Earth Matters The sights and sounds of spring are here
I was housebound in February and watched, through windows, that famously gray month outdo itself with one awful storm — sodden snow, rain, ice — after another. The days dawned and the sun rose, but clouds got in the way and it got sleety.
So maybe a week ago, sprung from confinement, I walked out onto my driveway, then stopped. Freezing rain wasn’t falling, and a tufted titmouse was singing out “Peter, Peter, Peter.’’ I knew it was spring and something in me relaxed a bit. I was outside, I was reasonably OK, and the sun and the whole world was stirring the pot.
Real spring weather, complete with green grass, daffodils and warblers, is still a few weeks away. But now, you can see and feel the changes coming as we switch to a more obliging season.
Cathy Hagadorn, director of the Connecticut Audubon Society’s Deer Pond Farm nature center in Sherman, said she’s seen turkey vultures flapping their wings instead of soaring, with one vulture chasing after another — maybe a little spring mating aggression.
“Something was going on,” she said.
In Bethel, Billy Michael has begun his annual quest to find frogs and salamanders as they emerge from their winter quarters and head to open water to breed.
Earlier this month, on a hunch, he drove up to Eureka Reservoir and found a Jefferson salamander in the road, heading to spawning territory — an early amphibian with an icy pond awaiting him.
“He was a lone soul,” Michael said.
Plants are emerging. Skunk cabbage is thermogenic — it produces its own heat and melts the snow around it as it begins to grow. Sarah Breznen, director of education at the Woodcock Nature Center in Ridgefield, has seen its buds poking up already.
In New Milford, Diane Swanson, the executive director of the Pratt Nature Center, said she’s seen two budding species.
“I’ve seen skunk cabbage, and lots of children playing outside,” she said.
And, bluebirds. And, Swanson said, maybe a killdeer.
At Woodcock Nature Center, educator Sam Nunes has seen and heard a red-winged blackbird, which makes sense. Red-winged blackbirds like swamps and the Woodcock preserve has lots of wetlands. Cardinals are sounding their clear mating call around the property, Nunes said.
And, he said, he may have also seen an osprey soaring by, checking out the territory.
“This is about the time they show up,” Nunes said.
Patrick Comins, executive director of the Connecticut Audubon Society, said the state’s bird population is never static — something’s always on the move.
Along the state’s shoreline, the wintering waterfowl is clearing out and heading north to breed. So fare-thee-well, buffleheads and canvasbacks and long-tailed ducks.
But egrets and herons and other shorebirds will soon be returning, Comins said. If great cormorants — the cormorant species that winters in Connecticut — are taking leave, double-crested cormorants — the summer species — are coming back.
“It’s quite an amazing time,” he said.
Inland, woodcock are setting up territories and the males will be making their circling courting flights. Woodpeckers are drumming and owls are already sitting on their nests.
Although robins now overwinter in the state, they’ve been seen bob-bob-bobbin’ along in larger flocks — and are still welcome as the first sign of spring.
At New Pond Farm nature center in Redding, there are three new lambs scampering around.
“Our chicks are coming in,” said Tim Laughlin, New Pond’s program director. “Now is the time to order them.”
Some of the bees in the farm’s hives survived the winter and will be buzzing as soon as it warms up. Some of the hives, Laughlin said, didn’t make it — the fate of beekeeping in Connecticut.
When the ice comes off the ponds — and sometimes even before that happens — tree frogs and wood frogs and peepers will add their chorus of chirps and quacks to the world. Live close enough to a wetland, and you need earplugs to preserve your hearing.
And, Comins of the Connecticut Audubon Society said, you can see the first soft red blush of maple trees starting to bud.
Hagadorn of Deer Pond Farm said she can see a weeping willow tree at the nature center beginning to turn yellow.
So after a unforgiving winter, these first warm colors, the sounds of birds singing, not merely chirping; spring peepers; the sight of turkey vultures back on the scene, are all welcome.
“From now on,” Hagadorn said, “everything is going to be better.”
Contact Robert Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org