For all of us that have grown up with northern winters, there is no excuse. Spring always follows winter no matter how hard that winter was. We “know” this as fact but we don’t trust it. Unfortunately we cannot forget the year 1816. In that year Spring never actually arrived and the deadly summer that followed was the coldest on record. Crops failed and the grim reaper enjoyed global business. Perhaps because of this, we still harbor annual doubts that spring will arrive. Right about now, as we are being hammered by multiple February storms, we are left to ponder if it will ever end. Perhaps history will repeat itself and we’ll be faced with a year when even teenagers can’t wear shorts.
I am here to say that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and that it’s not a train. The steps towards Spring have already begun and unless they are de-railed …oops, poor choice of words…let’s say thwarted by the climate gods, then the seasonal progression is inevitable. I don’t have a crystal ball or possess any special powers (although I did make a balloon pop by looking at it once) – nature has bent my ear.
One week ago, the first Red-winged Blackbird of the season arrived from the sunny south. Unlike many robins and bluebirds which stay all winter, nearly all Red-wings migrate. So, when they show up around Valentine’s Day they are the first true migrants of Spring. The black and red males arrive about a month ahead of the females. Not needing to ask for directions, they arrive promptly and immediately begin to stake out their territories.
I watched this bird for a short while as it explored the brown landscape. Even though I have way too many Red-wing shots, I followed him with my camera lens. I thought the chance to get a shot of the first bird of spring was worth pursuing. He picked his way to the upper branches of a hawthorn tree and acted as if he was going to take flight. Just as a shaft of sunlight broke through the clouds, however, he lifted his head, fluffed out his feathers, and belted out a slightly weak, but confident, challenge. “Oak-a-lee-ahh” he said : “I am back!”
I clicked my shot as a reaction to his surprising call, so my resulting photo was not the best Red-wing shot ever. But, I captured this clarion call of spring (see below). His was the first breath of Spring that will inevitably lead to many more as one season ends and the other begins. His single call went unanswered for the balance of the day due to the lack of any other males in the vicinity. But, the ice had been broken, you could say. I wonder if the Red-wings ever had a chance to do this in 1816?
Yesterday, a small flock of newly arrived Red-wings were filling the air with their bubbling calls. While this will become mundane and common within a few short weeks, I reveled in it. Mixed in with the Red-wings, the winter robins were doing something that they hadn’t done for months. They were singing. I don’t mean their “chuck,chuck” call, I mean their warbling spring call. A cardinal, perched high on a Cottonwood, was belting out his “real-la-tee” call. A few days ago I heard the cackles of a few Sandhill Cranes around Brooklyn, Michigan and a Killdeer was heard somewhere off in the distance.
Of course, all of this forecasting isn’t limited to the birds. You will recall that the Fox Squirrels have already concluded their round of early mating. The sap is now beginning to run in the Sugar and Red Maples. Their buds, even when coated in a layer of ice, are swelling ever so slightly. What do they know that we keep forgetting? Spring is not to be rushed. It will arrive in its own sweet time and not a moment sooner.
All signs point to 2011 and not 1816 – at least for one more year.