir. When I venture outdoors, here are a few things I look for:
Vernal pools will start to fill with melted snow. The buried eggs of fairy shrimp will soon hatch. Later this month and into April the spotted salamander females and males can be found venturing from their forest dens to breed and lay eggs in the shallow pools.
Several blue birds have stuck around at our place all winter. They come to our suet feeder and can be seen gleaning leftover small fruits from bushes in our yard. This month I’ll clean out the nesting boxes I installed around our yard, so they’ll find a dry clean home to raise their brood.
Male striped skunks are on the prowl looking for a mate. Sometimes, at night, I see (and smell) them passing through our property, reminding me to always give a careful sniff to the air before I let the dogs out.
Near the end of the month, I’ll take down the bird feeders. Black bears have been sighted in our part of town and bears can be attracted to the feeders soon after they emerge from winter hibernation. Feeders provide a quick shot of needed protein and fat before the land greens up with fresh vegetation, and I certainly don’t want to attract them to our yard.
A walk near wetlands and bog areas may bring the scent of skunk cabbage. It is often seen in early March with its reddish brown and green horn melting its way up through the snow. The horns are the flower and it creates its own heat – up to 25 degrees warmer than the outside air. The flower has a skunky carrion odor that attracts pollinators.
Bald eagles typically mate in February and by March should be incubating one or two eggs (rarely three). I’ll be checking a few of the nest locations in The Last Green Valley in March to see if the eagles are on eggs. This is important information to gather and report back to the biologists at Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. In 2018 there were 38 successful bald eagle nests in the state with 68 chicks hatched – up from 61 in 2017.
One of my favorite March avian happenings is the courtship display of the male woodcock. At dusk I’ll listen for the strange “peenting” sound in our back field and hope to see their aerial flights of fancy. The Connecticut Audubon Society in Pomfret leads walks to witness this fascinating mating display on five different dates. For more information, check out their website at www.ctaudubon.org/calendar/.
The first of two litters of red squirrels will soon be born. Sometimes, I see them chattering in the large pine grove near our house. Gray squirrels are also bearing their young. Most mornings I find a pair gleaning sunflower seeds below my feeder.
This month I’ll be looking for migrating bufflehead ducks as they stop over on their way to breeding grounds in Canada. They are our smallest diving duck, with black and white markings and spend most of the winter months along New England coastal estuaries and open waters. One March, I discovered about 20 of them on Witches Wood Lake in Woodstock. I watched them in the middle of the lake as they dove in the water almost in unison to feed on small fish, and then popped back up many feet from where they started. I have also seen them on the Quinebaug River in downtown Putnam in the section of the river just above Cargill Falls.
Great blue herons will be returning to their rookeries to lay eggs and rear their young. They’ll reuse the nest from previous years, but not always the same one. The early arrivers are known to pilfer sticks from other nests to improve their seasonal abode.
The one harbinger of spring I listen for is the sound of the spring peepers from the wetlands and ponds. It is still early, but maybe we’ll hear their plaintive love calls later this month.
For me there is only one “taste” of March and that is fresh sweet maple syrup right from the evaporator. I help a friend tap his trees each February when the sap begins to rise, but it is in March when the days are mild – in the 40s and 50s – and the evenings bring temperatures below freezing that the sap flows best.
Daylight Savings Time is March 10. Don’t forget to set your clocks ahead and spring forward into the season.
March brings us the popular holiday of St. Patrick’s Day. Many Americans are of Irish descent and this special day celebrates all things Irish in heritage and culture.
March 17 is also Evacuation Day, celebrated in Massachusetts and a local holiday in the greater Boston area. The holiday celebrates the day early in the Revolutionary War when British forces evacuated Boston following the siege of the city led by Gen. George Washington.
The Spring, or Vernal, Equinox is March 20. If the 2019 Farmer’s Almanac is correct, the first day of spring may have the month of March going out like a lion instead of a lamb. The equinox — vernal this month and autumnal in September — is when the sun is directly over the equator, giving approximately equal daylight and nighttime hours. Here at The Last Green Valley we will be kicking off Spring Outdoors, a full season of hikes, bikes, paddles and more, with a Vernal Equinox Member Hike. Call us at (860) 774-3300 or visit our website, www.thelastgreenvalley.org for more information.
March is here. Winter is on the wane, and spring will be here before you know it. I hope you join me and others as we celebrate each change of the season and give thanks for living and working in such a beautiful place – The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor.
Bill Reid is chief ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor and has lived in the region for more than 35 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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