After the l-o-n-g winter, it would be easy to get discouraged when you still see drifts of snow in farm groves in early April.
But think positive!
If the Canada goose is on her nest, spring must be here. As you canoe past her island for a closer look, the protective goose flattens her body defensively over her unseen eggs. The gander keeps his distance, but protests noisily.
Around the edge of the pond, a cacophony of chorus frogs confirms the verdict that winter has been vanquished. You look in vain for the source of the loud, shrill call – but the tiny songsters stay hidden in the grassy shallows. A larger, but lethargic cousin – a leopard frog – groggily hops across toward the water. Luckily, only a few great blue herons have returned. When the long-legged birds come north en masse, frogs will be high on their list of prey needed to refuel from the rigors of migration.
The pair of bluebirds has been fussing and discussing over where they should set up housekeeping. The low house on the edge of the prairie? The higher but smaller one nearer the yard? The slot box out by the garden? Their chortling conversation and flits among the choices provide entertainment for the human landlords.
Another bird house IS occupied – although not by the tenant you’d expected! A fox squirrel scampers up the pole and tries to disappear into the kestrel box – but carelessly leaves its tail dangling from the entrance. Squirrels breed early, so it’s likely there’s a litter of young competing for space in the cozy nursery.
Down a neighbor’s lane, a pair of rooster pheasants cackle and cuss and flap as they battle over a favorite patch of real estate from which to crow their territorial claims.
At dusk, you listen in vain for the woodcocks. Perhaps they’re lingering in southern Iowa, leery of a late, northern Iowa cold snap?
But the resident coyotes are celebrating one of the first balmy evenings of April. A twilight chorus rings out from over the ridge toward the river. Then another pack chimes in from the east. And a third family of song-dogs yips and yipes their approval from the southern creek valley.
The turkey gobblers, already on the roost, respond with a sleepy, grumpy, rattling “gobble-gobble-obble-obble.” The old Toms need their rest to prepare for tomorrow’s pre-dawn strutting and courtship.
The male red-winged blackbirds have been staking out roadside territories for a couple of weeks, singing and displaying half-heartedly as they wait for the females to join them. When prospective mates arrive, however, the frenzied courtship will begin in earnest.
April is a transition month, so you shouldn’t be surprised to see lingering juncos at your feeder – or perhaps even a wandering purple finch. They compete with a swarm of green-yellow-grey goldfinches, whose motley plumage is still transitioning from winter to spring.
The phoebes have judged their travels to coincide with the first insect flights, which means they’ll have a few morsels to feed on. They’ll probably await nesting just a bit longer, and thus be assured of an even more bountiful food supply for hungry babies.
Despite the cool nights and frosty mornings, the pesky brome and bluegrass invaders have started to sprout in your prairie. Time for a fire to singe the pesky, cool-season grasses in hopes of giving the prairie species a little advantage.
Also time for a walk through the dry litter of the dormant woods. And – wa-lah! – another unmistakable sign that there’s no turning back the calendar on the spring rush. Hepatica! Poking up on hairy stems through the dead oak leaves, the white-blue-lavendar blossoms dot the expanse of otherwise brown duff. When you kneel for a closer look, you find even tinier hints of the pending floral array: miniature leaves and buds of spring beauty hug close to the black soil. A delicate frond of Dutchman’s breeches leaves adds a hint of green.
Our patience has been rewarded! It’s finally, really, SPRING!