Speaking of Nature: The first day of spring


Published: 03-26-2023 12:20 PM

One thing that I must remember to be mindful of is that my readers live in different places. Some weather events can be quite localized and others express themselves in different ways depending on latitude and elevation. Thus, what happens in Worthington might be different from what happens in Wendell, or Ware. Events may play out differently in Charlemont than they do in Leyden, or New Salem. Some might get rain, while others get snow. It can all be very confusing.

However, the one thing that we will all receive in equal amounts is sunlight and for many aspects of nature, this is the great driving force. The length of each day has been increasing and last week we reached that point where we have an equal number of light and dark hours. Sometimes we call this the Vernal Equinox, other times we just call it the first day of spring. It doesn’t really matter what we humans want to call it because the wildlife outside has begun to respond to it — especially the birds.

I think this really hit home for me on the last official day of winter. I managed to sleep late on a luxurious Sunday morning and when I woke up I looked out my bedroom window on a landscape covered in snow. My parents, who live in Amherst, had very little snow lingering after out most recent nor’easter, but I had plenty of the stuff because I live at a higher elevation. So to my eyes there was still a lot of winter left to endure, but when I went out to fill the feeders I was pleasantly surprised.

The world was full of birdsong. Cardinals and mourning doves, goldfinches and white-breasted nuthatches, all were singing in the warm morning light. From down in the woods I heard the downy woodpeckers advertising their presence with loud, precise drumming and a pair of crows flew over the yard engaged in what appeared to be some enthusiastic, acrobatic aerial maneuvers that shouted courtship. Spring had sprung, regardless of the snow that still blanketed the ground.

Conditions on the ground may have been different at your house, but conditions in the air were probably the same. Anyone who stepped outside and paused for a moment must certainly have noticed the atmosphere of energy and optimism that had suddenly popped into being. Maybe you had snow, maybe you didn’t, but I’d bet $5 that you had birds singing. The chorus is still a small one, but the voices of male red-winged blackbirds are difficult to miss. The delightful bustle of the house finch song might have drifted to your ears and the clear, sweet “fee-bee” of a black-capped chickadee might have brightened your day a little. And it’s only going to get better.

In the past week I have noticed that there is a particular male northern cardinal who has started offering carefully selected morsels to a particular female. This is a sure sign that amore is underway. I was also delighted to record the arrival of the year’s first song sparrow at my feeders. All of a sudden, among the white-throated sparrows, American tree sparrows and dark-eyed juncos there was a single song sparrow with his plumage of grayish feathers with chocolate-brown stripes. Then, the following day, there were two song sparrows looking for seeds. Another new face is a joyous event, but the feeling is bittersweet because we know that other familiar faces will soon be headed north for the summer.

Things are really starting to kick into gear and the changes over the next few weeks are going to be dramatic and extremely uplifting. In as little as one week we may note the return of eastern phoebes and tree swallows. Some lucky readers may start to hear the first spring peepers of the season, while those of us at higher elevations have to wait a while. Two weeks from now we might start to hear house wrens and we might delight at the first sight of a great blue heron lazily flying across the yard. Sightings of ducks will depend on open water, so readers to the south and in the vicinity of the Connecticut River will be the first to make note of their arrival. But in very short order the game of spring will be in full swing. I just can’t wait.

So make the effort to go outside and pause for just a moment. Regardless of your agenda for the day, try to stop and let your ears hear what is going on around you. Even 30 seconds of quiet observation may allow you to be influenced by the unbridled enthusiasm that is erupting all around us. I haven’t heard a song sparrow actually sing yet, but the moment I hear that wonderful “maids, maids put on your tea kettle-ettle-ettle” song I am going to laugh out loud and then go prepare a pot of oolong.

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Bill Danielson has been a professional writer and nature photographer for 25 years. He has worked for the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Nature Conservancy and the Massachusetts State Parks and he currently teaches high school biology and physics. For more in formation visit his website at www.speakingofnature.com, or head over to Speaking of Nature on Facebook.