The warmth of this early spring is sinking into the earth like a hot pad on old bones. The cold earth warms and stirs with life. Wildflowers have been waiting for the warmth to send leaves and blossoms shooting into the air. Bloodroot has sent out big white blossoms with leaves curled lovingly around the stem. Delicate pink spring beauties close up against the cold nights. Hoary Bittercress covers the yard and garden with tiny white flowers that will later turn into explosive seeds and take over if left unchecked.
Any wet area echoes with the sounds of freshly thawed spring peepers and wood frogs. These hardy frogs freeze almost solid in the winter but come out and mate in the first warm misty nights. Giant globs of clear eggs already fill forest pools where the quacky wood frogs sing their mating song. (To me, this song sounds like a choking duck, but girl wood frogs like it.) The gentle woodpecker-like snore of leopard frogs fills the air next to bigger ponds.
The warm rains of spring sank into the earth and brought out the salamanders. Spotted salamanders and Jefferson's salamanders made their annual migration to mate in pools of water in the forest, lay their eggs and walk back into the woods.
Wildflowers, such as this trout lily, have been waiting for months for the warmth of this early spring to allow them to bloom.
Photo by Jeff Tome
Spring is upon us, and it makes me realize how many things depend on specialized little dots of habitat to survive. Spotted salamanders might use only one or two pools of water in a two mile circle to mate in. These pools must be fish-free, or the fish eat the salamander eggs. A forest without these pools of water is a forest without the spotted salamander.
One trail I frequent is covered with tiny, ground-loving solitary bees. Each one digs a hole like a tiny anthill and fills the chamber inside with pollen packets and eggs. These tiny bees need open nesting grounds, but also all of those early spring flowers. Somehow, they always seem to come out around the same time as the first spring flowers. Perhaps the sun warms their winter homes just like it warms the roots of spring flowers.
Animal habitat has been getting harder to find, so one of my goals has been to turn my backyard into wildlife habitat. I have seen it work best this spring as the native plants in the yard bloom. Bees buzz over to the bluebells, spicebush and other native plants. Bunnies hide under the hedgerow waiting for the pea sprouts to get big enough to eat. (If I get enough bunnies, maybe a fox will visit.) Migrating grackles and blackbirds stop in and eat at the birdfeeder. Toads crawl out from where they dug in for the winter in the gardens and spend the days under cool rocks set out for them. My yard is a part of nature, and I try to make homes for as many of the animals as possible.
Spring is just my favorite season. There is so much joyful exuberance out there as the woods peep, quack, sing, bloom and buzz with plants and animals that haven't been visible for months. The sun's warmth is seeping into the earth and waking everything up!
Jeff Tome is a senior naturalist for programs and exhibits for the Jamestown Audubon Society and a longtime CWC volunteer and supporter. The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local not-for-profit organization that is dedicated to preserving and enhancing the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of the Chautauqua region. For more information, visit chautauquawatershed.org or call 664-2166.