Finally Spring - April of 2015

The long, long winter is past and we are finally experiencing spring, albeit a little later than usual. One of the first signs were the red-winged blackbirds' return to the bird feeders. The second was the sweet chorus of the spring peepers - one of my most eagerly awaited spring events. This is the latest year of their return - April 3. They usually show up in March, even when there is still snow on the ground and ice on the pond.  These little frogs - Pseudacris crucifer - are the first frogs to emerge from the depths of their mud beds. It begins, usually, with one lone peep, at night. In a day or two, there will be more joining in, the croaks comingling and making a much louder noise. On Martha's Vineyard, they are known as Pinkletinks as the song is reminiscent of jingle bells.

It's hard to see them, as they are tiny creatures, only about one inch long. They have a distinctive "X" on their backs, which gave rise to the anme "crucifer" or cross-bearing. Their sticky toe pads allow them to climb trees and plants, so their peeping is heard above the water. Only the males peep, and the females are attracting by both songs that are faster and longer.  They range from Canada to Florida and as far west as Illimoios and Texas. Inhabitants of both ponds and vernal pools, they herald the return of spring and the promise of warmer days. This year, perhaps because of their late start, I have heard them calling all day long, instead of just in the evening hours.

A third sign of spring are pussy willows. The native pussy willow - Salix discolor - is a deciduous shrub that grows to 20' if not pruned. Their fine, grey fuzz looks a lot like cat fur, hence the moniker pussy willow. They grow in boggy areas, mostly, and if you want to plant them in your yard, be sure not to locate them near any water, sewer or septic lines. Their deep, spreading roots can damage pipes and foundations. As do all willows, these plants are a source of salacin, and used by Native Americans as a pain killer.

Willow branches, with the fuzzy catkins, are prevalent in celebrations of the Chinese New Year. The long, flowering branches denote growth and prosperity, and adorn homes and shrines. Eastern Europeans, especially in orthodox religions, often carried them in lieu of palms for Palm Sunday. The flowers are an important source of nectar for early pollinators. This past weekemd I went out to check, and found hundreds of bees, flies and other insects furiously crawling and buzzing around the catkins.

Crocuses and daffodils are usually seen as harbingers of spring. I prefer the natural, native flora and fauna to assure me that spring has arrived.

Happy spring,

Karen