The cycles of nature
May is the great spring month in this part of the world. Our landscape is shades of brown, with only scattered pines, hemlocks and spruces to give the hills color during late March and April. During May our valleys and hills blossom with color. It begins in the Allegheny River Valley, then the valleys of the major river tributaries. By June even the highest elevations are rich greens accented by beautiful wildflowers along the tiny brooks, wetlands and forest edges.
This year I almost lost May due to a striper fishing trip to southern Virginia, where the weather was weeks ahead of ours. After returning, a conversation with wife, Jeri, gave me back the month. I borrow her words for a reminder about the miracles of May.
Spring is the rebirth and awakening of nature. It can be seen everywhere. In your gardens you first see the crocuses, then the daffodils and tulips, the bushes starting to get their leaves. Soon the iris and lilies will start to bloom. By June the roses will begin their glorious show.
It’s the same with the wilds.
One of the first flowers to be seen is the coltsfoot. These bright yellow little flowers are often seen along roadways. Pussy willows quietly make their appearance next and then skunk cabbage. The trout lily with their bright yellow blooms are coming on now. A careful look at this six inch plant is really worth stooping to its level. Bushes and grasses are all starting their emergence in haste.
Yes, you can observe the blossoms of our yards, but, nature has such a vast variety to be discovered. It truly would be a shame to miss it. This is the best time to see what the woods really has living in it. It comes in stages just as your flower gardens do. Soon the ferns will start. But, there aren’t just a few species. Much of the differences can be seen as they emerge from the soil. The appearances are very subtle but quite different. Some come up with scrolled tops that will slowly uncurl. Others come up and then flare out. Trillium flowers bloom in a variety of colors. Quite often they will be seen sharing nearby ground. Some rare gifts to be seen are flowers like the jack-in-the-pulpit. Just look don’t pick these gems.
The changes in animals are also visible as spring comes. The beaks of starlings will change back to yellow after being black for the winter to conserve heat. The goldfinches start getting their bright yellow plumage for the warm season to come. The bear, chipmunk and groundhog come out of their winter slumber. You can start seeing the frantic work of the critters building nests and their mating rituals. Some of the birds of prey start mating as early as January. But, with the many bird species in our area, raising young will largely begin much later and will last for months. Some species, like the robin, can raise multiple batches of offspring in a single season.
The sounds of spring are also different. Mating calls, baby birds chirping for their food, and sounds of insects begin to build. A true sign of spring for me is hearing the peepers in the evening.
Then, there are the smells. The surprising trace of honeysuckle in the air and the other flowers. Even grasses add to the aroma of the warm season.
The changes that are seen in the spring are so dramatic, it would be a crime to miss the adventure. Sharing it with others, especially the young, opens their eyes to the wonders that can only be experienced while the world is waking up. It gives the observers the true picture of what really lives in the woods before the small plants are diminished or crowded out by the large ground cover that will take over the woods for the rest of the growing season.
Taking the time to soak in the changes of the wildlife will wake up your senses. Make it a point to take walks about once a week and you will be amazed how quickly things change. Much of it you will miss if you just wait until everything is all green.
Jeri wanted to add that you might enjoy keeping a nature log during spring, noting the things you observe and the dates things happen.
After doing this for a few years, you begin noticing annual patterns. You notice how and why dates may vary if you add weather patterns in the notes.
If you are a fly fisher, your notes can give you a guideline for choosing flies. This information is available in books, but it is more satisfying to learn from your own observations. Watch how certain hatches can vary from year to year, and from stream to stream, yet they fit into a regional pattern.
Be sure to carry binoculars and a birding field guide. Watch for migrating warblers, which are among the most colorful birds that can be seen in Warren County. (Also a pleasant pastime while hunting spring gobblers.)