Spring! What?

It’s April, right?  Right?  As I’m writing this, I’m staring out at the remnants of an April snowfall.  Now, I live in Wisconsin, so I shouldn’t be surprised.  I remember plenty of snow in April when I was a kid, enough to still enjoy skiing.  But ol’ Mom Nature seems to have retreated from those kinds of snowfalls in recent years, so this one came as an unexpected…gift.

Well, yes, to give the meteorologists credit, snow/sleet/rain mixture was predicted, but I was concentrating on the “rain” part.  After all, the tulip leaves are up and unfolding, and the daffodils are poking fingers out of the soil…um…out of the snow now.  The snowdrops have been blossoming for a bit already, but they’re not called snow-drops for nothing.  I know, I know, spring officially arrived March 21st, or whatever was decided.  But that is far too human.  Kind of like the Changing of the Clocks in spring and fall.  Time itself doesn’t change; there are still 24 hours in a day.  Moving on…

I prefer to rely on Mother Nature, even if she does snicker and dump snow at odd times.  I watch for the birds in particular.  Even the flowers can get fooled, but they’re usually smart enough to hunker down if the weather does a whiplash on them.  I picture them like a petulant child, folding arms and pouting, but staying in place to just wait out the gusts.  The birds are usually more reliable.  Except for the robins.  A couple of those idiots will hang around all winter, thus negating my “scientific” determination of spring.

Several bird avenues exist to help figure out what’s coming.  Maybe the best around here are the sandhill cranes.  Yes, sometimes one pair will hang around the marshes all winter, but they’re pretty quiet.  Once love is in the air, they start calling and laughing.  I always hear them before I see them.  A pair or two will go over as harbingers of what’s to come.  Then come the hordes.  Flocks of 20, 40, I even counted 150 one morning.  Magnificent!  I know they congregate along the Platte River in Nebraska by the hundreds, but we get smaller groups coming up from Florida.  Check out the images on Google.  Wowza!  Talk about birds!

If sandhills start the season, then keep your ears open outdoors for an old-fashioned telephone ringing.  That’s a red-wing blackbird.  If they’re here–and they are around here already–then spring is truly here, no matter what the weather says.  They don’t soar like the cranes, but are easily spotted hanging precariously on dried grasses and cattails.  Just don’t get close to the nests once they start building.  They divebomb anyone coming within ten or twelve feet.  One knocked my hat off last spring when we were out in a public park for a walk.  Oh, yes, folks, they nest close to people sometimes.  And they attack from the rear, so it’s best to hang onto the hat and hustle smartly past a blackbird.

I love watching the small birds that cluster on the birdfeeders outside our patio door.  Some birds just don’t care about weather.  They’re around all winter.  Cardinals, chickadees, nuthatches, finches, mourning doves, woodpeckers.  But a few are true migrators.  The funny thing is, they fly off looking for colder climes, not warmer.  The juncos, for instance, also known as snowbirds.  When their numbers start declining, spring isn’t far behind.  I think they leave a couple behind just to tease us into thinking spring will never come.  But eventually, those leave too.

The fun part is watching the finches.  First of all, whoever named purple finches must have been colorblind.  They are most definitely not purple, but rosy.  Well, everyone does see color in a different fashion, so I guess I should be more tolerant.  Anyway, they don’t change quite as dramatically as the goldfinches, whose male half explodes into a blaze of lemon yellow.  What female goldfinch could resist such a display of Louis XIV splendor?  The Sun King reincarnated in this tiny bird.  Now spring is truly, really here.

No matter where you live, keep your eyes peeled for the birds that proclaim Spring.  They may be all puffed up and hiding from the snow in a thick evergreen, but they know what they’re doing.  They’ve been promised spring by the correct sun angle, and, b’god, they’re going to create spring with their presence.  Hope springs eternal, and hope always does come through with the birds.  So, get out your binoculars and watch for the signs.  They’re out there.