Thereâ€™s so many little things happening. And they all shout â€œSpringâ€!
A few days ago I went to a ploughed field just outside York that had been covered with snow a week ago but now was half bare with the dark clods showing through. Mixed among the exposed earth mounds was a flock of over 100 Snow Buntings, perhaps 40-50 Horned Larks and maybe 10 Lapland Longspurs. I had been hoping to trap and band 21 of the buntings to bring our Winter total up to 1,000. But although we put the traps out on snow patches, and although the birds flew around the traps checking out the cut corn bait, we only managed to trap 6 in 4 hours. They were too busy searching the exposed earth for goodies. [Interestingly, the fat loads on the 6 we did catch were pretty low suggesting that they are not ready yet to make a major move toward their breeding grounds.] A few of the males were in their bright black and white breeding plumage, having lost any vestiges of their brown Winter (or â€œbasicâ€) plumage.
The Horned Larks, which begin to show up in larger and larger numbers toward the end of the Winter, were quite noticeable with some indulging in chases suggesting that hormones are beginning to course through their veins.
And the Lapland Longspurs that I saw were all males and on their way to moulting into their breeding plumage.
Two nights ago I went to Ruthven to fill the feeders. High overhead was the constellation Orion hunting across the skies. This star group I remember remarking on (several times in fact) in writings from the Fall when it was overhead when I first arrived before sunrise to open the nets. Before you know it we wonâ€™t see Orion until the Fall.
The sun is much higher in the sky and its effects on the fields are really noticeable â€“ eating away the snow pack, exposing ground and the remains of farmersâ€™ crops that had been snow-covered just a week ago. Consequently the skies are filled now with Canada Geese and Mallard Ducks reeling over the fields, checking them out for predators before landing to feed on missed or spilled grain and corn.
And long ago I was taught that this was â€œmaple syrupâ€ weather: relatively warm days with the sun shining on the tree trunks and cold nights â€“ ideal conditions for getting the sap running. And if this week continues the way it has (and itâ€™s supposed to) then we should have a pretty good local maple syrup crop.
So put these things all together and what do you have? For me, itâ€™s expectation, anxious expectation. The feeling that those first migrants will soon be here: Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Grackles, maybe even a precocious Killdeer. With temperatures of 10 and 12 degrees forecast for Saturday and Sunday respectively, Iâ€™m sure these birds are going to show up.
I think Iâ€™ll go out this weekend, put out a few traps, put up a couple of nets and watch the Spring migration start to happen.