Poets sometimes refer to the “awakening Earth.” Lesser writers discuss the arrival of certain signs of spring: emerging plants, budding trees, melting ponds and rivers, insects, the return of migrant birds.
Less emotional humans think it’s time to put winter clothes away for now. Get ready for warm weather.
One universal reaction by nearly all folks: pleased at seeing the first chipmunk, sage buttercups, red-winged blackbird, mourning cloak butterfly (brown with yellow edges), osprey, robin.
Many a birdwatcher, casual observer, beginner, nature watcher, experienced or proclaimed expert anticipates these returning signs with a certain joy. That little bird has come back after months in someplace, depending on the species, 200 miles south or on the other hand several thousands of miles, and got back to this particular spot. (Assuming this spot is still there.)
Some returners are more obvious to our eyes than others. Take ospreys, whose nests in the Hole basically line the river corridors. There is a kind of order to the osprey returnings: Pairs don’t travel together. Males presumably return a few days before their females do. And in some order: Nests in the southern part of the valley are occupied sooner than nests situated along still-frozen lake edges. Along highways 22 and 390, even, there seems to be a certain arrival schedule, according to my irregular observations.
It’ll take some observations by Nature Mappers — that’s you or could be you. Your individual notes can establish that piece of spring behavior. No one can safely predict what his or her information can reveal about ospreys, but that’s part of the allure of all study. Of citizen science.
So here’s a challenge to citizen scientists of Nature Mapping Jackson Hole.
Here’s a list of nine birds and one mammal that winter elsewhere and come back here to breed. Record the first days in spring you welcome them. The First of the Year birds (and mammal), or FOY:
• Robin• Red-winged blackbird• Tree swallow• Violet green swallow• Red-tailed hawk• Osprey• Mountain bluebird• Western tanager• Yellow-headed blackbird• Uinta ground squirrel
Don’t stop there. Get ’em all. The kestrel, the long-billed curlew, the Western peewee, American white pelican.
I’m aiming this most particularly at trained volunteer Nature Mappers but very much also at everyone. On the Net, got to NatureMappingJH.org or phone your sighting to the Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation line: 307-734-0968.
Local resident and skilled nature observer Louise Lasley offered an essay on the stress moose endure in spring. Moose shed their winter coats, often in patches, yet are hosts to ticks — sometimes tens of thousands on a single animal. The moose will look and feel awful. I hope to print Louise’s piece next week.
Try not to add to stress on moose; large as they are, moose are at peril from stress and can die from it. Spring weather is a challenge to all wildlife. Go easy on ’em.
Field Notes: Sometimes I stare at aspen tress for long periods of time. For far briefer periods I look at cottonwood trees or a shrub or willow. Depends on whether I’m in a chair or a vehicle and no, I’m not copycatting an O’Henry story. Right now aspen buds are opening, cottonwood buds are enlarging and color is infusing willow branches. I’m looking spring in the eyes.
Another way to welcome spring into your world is to welcome migrant birds on their return (and report them). Osprey returnees were noticed and appreciated by lots of folks, beginning April 1: Hank Phibbs, Frances Clark, Susan Patla, Mary Lohuis, Bru Wicks, many others. Those were single ospreys. The first pair noticed, FOY, was on a Skyline nest Friday (Mary Lohuis).
FOYs in the last two weeks include mountain bluebirds, meadowlarks, kestrels, tree swallows, sandhill cranes, northern shrikes.
One can include the butterflies that emerge as hibernating adults on balmy days and especially the FOY spring flowers, like sage buttercup and oregenia. Actually, Roman Kravetsky spied a first sage buttercup on April 2, and Garrett Seal saw one the next day.
Big mammals are on the move: elk leaving the National Elk Refuge, bison, deer, bear. Ground squirrels have begun to awaken (Louise Haberfeld); some chipmunks.
Should you want more winter, head upslope. Plenty there. And remember, April showers make mud.
© Bert Raynes 2013
Bert Raynes writes weekly on whatever suits his fancy with a dash of news on nature and its many ways.
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