Saturday, March 24, 2012

An Early Spring

The past two weeks have been glorious, with sunshine and unseasonably warm temperatures every day. This extended period of warmth seems to have moved spring a little earlier. Even before spring officially started on March 20, birds were singing in the morning, short-distance migrant birds began showing up in the region, flowers of all sorts began blossoming, and even the earliest insects are out and about enjoying the early nectar sources.

Even a month ago, a small avian dawn chorus was present before the sun peaked over the horizon. Consisting of the cheery song of the Northern Cardinal and the repeated whistled notes of a Tufted Titmouse, the morning song was present, but hardly exciting. However, when I woke up this morning, I was treated to a wonderful selection of birds. The cardinals and titmice are still voicing their notes, but Field and Song Sparrows, an Eastern Towhee, and a small gathering of American Robins have joined in.

The Red Maples (Acer rubrum) are in full bloom in the woods, the flowers, either red, orange, or yellowish, fill the once gray, wintry woods. Although it is still March, and we are just entering in to spring, the butterflies are already taking advantage of this abundant nectar source. The classic early-spring butterfly, the Mourning Cloak gathers on the sunlit trees with the most flowers. These abundant harbingers of spring are often accompanied by other species. Over the past week, I have seen brightly colored Eastern Commas and even a brilliant blue Lucia Azure (Celastrina lucia, see here for more information on this genus) joining their somber-colored cousins.

While on a walk through the woods with my dog yesterday afternoon, I spotted a small patch of green that was away from any early-leafing non-native shrubs. The soft green color was the freshly emerged leaves on a Black-haw (Viburnum prunifolium), a native shrub that will be blooming and attracting butterflies in only a few months. Further down the trail, I spotted the yellow flowers of Spicebush (Lindera benzoin), an common early-blooming shrub of wet wood habitats. Spring has officially started, even though it maybe be a few weeks earlier than usual!

As a final note, if you are out enjoying the beautiful weather after dark, don't forget to look up and enjoy the two most visible planets in the nighttime sky, Venus and Jupiter:

Venus (top) and Jupiter (bottom) in the sky not long after sunset.

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