Signs of Spring

In March nature pushes against the shackles of winter, and then bursts free with birdsong and butterflies.

March 3, 2022 | | Notes from the Wild

In March we welcome signs that winter is on the wane – patches of grass, dripping icicles, swelling maple buds.

And robins, of course. Birders know that some robins overwinter Headwaters, hunkering down in sheltered stream valleys where they sip from open water and forage for grapes and other fruit.

American robin. Photo by Don Scallen.

American robin. Photo by Don Scallen.

Song sparrow. Photo by Don Scallen.

Song sparrow. Photo by Don Scallen.

Red-winged blackbird. Photo by Don Scallen.

Red-winged blackbird. Photo by Don Scallen.

But in early spring they return to our yards. Their cheerful voices coincide with the pungent scent of thawing earth and the trickle of meltwater from shrinking snow drifts.  

Spring’s advance is also heralded by a host of other animals and plants that make their appearance in March. Here’s a few to watch for.

Early migrating song sparrows and red-winged blackbirds will be calling in our yards and wilder environs by the end of the month. Song sparrows sing pleasant melodies from perches in brushy tangles and red-wings sing “o-ka-lay” atop last year’s cattails.

Groundhogs will emerge after five months of slumber in the chilling dark of subterranean chambers, to feel the caress of the springtime sun and nibble on tender greens pushing out of the ground.

Mourning cloaks, eastern commas and Compton tortoiseshell butterflies, like groundhogs, also spend winter in suspended animation. A walk in the woods on a warm March day will find them aflutter, re-energized and seeking mates.

In vernal pools wood frogs will be quacking before the end of the month, having survived winter’s cold by flooding their veins with glucose, a biological antifreeze.

Groundhog. Photo by Don Scallen.

Groundhog. Photo by Don Scallen.

Mourning Cloak butterfly. Photo by Don Scallen.

Mourning Cloak butterfly. Photo by Don Scallen.

Eastern comma. Photo by Don Scallen.

Eastern comma. Photo by Don Scallen.

Compton tortoiseshell, one of the earliest butterflies to be seen in spring. Photo by Don Scallen.

Compton tortoiseshell, one of the earliest butterflies to be seen in spring. Photo by Don Scallen.

Plants will be stirring as well, including a botanical marvel called skunk cabbage that uses chemical alchemy to generate snow-melting heat. The temperature of skunk cabbage flowers can soar an astonishing 15C or more above ambient air temperatures.

In March nature pushes against the shackles of winter, and then bursts free with birdsong and butterflies.

Wood frogs mating and wood frog eggs. Photo by Don Scallen.

Wood frogs mating and wood frog eggs. Photo by Don Scallen.

Skunk Cabbage. Photo by Don Scallen.

Skunk Cabbage. Photo by Don Scallen.

About the Author More by Don Scallen

Don Scallen enjoys sharing his love of nature through his writing and presentations. Check out his blog "Notes from the Wild".

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