The bird, mammal and flower sightings I’ve been hearing about put me in mind of something I wrote in one of my books.

Unmistakable Signs

“Every April we eagerly seek signs of spring. We cruise along roads that bare up earliest, looking for wildflowers: orogenia, spring beauty, sage buttercup, yellow fritillary, violets.

One of the perennial wonders of a high-altitude Rocky Mountain spring, to me, is the ability — if not the overpowering urge and capability — of plants to grow and flower immediately next to a bank of snow. Chlorophyll photosynthesis seems to be in the same league as gravity: irresistible. A regime of zero-degree nights and abundant snow cover notwithstanding, grasses green up and grow, wildflowers bloom, treed buds enlarge, and willows are sap-filled and supple wherever a bare patch of earth is warmed by the increasingly strong and prolonged hours of spring sunlight.

All it takes is the sun slipping behind a cloud or my entering a tree’s shadow to appreciate the force of spring sun. My switch from heat receptacle to heat radiator is immediate, sudden and self-explanatory. Looking for wildflowers is a wonderful excuse to stay in the open.

Responding to the sun, to the increasingly supply of photons, to lengthening days, male mountain bluebirds have returned, picking off insects that have also responded to bare ground and flowering plants. Tree swallows are anticipated; any day now some lucky observer will spot this harbinger of spring. Osprey are already sitting on nest trees; we welcome the sigh of a long-billed curlew as it crosses an irrigation ditch.

But it’s just April. By midafternoon a bank of clouds obscures the sun and it’s suddenly cold.

No doubt about it: cold.

By the time we get to the post office, pick up a grocery item or two and get home, it’ll be cocktail time.

There are advantages to retirement. It may not be all skittles and beer, but a chance to look for wildflowers and wildlife on a whim isn’t one of the negatives.

Field Notes: Local, unmistakable signs of spring are appearing.

Diane Birsall saw a female long-haired owl April 17 on Henry’s Road in a chokecherry bush. Joe Burke saw 12 to 15 white pelicans flying high on April 15 over town at the end of East Bros Ventre Butte and nine turkey vultures kettling over Flat Creek.

De Hunter reported a white robin on April 20 in Jackson. Franz Camenzind saw a garter snake on April 16.

Chislers are out and making observations plentiful around the valley.

A meadowlark was spotted April 18 on Antelope Flats by Frances Clark. On April 20 the Oxbow Bend area yielded a loon, nine bald eagles, two pairs of greater scaups and 51 white pelicans, as reported by Frances Clark and Bernie McHugh.

Franz reported April 21 that tree swallows have returned. As have two long-billed curlews seen in the Elk Ranch meadows.

Eagles are plentiful and nesting. Many reports of northern harriers in the valley.

Frances said the marmots have returned to the greens at Jackson Hole Golf and Tennis; and several, including Franz Camenzind, Dick Collister and Earle Layser, have noted elk are leaving the refuge, following the receding snowmen north.

Spring flowers are also staging a comeback: oreginia on the Stilson path, seen by Susan Marsh and Frances Clark on April 15. Sage buttercups were shining in the bright April 19 sun along the Jenny lake Loop, Mary Lohuis reported.

It seems there are fewer reports this year of Canada geese usurping the osprey platforms. Can you corroborate with your observations?

Keep a sharp eye. Tomorrow may be winter or it may be summer.

Bert Raynes writes weekly on whatever suits his fancy with a dash of news on nature. Contact him at columnists@jhnewsandguide.com.

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