The Chipping Sparrows have returned, almost a week earlier than we’ve ever recorded since 2004. Such jaunty little fellows with their bright white eye stripe and brownish caps. They always seem to search together, never more than a few seconds or a few feet, apart. There’s a new finch seed mix that a mill down by the canal makes, and nearly everyone with feathers seems to like it this spring, the little “Chippers” even coming to hanging tube feeders for their treats, unprecedented here in the “Kim’s Kitchen” of local bird world.
We’re seeing that the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have arrived in Columbus. If the old “spring moves at 200 miles each week” adage still holds, it should be hummer time this weekend. I can tell when spring arrives in our household. The large pitcher marked “Do Not Drink - Hummer Food” returns to the refrigerator, and what looks like ice cold water turns out instead to be cocktails on the patio for the smallest of our feathered friends. Sigh.
Spring comes so quickly these days. In just a few short days, the wet brown blanket of leaves in the forest changes as tiny shoots of green wriggle their way upward into the welcome sun. Pioneering spring ephemerals like Salt and Pepper and Spring Beauty quickly give way to Cut-leafed Toothwort, Wild Ginger, Trout Lily, and Mayapple. Trilliums will come and go before we can take a breath. It is time to shake away our winter doldrums and find them before they all pass.
When my office was at Garfield Park, I called it “spring” when the first Red-winged Blackbird arrived, usually the week of Valentine’s Day. The Eastern Phoebe that nested under the nearby bridge was next, and though that meant the end of snow, there were still cold days and nights to come. Spring Peepers, fickle prognosticators of spring, gave us hope only to silence themselves when the next snow fell or their vernal ponds iced over again. My grandmother always said, “it wasn't spring until the Peeper frogs have croaked three times” and most years she was right. The noisy tiny Peepers had to be frozen out at least twice before the last of winter left, and spring was safely among us once again.
Yesterday afternoon the last harbinger of spring made its presence known as the first Gray Treefrog of 2017 began to trill from an old oak nearby. Only a few of these arboreal climbers live in our neighborhood, and where they breed is still a mystery to me, but his song was so long absent, and so dearly welcome. The warblers are yet to appear here, but it won’t be long. We’re less than two weeks away from Northern Orioles and perhaps a grosbeak or two, then the “Great Warbler Onslaught” begins.
The world’s longest continually running spring boardwalk series has begun here in Northeastern Ohio, each Sunday morning now, and the Doppler radars are starting to show the evening lift-off migrations in the southland. Don’t wait, come out and celebrate with your Blackbrook Audubon friends. Bring a friend of your own. Spring is waiting for you.
- Bob Hinkle, naturalist