By David Hawke -- Over the past week I have had the pleasure of being the guest speaker for a couple of community groups, the topic being Spring Things: The Natural Pace of Seasonal Change. Within the presentation I highlight numerous events that have or are happening within Nature that signal the shift from Winter to Spring.
Note that seeing the ‘first robin’ is way down the list; always a spirit lifter but by no means the earliest sign of spring. The roster of spring harbingers includes horned larks, springtails massing on the snow, nesting owls, chipmunks emerging from winter dens, raven courtship flights and more.
The presentation is designed to lift up the spirits of those whose spirits may be lagging a bit due to an overdose of snow and being shut in (or at least being limited in places to go). Now the audiences have something to look for, a special sighting that may be just the thing they need to see the (warm) light at the end of winter’s dark tunnel.
After the last presentation I was feeling the need to personally get out and explore for the signs of this year’s seasonal shift. Sometimes the doctor needs to be the patient. Weather was cooperating nicely so an adventure was planned.
While loading the car with camera equipment there came the raucous calls of some nearby ravens and crows. Pausing for a moment to see if they might fly overhead (they didn’t) another call was heard… bugle-like and distant. Shielding my eyes to the sun I looked up… way up… and spiraling in a wide arc were two sandhill cranes!
These cranes have recently been increasing their local population in leaps and bounds, but they do go away for the winter, heading to Texas and area. And now they are back! Great way to start the day!
I head north from our farm at Coulson and soon I am driving through a good-sized wetland called Hye Marsh (not to be confused with Wye Marsh, which is like 40 times bigger). Anyway, this roadside swamp has always been delightful to visit as great blue heron nests may be seen from the comfort of your car’s seat. And sometimes but not always, a great horned owl might be found occupying one of them (a heron nest, not your car seat).
No owls today but a male red-winged blackbird was perched atop a bobbing cattail head. First one of the season for my notes, so happy to have found it.
Onwards to Tiny Marsh, the waterfowl Mecca of the region. Sadly, as I drove along the County Road, there was a long row of pulled up mature spruce trees lining the fence. These tree had been planted about 45 years ago to create a natural snow fence to assist winter driving when going along this windswept hilltop. And now they are all down, piled against the fence. I do wonder of the thought process, or lack thereof, to take down these trees that have provided such good service.
Tiny Marsh and the adjacent flooded field never fail to impress. Over 175 trumpeter swans were noted in the seasonally flooded farm fields, along with several hundred Canada geese. Few ducks were noted but they tend to migrate back later in March.
My walk took me out the main dyke and I was surprised (and delighted) that I was the only person out there. Maybe the gale force winds and the minus whatever wind chill were a deterrent to others?
Again, geese and swans were the main species noted, plus the occasional ring-billed gull drifting by. As soon as the ice fully breaks open this area will be chock full of ducks and other wetland birds.
I did have another reason to visit Tiny Marsh, that being to assess the patches of phragmites reed. This invasive plant has settled itself within this wetland, and is steadily replacing the natural vegetation with its thick and wood-like stems.
Plans are afoot to start a control program here to deal with the phragmites and I wanted to see how bad it was. And it’s bad. Crap. This is going to take a concerted effort to even get control of its spread, never mind eradicating it. But the sooner a start is made, the fewer plants there will be to grow next year.
After Tiny I headed over to Allenwood Beach, the most northern sandy area of Wasaga Beach Provincial Park. As the lake ice softens it is carried by waves and pushed by wind to pile up along the shore. Always impressive to see. And always cold as anything with the west wind coming in from Georgian Bay.
Have to admit, this year’s display was a bit disappointing in regards to grandeur. Still, the scene was sweeping in scope and the distant hills of Collingwood were clearly seen across the bay, so a good feeling was instilled that this annual event is happening, just as it has for the previous 8,000 spring times.
As I turned to head back to the shelter of the car a lone bird was noted flying along the edge of the ice. Big. Dark. Flappy wings. Could it be….? Yep, bald eagle! Way cool. As I was again the only human soul on the beach, I looked at this encounter as a gift from Nature to me. Yes, way cool indeed, as you can see in the photo. Bonus… a second eagle arrived a few minutes later.
My route finished with a loop down to Minesing to look for skunk cabbage blossoms (found them!) and then a scoot home for lunch. What a great place this region is to live in, and what a profound event is this turning of the seasons!
Dave’s Notebook: Good morning on another sunny but chilly day. Robins and red-wing blackbirds are back, the first flowers are up, the chipmunks are awake. A few more notches upward on the thermometer would be nice!
© 2021 David J. Hawke