In the northeast, mid-Atlantic spring has sprung, and telltale signs in the forest are revealing themselves everywhere.
Leaves form on maple trees and other deciduous trees and shrubs; they react to a change in light duration, known as photoperiods – when shorter nights and longer days of sun exposure spur new growth. Forsythias bloom, their bright yellow color magnificently beautiful, promising sunny months ahead. Magnolia trees are blossoming in light and dark shades of pink, fuchsia, and purple. Snowdrops, crocuses, daffodils, hyacinths, and dandelions are peeping out from the ground, their petals signaling the arrival of milder temperatures.
The forest and wildlife are awakening. Birds are returning from migration and settling back into their northern homes. A red-winged blackbird perches high in a tree, while American robins fly to and fro, readying their nests, and mourning doves scuttle close to the ground in search of food. The chorus of bird calls reverberates everywhere, a cheerful early morning alarm clock for all. Right now, it is easy to see the various birds that inhabit these forests, as they are easy to spot until the deciduous canopy becomes complete with green leaves.
Here is what we uncovered during our last nature adventure:
Watching Earth’s creatures in spring is fascinating.
There are many online resources you can access to learn more about the beauty around us:
Check out a “Sky Dance.” The American Woodcock, native to North America, puts on quite a show to capture a female’s attention. Aldo Leopold writes about these fascinating birds in his book, A Sand County Almanac. American Woodcocks are swift in the air and are difficult to photograph, as they blend into the natural colors of the woodlands this time of year. Check out the American Woodcock’s most unusual mating ritual here. One videographer even set their mating dance to music!
Listen to spring peepers. American Tree Frogs, also known as “spring peepers,” produce their loud mating calls in the early dawn and late dusk hours. They inhabit and breed in secret isolated vernal pools, which are temporary bodies of water created from melting snow and rainwater. You can learn more about vernal pools and wildlife’s dependency on them on our One Planet Life post.
Marvel at spectacular spring ephemerals. Dainty, delicate spring flowers are peeping from the forest floor and walking trails. These early flowers, known as spring ephemerals, only bloom briefly, announcing the start of the spring season and dappling the forest with color. Purple, yellow, and white violets grow near decomposing logs among ancient flowerless mosses in various shapes and hues of green. The mosses hold moisture on whatever surface they have found, their spores alive and ready for water to help them spread through the woodlands. It is indeed such a wonderfully enchanting time to spend in the forest, to see it come alive and experience and appreciates the beauty of spring growth maturing into a lush green landscape.
As you go along your nature walks this spring, look for scattered clumps of garlic chives, purple dead nettle (which is edible and part of the mint family), elf cups, and buds of native and invasive species plants that are being formed. Mullins, Poison Hemlock, Garlic Mustard, and Wild Roses are just a few of the many species waking up from their winter slumber.
You can learn even more about spring ephemerals, birding, amphibians, vernal pools, mosses, and fungi by participating in local, county, and state park events. Most of these local programs are free and can help you become a citizen/community scientist, where you can understand the timing events of our natural world and help your communities collect data for research and education. Get out there and experience the beauty of spring!
Written by Yvonne Dwyer
Master Naturalist and OPL Content Contributor
“It is truly an honor for me to be a contributor to One Planet Life. By sharing my experiences and lifetime of learning, I hope to inspire conservation, sustainability, stewardship, and awareness of enjoying the natural wonders of the world for the wellbeing of people and the planet.”