May 2, 2013 | Volume 118, Issue No. 18

Arrival of birds a welcome sign of spring

Going Nature's Way

In the spring all our senses are tuned for the wonderful changes in our surroundings. And this spring we are desperate for colors, sounds and smells (of flowers and earth). Since the snow just melted the past three days, the ground is newly exposed and just as brown as it was in November, but give it a couple days of sunshine, warmth and maybe a little rain and it will be gloriously green. It may take the tulips, jonquils and rhubarb a week or more to start pushing up from the still cold soil, but erupt they will. The sounds have already started.

A couple days ago I went out onto the deck in the morning and off in the distance, in the direction of the wetlands to the south of us, I heard the sandhill cranes calling. I waited to see if the sound would get louder indicating they were in flight, but it remained at a distance. Still, in my mind’s eye I could see the leggy grey birds dancing in their enthusiasm for one another.

Last night it was Canada geese honking, again coming from the south. They too must have been settled in, for no Vs appeared overhead. A redwing blackbird or two have come to our feeders in recent days and let us know with their lively “Konk-a-Reeeee” greeting.

This morning I cracked open the bedroom early to listen to any potentially new arrivals. The early bird (watcher) always catches the sweetest songs. There was unidentifiable chirping, but sounds nonetheless, and it was just barely dawn. Later in the morning, both Mike and I heard the eastern phoebe singing the second half of its name. It wasn’t until this evening (April 28) that we heard a robin’s cheerful song coming from the trees in our old horse pasture. I had seen a whole flock of them just down the road earlier in the day when I was riding my bike and I invited them to come to our place. Apparently one took me up on the invitation. Next we’ll see if it or another robin decides to build its nest in the kid’s playset in the backyard, as it did last year. For both the robin and the phoebe this was the latest date of arrival we have ever recorded in our 27 years at this property.

I was listening when I went for the bike ride this afternoon and again this evening on our deck for frog song. None was heard. Usually these amphibians start up their spring chorus the moment the ice goes off the ponds. But I feel confident that in the coming week they will begin to fill the empty air space with their raucous and spontaneous celebratory noise. There are other birds we are going to be listening for, like tree swallows and bluebirds. They can’t be far behind the current arrivals (a reminder to go out and check all your nest boxes before they arrive).

Each of us has specific sounds that mean springtime to us. Maybe it’s the creak of the porch swing, or the squeak of the hammock, or the laughter of children racing up and down on their bikes, or rain pattering on the roof. While our sense of hearing is nothing compared to our animal neighbors, and has grown weaker in recent times with so much modern living noise, we can still learn to focus and pick out special and newly heard sounds in nature.

There is never a better time to start using our eyes, nose and ears to their fullest than in this loveliest of months. May your heart swell with each new bloom, each new song and every new fragrance carried on the wind.

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