Signs of early spring and a full “pink” moon
It is no surprise to those of us who have lived all or large portions of our lives here in southern New England that spring likes to tease and entice us. We have marked the start of spring with cold snowy days, and days like this year, where the sun is shining and the temperatures tell you to leave the jacket home. Neither version of the vernal equinox means much around here as evidenced by the cold we experienced at the end of March. But there are some signs you can always count on, and I’ve noticed them this year even as March decided to leave us like a lion.
But now, in the first full week of April, spring is slowly waking nature from its winter slumber. For me, the sights outside my windows signal the seasons. The crocuses by the kitchen window finally bloomed last week and are now past. The daffodils in the front yard circular flower bed are up, and I expect to have beautiful yellow nodding blooms in the next few days. The forsythia bush outside the living room window is also taking its sweet time. I will admit it is on the shady side of the house, but only a few buds are starting to show their forsythia yellow.
I recently took a walk at Blue Flag Meadow in Hampton, a 92-acre Wolf Den Land Trust property with open fields, a forest loop trail and large pond. Near the edge of the water, red maples are starting to bloom. From across the pond, I could make out the hint of red among the branches. Red maples are the first trees to bloom, but you’ll know from your own wanderings that not all of them are blooming at the same rate. The few I have in my yard have yet to show signs of blooming and remain a dull barren gray. It is a tree that thrives with “wet feet” and those rooted within excess moisture show their namesake color signaling spring is here.
The pond had about 25 common mergansers and those were the only waterfowl visiting while I was there. They winter over in our part of the world, and I frequently see them in the open water of the Quinebaug and Shetucket rivers during the cold months. With ice now out of the lakes and ponds, they are gathering in small flocks and soon will be winging northward to their nesting grounds in Canada. Even from a distance, the males can be identified by their bright white feathers and black head. Several of them were chasing each other with a quick splash and burst of webbed feet with intents to impress the females. I was glad to see them at Blue Flag Meadow.
Not all the first signs of spring are welcome. Driving home from Hampton along our quiet back roads I saw the first hints of green along roadsides and within wooded areas. Unfortunately, what I saw was mostly the destructive non-native Japanese barberry. This invasive plant forms dense multi-stemmed clusters of barbed branches and is almost impossible to control without completely removing the plant. The smallest bit of root left in the soil will re-sprout making it one of the more tenacious plants to eradicate. It is also one of the first to “green up.” Seeing it reminds me yet again of the challenge southern New England faces with invasive plant species that change our forest ecosystem, out-competing our native plants for soil and sun.
For all of spring’s starts and stops in March and early April, history tells us we will be well on our way in a few weeks. Even the full moon gives us the promise. April 16 is the full “Pink Moon” and will be visible above the horizon after sunset. According to the Farmer’s Almanac, it gets its name from a plant that blooms in early spring called moss phlox or moss pink, also known as creeping moss. It is native to the eastern United States and found growing wild south of New York and Pennsylvania and in the Appalachians. Those found growing wild in New England are typically the cultivated varieties that have escaped from gardens. It is a low plant that forms a mossy-like carpet of flowers. We have a good-sized patch spilling over the edge of a stonewall garden, and I look forward to it blooming later this month. My wife can’t remember if she planted it and thinks it may have been planted by an earlier resident of our property.
The cold of March may have slowed down the buds, flowers, and leaves, but it didn’t seem to deter the animal life in our neck of the woods. Birdsong indicating the start of the spring courtship and nesting season has been in full force and will continue through the months ahead. The dawn chorus has begun again, and we awake to the sound of spring.
We live in a beautiful place called The Last Green Valley. I hope you’ll join me and together let us enjoy it, care for it, and pass it on.
Bill Reid is the Chief Ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor and can be reached at 860-774-3300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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