Spring is here

Every day there is a new arrival or event to celebrate. Along with field sparrows and the common yellowthroat, I heard one of my favorite birds today, the phoebe. Though its color is an indistinct gray, there’s no mistaking its telltale call of its name, “phoe-beeee!” Bird watching would be so much easier if all birds were as accommodating, I think.

There was another very welcome call not too far from my home. Though I couldn’t see them, there was no doubt that sandhill cranes were in the marsh. Standing nearly 3 feet tall, these birds are quite impressive. They also have a unique mating ritual, involving calls and dancing. It is quite the show too to see these gangly-looking birds do the dance. One of the most memorable moments I’ve had in bird watching was observing a pre-dawn dance on a misty morning. Incredible!

Spring is also putting on a show in the woods. Bloodroot was in bloom today. This plant is fascinating on many levels. Bloodroot is found in rich, undisturbed woods. Undisturbed is the key as it takes 10 years before the blooms appear. It is also appropriately named. The stem when broken oozes a reddish orange sap. Native American used it for dying and as a face paint. The plant was also used as a love charm. One only had to put some of the sap on one’s hand and then shake the hand of their beloved. Marriage follows in 5-6 days.

Bloodroot was also used medicinally. The sap would be put on a lump of sugar for use as a cough medicine. This must be where the saying “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down…” comes from. As with much of the folklore, there is a bit of truth in its uses. Compounds derived from the plant have showed antiseptic, anesthetic, and anti-cancer activity. In any case, it’s such a pretty flower, with its showy white flowers and a treat to find in the woods.

We also noticed bedstraw coming up on the trail. Bedstraw was once used to stuff pillows and mattresses. The plants have an unusual sticky quality that keeps the plants in tight bunches. Now just another of the many understory plants, at one time, it was used by cheese makers to curdle milk. Its fruit was used as a coffee substitute and tea made from it, to treat skin diseases.

Spring is such a wonderful time of the year here in the North Country and the perfect time to get in touch with Nature.

Signs of Spring

No doubt about it now. Spring is well underway. Noticing more and more vernal-like events and behavior. Hepatica was blooming on the trail today. The flowers were the most delicate, absolutely beautiful shade of violet. The flowers almost appeared grateful for the sun as I lifted their heads up. The three-lobed leaves of this spring wildflower were its particular “doctrine of signatures”; resembling the liver to some eyes and thus being a sign from above that hepatica should be used for the treatment of liver aliments.

Elsewhere on the trail, the ospreys are in earnest preparing their nests. We often see them soaring overhead. Their flight is lower than many hawks. They also tend to “wander” a bit more in flight. On this day one of the pair was soaring overhead of us, passing back and forth. Undoubtedly, we had been perceived as a potential threat and worthy of surveillance. It’s an eerie feeling walking the trail and looking down and noticing the shadow of this large bird passing overhead.

On the flipside, we ventured out onto the lake this past weekend. Ice out was declared last week. The weather was sunny. A friend who just purchased his first boat was anxious to be on the water. After trying to find a landing with docks installed, we launched the boat. We had the distinction of being the first boat on the lake and were applauded by a man installing his own dock.

Now having not dealt with this phenomenon of “ice out”, the appearance of the lake can be deceptive. You think, okay, the water’s open. Let’s get on the boat. The thing that someone not originally from Minnesota would not count on would be on cold a breeze blowing over water with lingering ice can get even on a sunny day. The one thing I’ve learned about Minnesota is that it’s best to take your time. Let the lake warm up a bit. Give the earth a chance to thaw before planting those flowers. Just because it looks warm and inviting, it may still need some time. We know that now, but the guy we saw water-skiing that day probably had a different idea.

A Different World

In the space of a few days, the 18+ inches of snow we had has melted in the span of just a few days, leaving a brown landscape in its wake. The ice on the lake has been changing colors from gray to steel blue and has taken on an odd honeycombed appearance. The wind blows just a little warmer. The sun stays out just a bit longer. A change is in store and none too soon for some.

Every day there is a new spring event or arrival of a spring migrant. We’ve spotted hooded and common mergansers on our bay. The hooded merganser is truly a beautiful bird, quite the contrast to the female common merganser, which reminds me of someone just getting up, with their hair all mussed. Courtship is going on in earnest with the mallards, with lots of splashing and squawking going on in the water. The mornings are now filled with the song of chipping sparrows chip-chipping away as well as the cry of gulls flying overhead.

We went walking in a local park to immerse ourselves more into the change of seasons. Bluebird houses, numbered and doors now closed, flank the trail. We’ve been seeing the bluebirds for some days now, but their behavior has changed from bachelor groups of birds flitting around in the bushes to one of male birds staking out their territories. We spied a few birds perched on their houses, claiming their stake. Tree swallows have also returned now. We witnessed more than one fierce altercation between rival males intent on the same birdhouse. Their stunning aerial acrobats are fascinating to watch. The return of the swallows does portend another return that I am not as anxious for–the return of the bugs. We have some weeks yet for the mosquitoes, so in the meantime, we can enjoy the return of the birds.

Another in the series of vernal events has occurred with the departure of the juncos. Robins are now more likely to be seen hopping on the ground and in low brush. I’m always surprised at how pleasant their song is when it first fills the air upon their return. I can’t help but smile at seeing the male strutting across the ground, his bright rusty chest puffed up and sticking out. It was a good winter, but now I have to admit that I’m ready for spring too.