I can't remember when I've seen such a mild spring. The snow is gone now, and much of the frost has left the ground. Each day brings new signs that the earth is coming alive. The pages of my notebook have several new entries every day.
March 24, 2003
I took a long walk today, into the far reaches of the woods, where the deer have spent much of their time browsing and sleeping. I hope to find antlers that have been shed by bucks, before they get chewed up by the squirrels. There were no antlers to be found today, but I found some other interesting signs of spring.
On the sunny side of the ridge, I saw several mourning cloaks. These large black and purple butterflies have a cream-colored border around the outside margins of their wings. They fly leisurely about in the sun along the edge of the woods and grassy fields. Soon they will lay their eggs in clusters on the twigs and new leaves of elm and willow trees. The eggs hatch into caterpillars in about two weeks, and begin at once to feed on the leafy foliage.
Each week, for three weeks, the caterpillars will molt (cast their skins); each time they emerge larger in size. They stay together in a silken web at first; then, they scatter about the tree so each caterpillar can spin its own individual web, which gradually forms a chrysalis (pupa). These little brown "mummies" hang from a branch, and in about two weeks a wonderful butterfly appears.
The mourning cloaks are one of the earliest butterflies to appear in the spring, and one of my favorite March sightings.
I found another insect that I wasn't really looking for - you could say it found me instead. I noticed a tiny deer tick crawling up my wrist, and wondered how many others were clinging to my clothing. I did a post-walk tick check and found four.
These treacherous little specks with legs keep a lot of folks from taking a nice spring walk, for fear of being bitten and contracting Lyme disease. I can't say that I blame them, the disabling disease is no fun. On the other hand, there's no keeping me inside on a nice spring day, so I tuck my pants legs into my boots, pull my sleeves down, cover my head with a good cap, and I'm off. Afterwards, I depend on a thorough body search to give me peace of mind that no ticks are using me as a host.
The big stick nest high up in an old oak tree at the end of the wooded valley stands out like a sore thumb. It will be a month before the green leaves hide it from view. The big female red-tailed hawk has just laid her two eggs, and she nestles down over them to keep them warm. With my binoculars, I can just see her head as she watches me from her hiding place in the nest.
From across the valley I heard the sharp cry of the male hawk, then spotted him flying towards the nest. It's his job to catch food and bring it to the female while she is incubating the eggs. There is something in his talons; with the aid of the binoculars I can see it is a stick. He flies up to the nest as the female chuckles to him, and places the stick next to her before flying off again.
For red-tailed hawks, it's time to start a family. By the first week of June, the young hawks will be able to fly and explore their new surroundings.
Towards the end of my walk, a large shadow passed me, rushing across the ground in the direction I was headed. A large, black turkey vulture sailed directly overhead - the first to enter the valley this spring. I watched him glide along until he was out of sight.
March 25, 2003
It's a bluebird day, and a pair of these cherry songsters are eagerly checking out the birdhouses in the yard. With luck, they will accept one of the wooden houses, to raise a family and to grace me with their lovely presence each day.
After sunset, I finally hear the songs that I have waited for since last spring. I'm referring to the frog songs of the little spring peepers, emanating from the marsh near the river. The ice and frost is now gone from the marsh, and as the tiny frogs emerge from hibernation they immediately start peeping out their spring courtship songs. I had expected the recent warm weather would have brought them out sooner. I guess I will always need to be reminded to be patient; signs of spring come only when the time is right. The wait is worthwhile; the frogs will sing for me for many spring nights to come.
It's time to be outside and let spring into your heart - there's no better time to take a walk down nature's trail.
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