When weather conditions are just right for the first time in the spring—temperatures above 40, rain, or especially high humidity—over half of the breeding population of many of our local amphibians migrate to their breeding pools on what is referred to as “Big Night.”
Unlike me, with my catch-and-release tendencies, ospreys live an exclusively fish-based diet, giving them their other name ‘fish hawks.’ Everything about these incredible raptors has been optimized and specialized to pursue their piscine prey.
This chunky, long-billed, gourd-shaped bird is also called an American woodcock, mudbat, or bog-sucker, among other descriptive names. He flew straight up—100 feet or more –and began to fly loop-de-loops in the sky, accentuated by lyrical wingbeats. On his ascent, quick high whistling notes drew our attention (and ideally, the female of the species); on his descent, slower “kissing-sounds” burbled in the sky before his gentle thud back down to the old field.
What comes before the nuts—in fact, what allows for the nuts to emerge at all in the long term--are the shrub’s flowers. Before the bright green leaves burst forth from their buds in the coming weeks, two types of flowers emerge from its branches. The yellow-brown male catkins hang like pendulums, ready for a gust of wind to carry their pollen away. Above the male catkins appearing from the twig tips are the female flowers, which for the most part are quite inconspicuous, but for the fiery fuchsia feathery fibers spilling from its tip.
March 20th marked our celestial halfway point in our travels from winter to summer: the spring equinox. Rather than our axis being pointed towards the sun, as it is in summer, or pointed away from the sun, as it is in winter, during an equinox, our axis is exactly half way to either extreme. This means that on March 20th we had almost exactly 12 hours of daytime and 12 hours of nighttime.
On a brief romp through the thick wintery Downeast woods, I was startled away from the tranquility of the chickadees chirping, trees creaking, and the soft “flump” of my wooden snowshoes pushing through the snow’s surface when I was immediately overwhelmed by the alarm call of a small yet charismatic creature. It was sitting on the stump of a broken spruce bough only 8-12 feet above my head. This pint-sized terror didn’t blink twice at my approach—even when I was just a few yards off! Instead, it sat upon its perch and let out a punishing holler with a twitch of the tip of its voluminous tail with each squeekish shout.
When their wings are folded closed, mourning cloak butterflies are perfectly camouflaged against tree bark. The undersides of their wings are mottled with shades of brown, gray, and cream, giving the impression of a flake of bark. But when they open their wings, they display a velvety deep red-brown pair of wings with a cream border beyond a row of bright blue spots.
Right now in early March begins a very special time for our furry snowshoe-footed friends: time to start planning for the next generation of hares. Through the winter, hares keep to a small patch of spruce trees. When spooked, they will run a large figure-eight track and return right back to the hidden snowy depression, called a form, they were spooked from. But as the breeding season begins, the little hares start acting a bit crazy… mad, you might say.
These cold, still days can make it hard to believe that several species are in the midst of their breeding season. One macabre clue, in this age of rapid transportation, that can help us ascertain some of the goings-on in the natural world this time of year, unfortunately, is roadkill, and every year at about this time, I notice an increased amount of roadkill of a particular masked opportunist and the topic of today’s episode, raccoons.