The leaves are popping out a little more each day, and as much as I have looked forward to seeing them again, I find myself hoping they stay small just a little while longer. The reason? It’s spring migration. There are all sorts of colorful little fellows passing through, ones that don’t stop at feeders for close-up viewing. Some stay here, but many push on north to their nesting grounds. We only have a few short weeks to see them, and once the leaves pop out they will be almost invisible. In the fall, many of them have lost the bright breeding plumage we use to recognize them, making them much harder to identify.
Really serious birders don’t need to see them to count them. They can hear them, but to a novice like me, birding by ear isn’t yet possible. Besides, I want to see all their bright colors. And in the fall they aren’t nearly as noisy as they are in the spring, so even those who can bird by ear have a harder time picking them out.
Yesterday at some friends’ house in Howe I saw my first rose-breasted grosbeak. They aren’t all that rare, but I had never seen one before. They never visited my feeder at the house in Howe, although there was appropriate habitat nearby. But one must have followed me home yesterday, because this morning there was a male rose-breasted grosbeak at my sunflower seed feeder here in Middlebury. The males are black and white with a bright red triangle on their chest. They are unmistakable.
Not at the feeder, but flitting around in the shrubs behind our house was a yellow warbler. Again, not uncommon, but still fun to see and hear. Later we walked the trails at Pine Knob and saw another one and heard two calling to each other from opposite sides of the trail. They are yellow, slightly duller than a goldfinch, with some streaking on their chest. I’ve also seen and heard phoebes for about a month now. And Friday we saw a Baltimore oriole in the trees behind our house, so I quickly put out my oriole feeder with grape jelly and that afternoon there were two males feasting on the jelly. A few house finches were helping themselves to the jelly, too. I have learned to tell the sharp whistle of the oriole when he finds the jelly dish empty. A very demanding fellow indeed! The orioles were also checking out the suet, which really surprised me. Normally I don’t put out suet this late, but since it’s been cooler than normal, I thought maybe I should. The grackles and flickers and woodpeckers are eager to eat it. I’m going through it faster than I did in the winter, probably because it isn’t frozen solid and because there are more birds eating it than before. The orioles were also trying to get at the hummingbird feeder I put out. I haven’t seen a hummer yet, but it shouldn’t be long.
A week ago there was a spring wildflower hike on the Pumpkinvine Trail. There is a wooded area just west of C.R. 33 in Elkhart County that is a real hotbed of early spring flowers. We found thirteen different species of wildflowers that were blooming, and five others that were not yet blooming, but identifiable by their leaves. The most spectacular were the patches of bloodroot and trout lily—both showy flowers that only bloom for a very short time in the spring. The trillium were just starting to open and were quite small. The toadshade, or red trillium, wasn’t open yet. I saw the Harbinger of Spring for the first time, also known as a Salt and Pepper Plant. They really are tiny and I probably wouldn’t have noticed it at all if it hadn’t been pointed out to me by an expert. We also found blossoms of Hepatica, Toothwort, Purple Springcress, Rue Anemone, False Rue Anemone, Dutchman’s Breeches, Wild Blue Phlox, and lots of Common Blue Violets. Today at Pine Knob I added to that Yellow and White Violets. Along the Pumpkinvine we also saw the leaves of the Puttyroot, Mayapples, Virginia Waterleaf, Wild Geranium, and Wild Ginger.
Behind our house the little stream is drying up. The ducks arrive on wing instead of swimming up now, but they still keep coming to get a handout of corn. Along the streambed Blue Flag Iris leaves are popping up. Riverbend Park is full of Marsh Marigold.
Spring peepers and chorus frogs have been calling loudly the last week or two. They don’t call as much when it’s windy, but when it’s still or lightly raining you can certainly hear them. And I think I heard a wood frog calling today at Pine Knob.
Spring has arrived in force. Get outside and enjoy it, even if it’s not quite as warm as you’d like.