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On the Trails: Anticipating spring

Posted: April 25, 2014 - 12:01am
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The marmots above the beaches were out by mid April, gathering nesting material and eating green things.  Photo by Johanna Bakker
Photo by Johanna Bakker
The marmots above the beaches were out by mid April, gathering nesting material and eating green things.

As soon as the days become perceptibly longer, we start thinking about spring, even though the first real signs may be a month or two away. I’ve come to realize that anticipation is part of why I like to live in a very seasonal climate.

Each of us may have our own calendar for enjoying the advancement of spring. Personally, I like the gradual coming, because I can savor each new observation. If it all came as a big rush, that could be impressive but also distracting. A slow, step-by-step spring turns each little addition into an “event.”

Even before the ice was gone from my home pond, a pair of mallards hung around. They waddled through the slush and nibbled along the banks, where about an inch of ice-free water was showing. The male was hostile toward any other male that wandered in. A small flight of swans winged north and a couple of horned larks scurried along a slough out on the wetlands. Sapsuckers announced their arrival by happily drumming on downspouts and metal signs. A few days later, we heard varied thrushes tuning up their songs, and Oregon juncos trilled in the shrubbery. Noted by their absence were magpies and slate-colored juncos, both of which had headed back to the Interior.

Then I heard my first ruby-crowned kinglet chortling in the treetops. Song sparrows fossicked in the brush along the beaches, already paired, and the males were advertising their territory with song. Now the male varied thrush at my house had a trim, elegant female, and they foraged together on the terraces, flipping dead leaves and nabbing bugs.

By this time, skunk cabbages were thrusting up out of the wet soils in many places, not only the warm, sunny spots. The felt-leaf willows — always the earliest — had popped into full bloom, but another species was just starting to show its fuzzy catkins.

In addition to the big, slow, early mosquitoes, a few stoneflies emerged from streams and crept over the snow, looking for mates. Some caddisflies emerged also, including the elegant one called a snow sedge.

Gulls started their daily commute between salt water and the rocky cliffs near the glacier. They fly right over my house, talking constantly as they go. They’ll nest on the cliffs, but they go out to the bays and channels to feed. The “beach marmots” were out of their dens above some of the local beaches, gathering nesting material and sampling green vegetation.

Now, as I write this (in mid-April), the American dippers are moving up streams to their nest sites. Purple mountain saxifrage is starting to bloom up near the glacier. Crows are lining their nests with grasses.

I’m still waiting for the ice to be gone from my pond, and so are the mallards. There have been no hummingbirds at my feeders yet, although they have been seen and heard elsewhere.

No bears have yet appeared in my yard, peering in the downstairs windows, but some have been seen in other parts of town.

The cottonwood buds are big, and soon I’ll delight in the clean, delicate aroma of their resin. Still to come, in my yard, are the first blueberry flowers and the song of the hermit thrush, and the first flush of green leaves. There’ll be something new almost every day!

Make your own calendar of small “events” as spring unreels itself, and enjoy them all!

• Mary F. Willson is a retired professor of ecology.

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