Burroughs Backyard

Backyard biology from a field ecologist's perspective

Signs of Spring – February Edition

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Even before the last snowstorm, which dumped about two feet of snow on the Hudson Valley, there were signs of spring showing through the cold. Now, after a weekend of 50 degree weather and some blue skies, they feel even more evident as I’m out in the swamps and woods.

What I noticed first was the changing color of willow branches. The long, drooping branches of willow trees turned yellow, making the trees into masses of gold against the dull browns and grays in the background. The branches of willow shrubs in the swamps turned a reddish-brown, or a yellowish-brown, or a greenish-yellow, adding vibrancy to the dead-looking stems of winterberry holly and spicebush.

Soon after, the branches of other shrubs become more vibrant: fire engine red for the red osier dogwood; dark crimson in new rose shoots; a cheerful yellowish-red on the tips of highbush blueberry.

Then buds started to seem bigger and more evident, after their shrunken winter states.

And, this week, I noticed birdsong. Bevies of robins traveling together; chickadees swarming around me and scolding; winter wrens singing in the distance, or flushing from the shrubs to tell me what-to. Many of these birds have occupied the area all winter, and some I’ve heard throughout, but it seems like a new pitch and vibrancy has taken over their songs and calls. More warmth, more activity, and more song. At one point last week I paused for a minute – it’s difficult to hear anything above the crunch of snowshoes on crusty ice and the swishing inherent in wearing unergonomic coveralls – and I noticed a flock of geese calling from a few hundred meters away. It seemed different than when I’d heard them over the winter – more excited and vibrant – but then maybe it just reflected my own feelings on walking around in the sunshine with colorful branches surrounding me. This type of day makes me want to sing – and I do! Nobody else can hear me over the sounds of their own snowshoes, anyway!

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