Monday, April 18, 2016

Some Musings on a Very Erratic Spring

By Beth Sullivan
In February and March we could revel in the spring feel, even though it confused the plants and some creatures. Then in mid-April we were once again thrown a stretch of out-of-sync weather that was an unkind throwback to winter. It is hard enough being human and adjusting to the wild swings, at least this human would prefer a bit more consistency! But it can be life threatening for some wildlife.

Spring Timing

Some things happen in synchrony with the length of days, the hours of daylight inspire some birds to migrate and flowers to bloom. The Phoebes and Tree Swallows arrived on time in the last week of March. They immediately were hit by the cold stretch in early April and being insect eaters, were severely challenged. They eat flying insects, and in that snow and rain, there were none. Some birds can adapt to other food sources, but it’s not so easy for these two species. It is hard to really know how these birds fared and if there was mortality, but now that the temperature has climbed, and the insects have re-emerged, the Phoebe is singing from his favorite nest site at the barn next door, and the Tree Swallows are back to their business of arguing about the best real estate at Knox preserve.
The Tree Swallows are back looking for the best nest site. Photograph by Rick Newton.

The Osprey come back pretty regularly each year, influenced a bit by which way the wind is blowing as they make their way north. In general, they are not too affected by colder weather. Though the water did not freeze, colder air at the surface will drive fish deeper in the water, making them harder to catch.
The Osprey are investigating our newest platforms in several preserves. Photograph by Rick Newton.

We noticed that several established nests were removed from utility poles along the Rail Road tracks before the birds returned this year. Now we are watching them take up residence on some of the new platforms we put up for them. We have had a report that our recently erected platform on Continental marsh has seen some activity, but that the Osprey have chosen to return to their nest in the trees.
This Bullfrog emerged from hibernation to find some interlopers at the edge of the pond.

Temperature matters

Some things happen in response to temperature: blossoming of certain plants when the temps warm up. My Quince bush began to blossom but then dropped all the partly opened blooms in the cold snap. I know there have been no Hummingbirds in the area that rely on the nectar, and now I wonder if there will be enough for them when they come back at the end of the month. Other fruit-bearing trees and shrubs may have been impacted adversely if their buds froze, or if pollination didn’t occur during the cold period. We may not know the impact of that until later in the season when we, and the birds, are looking for fruits and berries.
Quince bloomed very early with the warmth, then dropped the blossoms.

Woodland wildflowers like this Bloodroot are blooming.

And then some things just keep on marching along: the invasive plants green up earliest, the ticks are out and we are beginning our spring stewardship efforts again.
But the beautiful greens are showing, woodland wildflowers are budding, the great Blue Herons have returned to their nests at Henne, Robins are pulling worms out of the softened ground, and it makes everything seem all right.
Herons have returned to Henne Preserve. 

Toads trill in vernal pools. Photograph by Bruce Fellman.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan unless otherwise indicated.

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