Signs of Spring

All posts tagged Signs of Spring

By Derek Stoner, Seasonal Program Coordinator

A Wood Frog makes its way down to the marsh at Ashland on March 1, 2011.  What day will they emerge this year?

A Wood Frog makes its way down to the marsh at Ashland on March 1, 2011. What day will they emerge this year?

Spring officially begins today–  Friday, March 20th.  The weather outside may still not look like Spring, but the season has been pushing the envelope recently as Winter slowly relinquishes its grip and gives way to the inevitable arrival of true Signs of Spring:  the plants and animals that we count on as true signals of the changing season.

Just in the past week at Ashland Nature Center, keen observers have noted emerging Skunk Cabbage, Groundhogs running about, and Snowdrops in full bloom.   With warmer temperatures and rain in the future forecast, the big movement of amphibians to the wetland habitats will get underway.

To preview photos of Signs of Spring that are on the way, we invite you to view this video.

The twenty plants and animals shown in the video are the unique Signs of Spring selected to be part of our fifth annual Delaware Nature Society Signs of Spring Challenge.  Wherever you are this Spring, keep an eye out for these interesting sights and make a note of when you first observe them outdoors.  See how quickly you can tally up the full twenty!  Will it take you through the month of May or will you find them all by the end of April?  Only time will tell, and you can share this challenge with your fellow naturalists and family members.

To participate, click here:   Signs of Spring Challenge 2015

Download and print this form to keep track of your observations this Spring.  The challenge is free and just for fun– and you are the winner since you’ll be enjoying a more rewarding experience afield this Spring.

Please photograph and document the Signs of Spring that you see and share them with us by email at derek@delnature.org .  We will post a collection of the best photographs and stories from Spring 2015 in a follow-up post at the conclusion of the Spring season.

By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator

The first Wood Frog egg masses of the season, observed in the Ashland Marsh on March 12.  Notice the tiny black dots, each of which is an individual Wood Frog egg.   Image by Derek Stoner.

The first Wood Frog egg masses of the season, observed in the Ashland Marsh on March 12. Notice the tiny black dots, each of which is an individual Wood Frog egg. Image by Derek Stoner.

The rains and warmer weather this week brought out the amphibians at Ashland, with Wood Frogs headlining the show.  On Tuesday there were dozens of male Wood Frogs lining the edges of the Ashland Marsh during the rain, uttering their distinctive “chuck-chuck” call.

By the end of the day, the quiet female Wood Frogs had laid the first egg masses of the season, and I counted at least 11 masses in one cluster.  Each female Wood Frog lays one ball-like cluster of eggs, which may contain up to four hundred individual eggs.  So the image above shows the potential for more than 4,400 tiny tadpoles to be produced!

Jim White, DNS Associate Director for Land and Biodiversity, and author of Amphibians and Reptiles of Delmarva, will be following up this post with a great blog about the Wood Frog mating activity.  For now, we encourage you all to get to the Ashland Marsh in the next few days to witness this spectacle of Wood Frogs– they don’t stick around too long!

In other Signs of Spring news, the first Tree Swallows of Spring were observed flying above the Ashland Lodge on Wednesday, March 13.

By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator

The Bloodroot at Ashland burst into bloom on March 13, and already was dropping petals just five days later on March 18. Image by Derek Stoner.

The fourth and fifth weeks of the Signs of Spring Challenge featured a flurry of new observations, most likely due the incredible stretch of warm weather that is literally pushing the petals forth on flowers.

On March 12, mulitple observers reported the return of the Eastern Phoebe, with a vocal male calling all day near the covered bridge.  Then on March 13, a class working in the marsh discovered the first Garter Snake of the season wiggling through the grass.  Also that day, the first Bloodroot of the season was noted in bloom, right at the front door to the nature center.  This particular  flower bloomed exactly a week earlier than it did in 2011.

This week, on March 19, we had two observers share with us new sightings on March 19:  an Anglewing butterfly flying along the floodplain trail and a Spring Beauty in bloom near the covered bridge. 

At the exact half-way point of the 10-week Signs of Spring Challenge, 13 of the 20 Signs of Spring are already accounted for and recorded.   Although lots of Signs seem early, this is exactly where we were in 2011: 13 Signs recorded by March 23.  

Now we wait for the Final Seven Signs:  Water Snake, Snapping Turtle, Barn Swallow, House Wren, Robin building nest, and Trout Lily and Violet blooming. 

What Signs of Spring are you seeing in your yard?

 By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator

How soon will this scene take place in the Ashland Marsh? Warm weather(and a little rain) will coax the Wood Frogs out from their winter refuge and into the marsh for the short breeding season. Image by Derek Stoner.

Who is ready to see flowers blooming?  How about listening to the first Wood Frogs of the season, chuckling like ducks as they thrash about and breed in local marshes?  Are you ready to shake off the heavy cloak of Winter and welcome Spring?

Through all the temperature swings that nature throws out during the coming months, there is one constant: length of daylight is increasing. Every day there is a bit more sunlight reaching this region of earth, triggering the biological cues in both plants and animals to grow, to procreate, and to spring forth with life.  This process is known as photoperiodism , and is the trigger that sets forth the series of dramatic changes  in plants and animals each spring.

Bloodroot is a beautiful early-blooming wildflower: a true Sign of Spring. Image by Derek Stoner.

March 20 is the official day that Spring begins according to the calendar.   But nature does not read the calendar, and many signs of spring appear well-before March 20.   Groundhogs are stirring in their burrows, sap is flowing in the trees, and birds are beginning their spring migrations.

To further the interest and excitement in Spring’s arrival, I created a contest to help track the Signs of Spring as they appear.  I chose 20 commonly-observed plants and animals whose appearance practically shouts “Spring is Here!”  

The Eastern Phoebe: how soon until this little flycatcher brightens the landscape with its cheery call? And how soon until we see a green background like that in this photo? Image by Derek Stoner.

The contest concept is simple.

For the next 10 weeks (February 21 through May 1), the selected 20 Signs of Spring will likely be observed at Ashland Nature Center.  You pick the week you think they will occur.  If you guess the correct week, you are awarded 5 points.  If you guess all 20 correctly, you earn a perfect score of 100 points.

Click here for the contest sheet:  Signs of Spring Contest 2011  (Write-able Excel file)    Signs of Spring Contest 2011  (Read-only PDF file)

If you need help identifying these selected Signs of Spring  (or want to get ready for their arrival!), check out the following video.

We will provide updates on this blog as each sign makes it first-of-season appearance at Ashland.  Be sure to also keep track of when you see these signs in your backyard or local natural area.  Get excited about the weekly changes as the season turns! 

Since this is a contest, there must be a prize, right?  Of course!  We will offer a selection of natural history books, a gift certificate to Wild Birds Unlimited, a framed poster of all twenty “Signs of Spring,” and best of all, bragging rights as the Winner of the First Annual Signs of Spring Contest!  Just fill out the contest sheet and send it in by February 20th!

For questions about the contest(and hints about the timing of these signs) , please email Derek Stoner at derek@delawarenaturesociety.org or call 302-239-2334, ext 106.