|Red-winged Blackbirds start singing on territory in late February|
He was so right. As the earth tilts toward the sun, the soil softens, the worms start turning, tree sap runs freely, birds are suddenly singing, and spring showers create a frenzy of fresh green growth. There's an almost palpable gathering of energy as many species of animals and plants prepare for another season of renewal and reproduction.
|American Robin in Pussy Willow|
Real spring is much more complex than the date of the spring equinox. For many, spring arrives with their first robin sighting. For others, when hyacinths and crocus bloom in their gardens. For those who spend time in nature and have come to understand the patterns of nature, spring may mean the first singing Red-winged Blackbirds and the calls of courting Red-necked Grebes in February, or perhaps when Snowdrops and Skunk Cabbage push up through a crust of melting snow (typically March). With changing, more extreme weather patterns, these signposts can vary widely. Many species are having to alter their migration patterns, and some have adapted to our milder winters, failing to migrate at all. Boreal species are shifting north with the warming temperatures, while more southern birds are expanding their range north as well.
|Red-necked Grebes usually return to traditional nest sites in late February|
|Displaying Red-winged Blackbird|
Hawks and owls are already incubating eggs or young, and chickadees and woodpeckers are hollowing out nest holes in trees long before the first green leaves appear.
|Black-capped Chickadee excavating nest, April|
|Female Brown Cowbirds lay their eggs in the nests of sometimes much |
smaller songbirds, forcing the host to become a foster parent to the huge nestlings
|Mixed blackbird flock in a cornfield in southwestern Ontario, 28 March|
|Song Sparrow amid spring buds|
|Beaver-nibbled dogwoods seem to glow in very early spring|
|Dekay's Brownsnake on trail|
|Eastern Gartersnake peeking above the leaf litter in April|
|Woolly Bear caterpillar, larval stage of the Isabella Tiger Moth|
Brown Creepers, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, and Golden-crowned Kinglets seem to appear overnight in mixed flocks, especially in the evergreens of the "Bowl". Sometimes the trees seem to be full of kinglets and creepers and their soft calls.
|Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (male)|
As the air warms up, insects start flying, especially midges, harmless mosquito-like insects that hatch in huge numbers from the lakes in spring. A readily available insect diet allows a few more migrants to filter in through mid- to late April: Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Eastern Phoebes, Savannah Sparrows, and even Tree Swallows.
By now, fresh new life is bursting out all over. Fresh, bright, lime-green shoots and buds begin to unfurl. Many trees and shrubs come into flower before the leaves sprout, attracting early pollinators.
Out on the lake, groups of migrating Red-necked Grebes, Horned Grebes, Common Loons, and Tundra Swans pass by. The large rafts of wintering sea ducks like Long-tailed Ducks have mostly moved on by now, many moving up the St. Lawrence River to get to northern breeding grounds.
|Savannah Sparrow and midges|
|Migrating Red-necked Grebes|
|Common Loon, almost in full alternate (breeding) plumage|
|Horned Grebe coming into alternate plumage|
|Long-tailed Ducks (like this drake seen 20 April 2016) look very different in spring and summer |
|The very first Yellow-rumped Warblers were being reported as I wrote |
this on April 1st. They migrate earlier in spring and later in fall than other warblers
|The only warbler that regularly eats seeds, early-returning Pine Warblers can thrive until the insects start flying|
|Tree Swallows discussing nest box ownership in mid-April|
|Tree Swallows feed exclusively on flying insects and feed from dusk to dawn|
|Mink sunning itself on a mild late March day. They can be seen year-round in the park, especially in the rocky piers|
|The harbour from the south|