Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Spring has Sprung

Nature Watch

By Susan Thurn,
Cable Natural History Museum

I had a headache today. It burned and made teaching fourth graders much more difficult. The headache wasn’t from the teaching, however. Nor was it from a cold that's been pestering me. It was a change in the weather that made it that way, a change in the barometer that makes my sinuses go mad. It was a sign of spring on its way that lifted my spirits in spite of the pain.

We are approaching the spring equinox, March 21, labeled one of the great solar celebrations of the year. It is the time in which day and night are nearly equal, and about to tip over to the light. Daylight will continue to lengthen, and is also just one of the precursors that spring is on its way. There are many other things in nature that will be happening now and in the next few weeks in which we can look for.

Right now, according to mom’s report from the feeder, the American goldfinch is returning to its bright, brilliant colors. As they lose their feathers, or molt, the goldfinch gains the yellow plumage in the male. The color is produced by carotenoid pigments such as beta-carotene that come from their spring plant diet, important when they are replacing their contour, colorful feathers.

Tree sap will begin to flow as our days get warmer. The sugar maples will become a source of future delight that we can taste from its syrup.
Chickadees also begin their spring mating call, which sounds more like a “fee-bee” sound than the typical “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” song we are used to hearing throughout the rest of the year.

Ruffed grouse begin their drumming that will continue into May. Male grouse begin declaring their “property rights,” or territory, by beating their wings against the air to make a thunderous drumming sound. The drummers stand on a log or mound as they beat their wings to protect their home range up to ten acres.

Large mixed flocks with male red-winged blackbirds will soon be migrating back. We’ll most likely hear them in trees or wetlands as they chatter with one of the first spring bird songs.

Woodcock also return for their spring courtship display that the male uses to attract females. The males begin their song and dance at sunset, in a field or clearing. He sings out, calling repeated “peents,” followed by an occasional bobbing of his head, a turn, and a repeat of the dance again while broadcasting his song in different directions. They then fly upward into the sky in a wide spiral, moving higher and higher. As he gets higher, the male’s wings whistle, creating a “twittering” sound. Finally they begin their descent downward, zig-zagging back and forth, down to the ground without a sound.

If spring fever has any of us in its grip, it is time to get outdoors! Walk, whether down the road or in your own forested back yard. There are many exciting signs that spring is on its way for us to see and enjoy!

For over 42 years, the Museum has served as a guide and mentor to generations of visitors and residents interested in learning to better appreciate and care for the extraordinary natural resources of the region. The Museum invites you to visit its facility and exhibit, On Lake Owen: The Art of Walter Bohl, in Cable at 13470 County Highway M. Also find us on the web at to learn more about our exhibits and programs. Also discover us on the web at, on Facebook, or at our blogspot, to learn more about our exhibits and programs.

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