As I sauntered down the driveway toward the gravel road for my nearly daily walk, first came the “j-ha-weeep” call in the grove causing me to stop and scan the tree tops. Just as I spied them, two pair of Wood Ducks took flight. To no one but myself came my loudly spoken, “They’re back!”
Yes, this is a celebration of spring! How many of us are guilty of such excited exclamations? And, interestingly, this exclamation isn’t just about our feathered friends. Native forbs, and particularly Pasque Flowers, can create the same excitement. All signs of a changing of the seasons, and with certainty, winter is behind us!
Shufflling off the shrouds of winter, especially when the expected joys of a warming spring are seemingly pushed back by April blizzards, can be so frustrating. So our shouts of “They’re back!” are perhaps more meaningful now we’re starting to feel and see that Spring is “sprung.” Warmth is once again soothing the soul.
And with it comes almost a daily welcoming of migrating birds with even the most casual of bird lovers thrilled of their first sighting of a Robin, or the sighting of an expected spring flower. For the past few weeks I’ve driven to a hillside that is kissed by the warming sun which promotes the arrival of purplish Pasque Flowers. Some call these “May flowers” because of the blooms were often noted in May because of the long, Minnesota winters. Climate warming changed this, and reviewing my files these past few weeks prove that I have taken Pasque Flower photographs as early as mid-March. On my hill the Pasques were nowhere to be seen even last Saturday. On Tuesday, though, the blue natives were erupting over the crest of the hillside. And, yes, I said it. “They’re back!”
We each seem to have our own sighting of significance be it bird or flower. When my late wife, Sharon Yedo White, would greet me with her, “They’re back!”, she was speaking excitedly about Great Blue Herons. Some go with the poetic, lazy and poetically looking flight of White Pelicans. Color me guilty. Recently, as I was leaving the bank, a flock of a dozen or so seemed to hang in a brilliant blue sky like a luxurious mobile above the mouth of Big Stone Lake, showing alternate brilliant whites and stark blacks against that deep blueness. I had to pull aside, get out of the car and watch for several minutes. “They’re back!” I said to a bank patron as he walked past toward his car. “They’re something to watch,” he said, turning momentarily to watch the seemingly effortless glide.
Within the past few days a dear friend spoke of seeing her first Bluebird, and several of us have seen the spindly Yellow Legs. American Avocets are mentioned. Friends who share their wooded deck with wrens mark their return as a sign of spring. Loons are now appearing further north, and yes, one mid-morning last week walking over to the studio a group of five Sandhill Cranes flew over. I recognized the sound and looked up immediately, and there they were, just like we had seen them in the Grand Island, NE, area several weeks ago.
This year, with a lingering winter and what we now consider unseasonable late snows, it seems more than usual that we humans have our eyes pealed to the sky seeking individual sightings of an avian spring. Perhaps that was the impetus for taking in the awesome experience of the Sandhill Crane migration. We were among thousands, many of whom make this trip to central Nebraska an annual pilgrimage. For us it was a quick, three-day road trip, and one we’ll never forget.
We are fortunate in this part of the state to be part of the western edge of the Mississippi Flyway, and thanks to the many wetlands and the various prairie rivers, we have a field guide bonanza. Indeed, Big Stone Lake is simply a wide and long portion of the Minnesota River, as is Marsh Lake further downriver, and below that, Lac qui Parle Lake. Marsh Lake contains one of the largest White Pelican rookeries in the nation, so the pelicans we see around here have likely flown from that next widening of the Minnesota River.
And, we have enough restored native prairie around us that we can see two increasingly rare birds thanks to the demise of their grassland habitat, the Meadowlarks and Bob-o-Links … the upside down bird. And, yes, people have expressed their “They’re back!” for both species in the past few days.
Some bird species are simply passing through. That vast family of warblers among them. Others, though, are now here and seeking nesting sites. Several of the muskrat mounds in the wetlands have been scouted and claimed by paired Canada Geese.
Since the first sighting in the grove the other morning I’m now watching one pair of the Wood Ducks scouting the trees. Half of the tree they used in the past topped over in one of our winter winds. Perhaps enough of it remains that they’ll reclaim it for nesting. We’ll see. Moments ago a pair was standing on the bent trunk surveying the neighborhood. I can only hope.
Thanks to both the woody grove and restored prairie, we’re fortunate to have many species of birds and native prairie flowers both returning and staying for much of the summer. Prairie Smoke is perhaps our next debutante forb, and the leaves are just breaking through. Another sign of spring as we await the first sightings of the colorful Orioles and Rose Breasted Grosbeaks. For them all I can barely wait to say, “They’re back!”