Nature notes: has spring arrived?

It’s Tuesday and the temperature is supposed to soar to 28° — this is a significant rise above normal temperatures of 11° for this time of the year. The “heat wave” plus humidity is expected to return to normal on Saturday… but who knows what will happen? More than one Pontiac resident has noted that out west a cold front has deposited several centimetres of snow in Edmonton… will we be next?

Who can tell? All we know is that the vagaries of temperature last month plunged us into wintertime in March. Could we get more snow? Yes.

However, while the weather is good, this week, why don’t you take to the backroads, go for a hike, a bicycle ride, horseback ride — or do anything you can to get active in the fresh air so you can celebrate the signs of spring.


From a distance, as you drive, bike, ride or hike the backroads, look at the woods. (This is particularly effective along Highway 148, where you can look north to the wooded Eardley Escarpment.) From this perspective, you will see that our Pontiac woods are beginning to show off what I call their “springtime blush” of green and red. This is because of the swelling buds that are almost ready to burst forth with the softness of new growth. This “look” or “blush” only occurs at this time of the year, and it lends a velvety look to the forest.

When you enter inside the woods, take some time out to pause.

Stand still and listen: do you hear that drumming? It’s the sound of the male grouse calling a female. If you’re fortunate, you’ll see him, his tail stiffly fanned out rather like a male turkey. At dusk, listen for the nasal sounding “tzeet, tzeet” call of the woodcock. And soon, very soon, we’ll all be hearing the whip-poor-will’s call.

Stand still and breathe deeply: can you detect the smell of the moist earth?

Stand still and look: examine this cathedral-like world about you. Over there is the vivid emerald green of mosses, recently released from their snowy cover. Study the forest floor and note that its flatness, created by the weight of the snow, is beginning to lessen. As new growth pushes up from the earth, the dead leaves part, revealing the shoots of hepatica and, soon, spring beauties and trilliums.

Look some more: the wild ginger is not yet in leaf, but its buds are swelling and perhaps by this time next week, the fuzzy heart-shaped leaves will be visible. Before too long we can check for its tiny brown-purple flower which rests on the soil’s surface.

And everywhere in our woods, look and listen for woodpeckers, drilling trees not only for food but also creating their nest holes.


In the pastureland along the Steele Line, meadowlarks are singing, pairs of northern harriers are flying low over the land looking for voles and mice, and overhead wires show the hunched silhouettes of kestrels searching for their prey, too.

Soon the bluebirds will return. In fact, take a look: have you already seen some of these birds? They ought to have been back for a while now.

To the south of the Steele Line, thousands of migratory Canada geese have been using my neighbours fields as their annual landing strip. They fly in in their thousands, spend a day or so here to rest, regroup, and eat before flying north.

As pleasant a sound and sight as I might think they are, their numbers are daunting for farmers. While horseback riding along the Murray and Proven lines, I couldn’t help reflect upon how much damage these migrants must do to seeded crops. What is the estimated loss, I wonder, of crop to these birds? I remember travelling with Eric in Australia. We marveled at flocks of exotic looking (to us) cockatoos, “marching” through a farmer’s field, rooting for food. They were gorgeous: their white bodies and yellow crests gleamed in the sun. But, after chatting with one of the ranchers there, we were soon educated on the damage their curved beaks and feet do to the crops.


Not only are the red-wing blackbirds perched on last season’s bulrushes, declaring their territory. The chorus of frogs can now also be heard, as is the whirring overhead display of the snipe.

Last weekend, Eric spotted a dark shape perched upon a platform of ice on our pond. We both crept closer, expecting a muskrat but instead discovered a river otter. The three of us surveyed one another for several moments, then it sleekly slipped into the water. A ripple, and then he was gone.

Minnows dart about underwater: soon we’ll be seeing turtles sunning themselves on logs.

Further upstream, dark green leaves protrude from the water. It’s the marsh marigolds, and soon they’ll be a gorgeous display of gold. In blossom right now are the pussy willows, shining their silvery hue, while catkins are showing off their emerald green to yellow colours.


Meanwhile, other “domesticated” blooms are doing their thing. My snowdrops have been blossoming for almost a week underneath the shelter of the lilac bush, while crocus are a pretty show of violet and gold. Tulips are thrusting above the soil, daffodils are threatening to flower soon — and cowslips are showing chubby buds, too.

Yes, spring has finally arrived. From now on, we’ll see wave upon wave of returning migrants ready to set up their nests.

It’s time to clean out any nest boxes you have. Remove old nest material, before a new occupant claims residence.


Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer who telecommutes from her century home north of Quyon, Québec.