Signs of Spring Contest

All posts tagged Signs of Spring Contest

By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator

Trout Lily was discovered blooming at Ashland on March 30, a full two weeks earlier than in 2011. Image by Derek Stoner.
The past two weeks have seen an incredible burst of Spring activity in the plant and animal world locally.  The trend of warmth and plenty of sunshine has helped the trees leaf out quickly and lots of flowers bloom “earlier than average.”
For this Signs of Spring update, we go back to March 30 when Joe Sebastiani reported the first Trout Lily of the year blooming along the floodplain at Ashland.  Also that same day, multiple observers reported the first Violets of spring in bloom at Ashland. 
The following week, on April 6, Kim Steininger observed our first House Wren of the season at Ashland, as she was walking up Hawk Watch Hill.    And just yesterday, April 10, Joe Sebastiani saw the first Barn Swallows of the spring at Ashland.
So, as of April 10, 19 out of 20 Official Signs of spring have been recorded at Ashland in 2012.  The lone holdout?  A Water Snake!   Last year’s first Water Snake was reported on April 20.  Will we beat that record this year?
What Signs of Spring are you seeing in your neighborhood?

By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator

Circles of Snowdrops are blooming around Ashland right now-- our first Sign of Spring. Image by Derek Stoner, February 19, 2012.

On February 19th, the Second Annual Signs of Spring Contest officially began.  The contest should really be called a “Challenge” as that is what faces participants when filling out a sheet that proposes trying to align twenty different Signs across ten weeks.   The Challenge lies in guessing when the Signs might appear based up0n knowledge of natural history, understanding of seasonal rhythms, a bit of climate forecasting,  and admittedly, a bit of luck!

The first day of the contest saw the expected observations of blooming Snowdrops and emerging Skunk Cabbage.  These plants actually started bursting forth in the early part of February this year, with the incredibly mild temperatures spurring the emergence of many plants.

Skunk Cabbage, a fascinating wetland plant, is emerging all over the wetlands at Ashland. Image by Derek Stoner, February 19, 2012.

As Week 2 began, the next two official observations made the records:  On February 27 Sarah Stapley reported Wood Frog egg masses at the vernal pools  along Sharpless Road, on the northern edge of Ashland’s property.  These frogs are busy laying dozens of egg masses and creating quite a commotion with their persistent, duck-like chuckles.  

On February 28th, a Groundhog ran by outside the window near David Pragoff’s desk, thus becoming the first groundhog of the official count period.  Earlier in February, a groundhog dared to appear before we had even filled out our contest spreadsheets!

A pair of Wood Frogs in amplexus at the Backyard Habitat Pond at Ashland Nature Center on March 1, 2012. Image by Derek Stoner.

Today, March 1, the Wood Frog activity has begun around the Ashland Nature Center Building, with more than 20 frogs gathered in the pond adjoining our butterfly house.   This pond is a featured section of the Backyard Wildlife Habitat Garden, and will be host to many species of frogs throughout the coming months.  But for now, the Wood Frogs own the pond!   Come out to Ashland  in the next few days to catch this show before they disappear for another year.

Thank you to the 26 entrants in this year’s Signs of Spring Contest.  Next week we will have an update of how our contestants are faring– in another installment of the Signs of Spring.    In the meantime, please share with us your sightings of Signs of Spring from your backyard or favorite natural area nearby. 

By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator

Last year's Signs of Spring Contest winner, Amy White, holds her prize: a framed photo collage of all 20 Signs of Spring seen last Spring at Ashland! Image by Derek Stoner.

Twelve days ago the world-famous groundhog predicted six more weeks of winter from atop his prognosticating perch in Pennsylvania.  On that day in Delaware, we basked in 60-degree temperatures.  Then this past weekend, we shivered in 20-degree blast of Arctic air that came packing a double dose of snow showers. 

A classic push-and-pull is underway with Mother Nature, as we edge ever-closer to the end of Winter and the beginning of Spring.   The only certainty is eventually Spring will prevail!

To continue a fun tradition begun last year, we welcome you to participate in the Second Annual Signs of Spring Contest.   The basic rules are simple:  All Signs must be observed on the grounds of the Ashland Nature Center, in order for this to be a fair contest.  Come on out to the center and help us discover the first flowers, the first frogs, and the first turtles of the season!    Enter your guesses on your official entry form, but also keep a blank form at home where you can record the observations you make in your own backyard or local park.   

Bloodroot is one of the first wildflowers to bloom in Spring in our region. Look for it to appear in the next month! Image by Derek Stoner.

The selected Signs of Spring include these 6 flowering plants: Snowdrops, Skunk Cabbage, Bloodroot, Spring Beauty, Trout Lily, and Violet.   The first bloom of these flowers found at Ashland is declared the first of Spring for this contest.

To participate, simply download the Signs of Spring Contest 2012 entry form, fill out your guesses as to which species will occur each week, and send this form back (as an email, a fax, or by postal mail) to Derek Stoner ( by Friday, February 17. 

If you would like some hints as to possible timing of these Signs of Spring, check out last year’s results:  Signs of Spring Contest 2011 .

 (If you would like a good hint to get you started, two Signs are already visible at Ashland.   When the contest starts next week on February 19,  the Snowdrops and Skunk Cabbage are blooming and ready to be counted.  So check them off for the week of February 19-25!)

By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator

A male House Wren sings his bubbly song at the Ashland Lodge on April 14, 2011. Image by Derek Stoner.

The past two weeks saw a flurry of activity as new animals emerged and arrived, and plants burst into full bloom.  On April 14, a male House Wren burst into song near the Ashland Lodge.  This cheerful songbird is a fantastic Sign of Spring, and became Sign #18 out of 20 for the Spring 2011 at Ashland.

Few wildflowers can match the Trout Lily for beauty and style. Image by Derek Stoner.

The next day, April 15, I received a text message from Amy White, with photo attached: Trout Lily in bloom!   Along Red Salamander Run, downstream from the Ashland Covered Bridge, these brilliant bright yellow wildflowers burst forth with color.  Sign #19 out of 20!

The only Sign left on the List? Northern Water Snake.  And on April 20, a group of school kids participating in the appropriately-named “Herp Hunters” day camp discovered Ashland’s first Water Snake of 2011.  The three-foot long snake basked in the 70-degree sunshine in the marsh, finally awakened after a long winter’s rest.

And there you have it:  20 Signs of Spring observed over the course of nine weeks.  Every week had at least one new sign emerge or appear, and the level of observation and vigilance by visitors to Ashland helped to ensure we didn’t miss anything happening in nature.   The skilled eyes and ears of many observers helped to create a unique record of Spring’s arrival in 2011 at Ashland Nature Center.   How did your Signs of Spring compare at your local park or in your own backyard?  What will next year hold?

Amy White in the field, photographing the Swallow-tailed Kite at Middle Run on April 23. Image by Derek Stoner.

Congratulations to Amy White, who correctly guessed and matched 7 out of the 20 Signs with their actual week of appearance.   This game is more of a Challenge than Contest, as it involves a good bit of luck at guessing Mother Nature’s timing in the fickle world of Spring.  Amy will receive a special framed poster of the 20 Signs of Spring 2011 at Ashland, and a copy of the poster will be displayed in the Ashland lobby for all visitors to enjoy.