“Cheer! Cheer! Cheer!” proclaimed the cardinal, announcing his delight at the approach of spring.
You may have scoffed at that happy song a few weeks ago, with temperatures in the single digits and calf-deep snow in the woods – but Mr. Cardinal knew what he was singing about.
OK, it’s still February, and we’re bound to have more snow and frigid temperatures. But we HAVE gained more than 100 minutes of daylight since the shortest day of the year last December 21.
That increase in day length is not lost on the pileated woodpecker, who has started his staccato drumming to let females know that he’s available for the upcoming breeding season.
The bluebirds returned to check out the birdhouse a couple of weeks ago, but they seem content to wait until well into March to begin starting a family.
Most other birds remain relatively quiet in the waning days of winter. Our journal says that the goldfinches should sport the first bright-yellow feathers ‘most any day, however. And southern Iowa birders are tallying migrating waterfowl by the thousand.
The snowplow and the warm sun have cleared the roadsides down to grass and gravel, inviting pheasants to search for grit or spilled grain. You marvel at the tough birds’ survival through the recent winds and ice and bitter cold spells. With the reprieve of a warm spell, the birds should be able to put on enough fat reserves to help them through the inevitable end-of-winter blast we Iowans have come to expect.
On a stroll in the woods on a mild afternoon, the first impression is of grays and browns and patches of lingering white. But as you look more closely, you begin to see green tinges of moss, accented by tiny, red fruiting bodies that already have sprung up to meet the sun. Little green rosettes of garlic mustard (grrr!) have lurked under the fallen leaves all winter. Unfortunately, the invasive plant will have a head start on spring ephemerals when they try to poke through the duff in another six weeks or so.
The sunny days and above-freezing nights have kept the snow melting steadily, making the river high and chocolaty. Too many acres of bare soil translate into erosion and runoff from farm fields – and rising streams.
Even with the swift current and brown water, an impatient fisherman is casting below the riffles. You wish him luck. And then your own casting hand starts twitching. Spring fever is contagious!