by Dr. Oakleigh Thorne, II
I love to see, hear, and smell the coming of spring each year. If you are sensitive to nature, as I am, you see signs of spring that start as early as January, like the days getting longer. It is usually the birds that give the first audio signs. It is the lengthening of days that starts their breeding hormones flowing and gives them the urge to sing. I might hear a Song Sparrow singing in a marsh area, or a House Finch warbling from a treetop. Later in the spring I always hear American Robins “sounding off” to claim their territories and attract a mate. It is the male that does the singing, not the female. This is true with most birds.
In February the crocuses are blooming, and later, the daffodils and tulips begin to pop their heads out of the ground. It is interesting that some kinds of flower bulbs grow and appear sooner than others. This is particularly true on the south side of a building in the sun. It has what we call a warmer microclimate compared to the shady north side. Tulips are usually the last of the bulb flowers to bloom.
In March you might notice that Red-winged Blackbirds are beginning to appear in swamp areas, singing their distinctive “oak-a-leeee” call. I like to think they are singing my name! You should take your iPod out of your ear, go outside, and listen for these various bird songs. Then try to spot and identify the kind of bird that is singing. You might even get a copy of a bird book that has both the pictures and songs of the birds that have been recorded by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. You can get a similar application for your iPhone. This can become a fun activity for the whole family.
Another swamp sound to listen for later in the spring is the call of chorus frogs. It is similar to the sound of running you finger along a hair comb. When a lot of these frogs join together in song, it indeed makes a chorus; thus their name. You may also begin to hear some other kinds of frogs giving their distinctive calls.
As spring progresses, notice the buds on the bushes and trees in your yard, neighborhood park, or school yard. They will begin to swell in size, and some may even change color. One of the earliest bushes to bloom is Forsythia. It has beautiful bright yellow flowers. Then later you may see wild plum and apple trees begin to bloom. I love the smell of these blossoms!
One of my favorite kind of bird appears in late April or early May. They are the swallows, especially Barn, Tree, and Cliff Swallows. All swallows eat flying insects. That is why they migrate south before winter and return again in the spring. There must be flying insects present in order for these birds to survive. The swallows are followed by other kinds of migratory birds such as orioles, tanagers, vireos, and warblers. They are called “neotropical species” because they migrate south to warmer climates in the fall and return back here in the spring.
I hope you will enjoy the spring as I do by getting outside and using all your senses to see what you can discover. This will certainly bring you closer to nature!
Dr. Thorne is founder and honorary president of Thorne Ecological Institute in Boulder. They have helped “connect kids to nature” for more than 55 years. For more information about Thorne Natural Science School classes for children, check www.thornenature.org or e-mail email@example.com or call (303) 499-3647.