March: A Nature Almanac (1)

March’s gift is the arrival of spring — and signs of it are everywhere

Red Squirrel (Photo: Drew Monkman)

March is a month of extremes. We can expect any kind of weather from blizzards and bitter cold to rain and summer-like warmth.

However, no matter what the weather throws at us, March is always a time of transition. Its gift is the arrival of spring. And signs of the new season are everywhere. Earlier sunrises and later sunsets make for longer, brighter days. Returning migrants fill the air with boisterous song as they advertise ownership of nesting territories.

Our sense of smell, too, is reawakened by the smell of boiling sap and thawing earth. But let’s not rush the season. Each stage of the onset of spring needs to be savoured.

The events listed below are typical of March in the Kawarthas. Some of these happenings occur over the entire month and are not restricted to any specific date.

Hooded Merganser (Photo: Karl Egressy)

Hooded Merganser (Photo: Karl Egressy)

Bufflehead, goldeneye, and common merganser duck numbers increase on the Otonabee River and Little Lake. The first hooded mergansers since last November usually appear.

Male red squirrels feud over territory as the mating season begins. Their “cherr” scolding call becomes louder and more common. After a 38-day gestation, two to five young will be born.

Breeding season also begins for raccoons. We often see wandering tracks in the snow which mark the travel of males in search of receptive females. Tracks and sightings that were sporadic all winter now become much more common. After about eight weeks, a litter of usually four babies will be born.

A less-than-welcome sign of spring is the reappearance of house flies. Although they lay eggs in the fall that will hatch later in the spring, many adults also survive the winter by sleeping in a hibernation-like state called diapause. Adults seen in March are individuals that have been aroused from diapause by the warmer temperatures. Watch for house flies on sunny exterior walls where basking revives them and raises their body temperature.

Chipmunks have been semi-active underground over the winter, making trips to their food stores.

Chipmunks are also making their first appearance above ground since late fall. They have been semi-active over the winter, making repeated trips to their underground storehouses for food. Unlike groundhogs and jumping mice, chipmunks cannot acquire enough body fat to take them through hibernation without eating.

On mild days along woodland trails, watch for snow fleas. Only about a millimetre in length, thousands can often be seen covering the snow like pepper. Also known as springtails, they don’t move with legs or wings like other insects do. Instead, they use an abdominal appendage held under the body that springs them up and forward when released.

Honey Bee (Photo: Margo Hughes)

Honey Bee (Photo: Margo Hughes)

House sparrows are already laying claim to nest boxes. The male will often perch on the box and call repeatedly to show ownership of the real estate and to attract a female.

Honey bees are among the few insects that remain active all winter. Honey provides the energy to fuel the hive’s cold-weather survival. Now, with longer, warmer days, they grow restless and make forays from the hive in search of early flowers like crocuses.

The male crow performs courtship displays, which include facing the female and fluffing up his body feathers. He then partially spreads his wings and tail and bows repeatedly while uttering a brief, rattling song.

Sugar maples are usually tapped around the middle of March.

Dark objects such as fallen leaves and tree trunks absorb sunlight, which is transformed into heat and melts the surrounding snow. Snow melt extends out from the trunk, often allowing mosses at the base of the tree to be bathed in sunlight for the first time in months.

Pairs of red-tailed hawks begin soaring together over their woodlot territories.

Spring Pussy Willow (Photo: Drew Monkman)

Spring Pussy Willow (Photo: Drew Monkman)

Sugar maple trees are usually tapped around the middle of March. Daytime temperatures above 5°C combined with nights below freezing create the best conditions for a good sap run. (Note: Buckhorn Maplefest this year will be held the weekends of March 12-13, March 19-20, and March 25, 26 and 27. See mcleanberryfarm.com for details.)

March 13 — Daylight savings time begins at 2 AM. Put your clocks ahead one hour.

The furry catkins of pussy willows and aspens poke through bud scales and become a time-honoured sign of spring. Unlike willows, aspen buds grow only on twigs high in the tree.

The first northward-bound turkey vultures are usually seen by mid-March. Each year, a particularly reliable group of these birds lingers for a week or more in the west end of Peterborough and roosts in tall spruce trees off of Roper Drive.

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