Posts Tagged ‘signs of spring’


Spring arrived today with the vernal equinox, officially March 20, 2014 at 12:57 PM in Ottawa. The first spring day was gray and overcast, and the landscape is still decidedly white. The temperature hovered around 0 Celsius, but a bitingly cold wind left no doubt that we will have to wait a bit longer for soft spring zephyrs.

I hadn’t seen another Red-winged Blackbird since my first sighting on the 15th, but this morning I heard several giving their chuck call in the treetops. Still no oak-a-lees. And then, this afternoon, as if they had been reading the calendar too, I spotted three robins.


Robins can occasionally be seen in cities or suburbia throughout the winter, but it would be unusual to spot one in our rural neighbourhood. They usually return a few days to a week after the first Red-winged Blackbirds.

These three were hanging out in the hedgerow beside the river, and may have been attracted by the buckthorn berries still available there.


The wind was so cold, I felt a little sorry for them, but they didn’t seem bothered. And in spite of the wind, puddles of melt water had formed on the surface of the river. Maybe warmer days really are ahead.


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Yesterday, it rained and rained. Everywhere, the snow has retreated. In spots where I had shovelled away a path, bare ground now lays open. It seems that Winter, who we thought would never leave, is now holding the door open for Spring.


As I went out this morning, a cardinal was singing from his treetop perch, his spirits in no way dampened by all the rain. An occassional “Oak-a-leeeeee” rang out from the riverside, as the newly-returned Red-winged Blackbirds called.


Around each evergreen, a tree ring of dried grass has appeared.


The bright green of a few patches of moss or lichen has appeared along the driveway, and in the farm field next door, the ridges of snow are accented with the dark brown of plowed earth. As Hal Borland observed:

No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn.


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Last year, March came in like a lamb, and this year we have again enjoyed a pleasant beginning to the new month. In fact, the temperature has been a bit milder than it was at this time last year. A cool wind has been blowing, but the warmth of the March sun is not to be denied. The snow and ice melts away a bit more each day under the sun’s persistent gaze.

The river has been gradually opening as the ice melts away. Areas where the snow was cleared away now turn muddy every day and then the ground freezes again at night as the temperature drops.

The fields are still covered in snow, but more and more grassy stems are being revealed.

The pond is still covered with ice, but the snow is melting away from the base of trees, leaving wells of open ground.

We may still have another winter storm or two coming our way that will replenish the diminishing snow, but the trees know that summer is on its way. The maple buds are swollen and red.

I walked down the hedgerow at the edge of the field today to look for my favorite early sign of spring, and sure enough, high up in the treetops the first white catkins could be seen peeking out. Spring is at hand.

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The Red-winged Blackbirds, that is. The first one was spotted on Saturday, and this evening a chorus of blackbirds were oak-a-lee-ing from the top of the tree behind the house.

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March arriving like a lamb

March arriving like a lamb

There is a well-loved verse by Oliver Herford that reads “”I heard a bird sing In the dark of December A magical thing And sweet to remember. ‘We are nearer to Spring Than we were in September!’.” It’s true. But the fact remains, there is still a whole lot of winter to be dealt with when one is in December. Now March, March is another story! Whatever winter still has in store for us, we can cope with it knowing that Old Man Winter is losing his grip and soon spring will prevail.

March arrived as a clear, sunny day, crisp at -14 C as I write this at 10 AM, but nevertheless beautiful. I took a walk to look for signs of the changing days. One obvious difference is the length of the days. While at the December solstice the sun rose at 7.40, today I had to be up by 6.41 to catch the sunrise. On December 21st, the sun set at 4.23 PM, while today sunset will be 5.50 PM. Our hours of sunlight have increased from 8 hours and 42 minutes to 11 hours and 9 minutes. Hooray!


The river, opened by the February thaw, hasn’t completely frozen over, in spite of -15 daytime and -20 C overnight temperatures. The greater warmth of the sun melts the snow into muddy puddles, even on cold days.


The buds of the aspen trees are beginning to open into the first catkins of spring.


The male redpolls visiting the feeder are sporting bright raspberry breasts as the breeding season draws nearer. Adult redpolls undergo a complete molt once a year after the breeding season, and start the winter in fresh plumage. As the year progresses, the buffy or greyish feather edges gradually wear off, resulting in the males taking on a redder appearance in the spring without a second molt. Another happy sign that we have survived another winter. Welcome March!


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Yesterday’s snowfall has left a couple of inches of heavy, wet snow on the ground. Even though, with the temperature hovering around 0 C, snow is melting off the roof and splashing on these rocks near the door, we’re not likely to be seeing any snowdrops like those featured by Huckleberry, over at Huckleberry Days, any time soon.

When out driving yesterday morning, I did see one sure sign of spring on the roads: a dead raccoon. All winter long, raccoons spend most of their time holed away out of the weather, waiting for spring. When the warmer weather arrives, raccoons start searching for food and that’s when the annual raccoon catastrophe begins. Many end up under the wheels of a racing automobile. Opossums and other small animals also are at risk, but around southern Ontario, raccoons seem to be particularly susceptible. There is even a joke about it: Why did the chicken cross the road? To prove to the raccoon that it can be done.

Raccoon Catastrophe

Raccoon Catastrophe

Having raised several raccoon kits, I can attest to the fact that raccoons are very bright. But thousands of years of evolution has left them poorly equipped to deal with rushing steel monsters. Unlike animals such as rabbits, who use their lightening speed to save their lives, raccoons climb trees or, as fierce fighters, take a stand. These tactics don’t work well with cars.

The real problem isn’t the raccoons. It’s the roads. There are so many of them! They go everywhere. In southern Ontario, the network of roads has burgeoned since the car became king. The imperilment of raccoon lives is just one small cost of roads. Fragmentation, habitat destruction, and contribution to global warming are others. The Wildlands League has produced a publication that looks at the true costs associated with roads. It is titled Roads: More than Lines on a Map.

When it comes to paving over paradise, there is no end in sight. With city infrastructures crumbling, the limits to urban sprawl gaining recognition, and the need for improved public transit drawing attention, you’d think governments would have better things to do with our money, but we don’t seem to have turned that corner yet. One good example is the proposed Mid-escarpment Highway, an anachronistic plan left over from another era.

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