Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him c/o firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The evening is clear and calm. Temperatures are mild and no mosquitoes accompany me as I walk to the lake. I’m walking at about a half-hour before sunset and in these conditions, many of the daytime songbirds are still lingering with their songs. As I walk through the yard, I hear the late-day melodies of our local robin. (I’m sure that it nests somewhere in the yard, but I have yet to find it.) Also songs are coming from chipping sparrows in a pine tree and the phoebe that has a home in the barn.
Mid-May is so full of natural happenings, it is hard to not see newness all around us. The saying, “There’s a new story out here every day,” is even more appropriate now and it becomes hard to keep track of all of the things appearing.
It is a bit difficult to call any April normal after the springs we’ve had in recent years, but what we experienced this year would qualify as unique. During the first half of the month we recorded a temperature that averaged 45 degrees, far above the norm, with the warmest day of the month 70 degrees on April 15.
May is a spring month where we see tremendous changes with the forests around us. The woods begins with a bare landscape, much as we saw throughout the winter (without the snow). But as we grow through these 31 days, we’ll see a continuous amount of green leaves opening on the branches. Starting with the shrubs and small trees, the greening progresses to the tops of the larger trees; many of these big woody plants are among the last to take on this attire. Longer and warmer days continue and bring on this new canopy.
When we reach the end of April we look around to see that the greening, mostly associated with May, has already begun. April with its changing conditions provided enough moisture, mostly as rain, to bring on the next phase of spring. Grasses, garden and lawn plants are the first to grow the new shoots of green but when we take a closer look, we see more.
Every day in spring brings more happenings in the world of nature. And each walk reveals a natural discovery that was not here yesterday. The news begins one day, but often will remain for several days or weeks. This is what we see now with the trees of April. Many are now flowering. They began early in the month with a few, but as the days went by, more of these flowers matured.
It was just a couple of weeks ago as I walked around on a mild WinSprin (winter-spring) day and I went to see how the local vernal ponds were doing. All were covered with ice, some even with a layer of snow over the frozen surface. They appeared a bit low and smaller than I like to see, but probably had ample water for their next phase. March turned into April and with about 13 hours of daylight each day and temperatures that regularly reached into the 40s and 50s early in the month, the ice lost its grip. The ponds were thawing.
Throughout the winter I would look out at the birdfeeders in the early mornings. The cold season, especially the second half, was very active. Four kinds of finches — purple finch, goldfinch, pine siskin and redpoll — moved in about the first of February and remained. Often flocks of these small seed-eating birds would number more than 100. As we progressed through the longer days of March, many departed. A scattering remain and as I look out on this April day, I see the lingering finches, but I also see new arrivals.
As we begin this spring month of April, we look forward to a period of 30 days that can, and often does, give us a huge variety of happenings. Before we exit this month, we may experience temperatures as high as the 70s or more. In the other direction, the mercury could be less than 10 degrees. (Though subzero has occurred in the Northland in April, it is quite unusual.)
Taking a walk during these last days of March is one of constant happenings. As with the varying weather at this time, a variety of other natural things also take place. If the temperatures are mild, the early awakening butterflies (usually a dark one known as the mourning cloak) takes wing, perhaps feeding on sap now oozing from maple trees. A small but colorful moth called “the infant” may be seen flying at this time, too. Snow melt in the woods reveals the greens of moss that spent the winter out here beneath the white blanket.