I have come to realize that the spring season is really a chain of natural events, and I hate to miss any of them. It began with the first cardinal and chickadee songs heard on a cold late-January morning. It has continued with successive bird sightings like the first robins, the first bluebirds and the wonders of the waterfowl migration. First sightings of some birds aren’t enough, though. I need to hear some of them, too, in order for the spring progression to feel complete and on schedule. Robins and bluebirds have been back for more than a month, but it was awhile before I heard the first songs. Although I’ve enjoyed many first sightings of birds and wildflowers already this year, there’s still a long way to go before I’m ready to accept that summer is here.
My wife and I enjoyed our first cup of coffee out on the deck early this morning surrounded by bird songs. Spring wouldn’t be complete without that, nor will once be enough. Multiple goldfinches were chasing each other around the yard and taking occasional breaks to fuel up at the feeder only a few feet away or to sing from nearby branches. The male bluebird was feeling particularly proud of himself, too. He was flying down to pick up a few bugs from the yard, and each time he returned to a favorite perch (he has several) he’d partially open and flick his wings a time or two. It was as if he were showing off and saying “see how beautiful my blue wings are.” I sure noticed, and I’ll bet his grayer mate nearby did, as well. He doesn’t perform that way later in the summer.
I have mentioned several sights and sounds that make spring what it is, but at least one smell has come to be almost as important as bird songs and flowers. That’s the smell of prairie smoke. That one was added to my list of musts for a complete spring today as I helped some friends burn off part of a prairie plot. We left some of it unburned for the pheasants, snakes, meadow mice and rabbits that we saw scamper out of the area ahead of the fire. Their home will be all the more lush this summer as a result of the well controlled burn we just completed. The darkened earth will warm more quickly to jump start the prairie’s growing season. More flowers will mean more insects to feed baby birds as well as please the eyes of those who live nearby.
Sharing the wonders of nature has always been part of this column, as have occasional calls or emails to friends when I’ve seen something unusual. Technology has left my old fashioned sharing methods far behind, though. A young friend who was helping with this afternoon’s fire jogged over with a heavy water tank on his back when his dad spotted a big garter snake. He pulled out his smart phone and snapped a picture. With a few key strokes he told (and showed) the entire world what he had seen and the phone automatically put a digital pin on a map to show where he had seen it. Anyone in the world who participates in www.inaturalist.org could see his post instantly. Thousands of people share their sightings of birds, animals, flowers and more on that application. His dad occasionally posts bird sightings on a site managed by the Cornell University Ornithology Lab in New York. Www.ebird.org allows casual birders and researchers alike to instantly know where thousands of birds are being seen. It also shares tons of information on birds. A website managed by the Iowa Ornithologists Union focuses on Iowa bird sightings. I’m still more comfortable sharing the wonders of nature here in print or one-on-one with friends, but I’m glad at least some of the flood of new technology encourages people to get outdoors and helps them share their outdoor interests.
Steve Lekwa is the former director of Story County Conservation. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.