Backyard Challenge: Find 5 Signs of Spring

We often think of winter as dead, with lifeless tones of gray and brown laid before an overcast, cold sky. But what if we thought of it as the calm before the celebration?

Nature in winter is in suspended animation, holding its breath until the days are long enough and the temperatures high enough that it can explode forth into spring. But when you look a little closer, you see the big explosion is really many small pops. Here are five of those small pops to look for in March.

Mourning cloak buttefly (Photo by Billy Lindblom on Wikimedia)

1. Bugs
Native bees, water striders and butterflies… they all enjoy the warm sunshine just as much as we do. Keep an eye open for the mourning cloak butterfly. They overwinter as adults, so they are some of the first out each year.

Harbinger of spring (Photo by Paul Seevers)

2. Harbinger of spring
Spring ephemerals are short-lived flowers that pop up on the forest floor and soak in the sunshine before the tree canopy shades them. One of the earliest ones is the aptly named harbinger of spring (Erigena bulbosa), also called pepper and salt. Be on the lookout for these wildflowers as they begin to bloom.

Buds on a red maple tree (Photo by Paul Seevers)

3. Red maple
Red maples (Acer rubrum) are one of the earliest trees to start blooming. Many trees have inconspicuous flowers, including most maples, but the red maple blooms early enough that they are easy to spot. Look up on your next hike – the tree bursting with red at the top is most likely a red maple.

A Mississippi map turtle warms itself on a log (Photo by Paul Seevers)

4. Turtles
Through the winter, aquatic turtles will brumate (essentially reptile hibernation) by burying themselves in the mud and slowing their systems down. When warmer temperatures return in March, turtles can be found again sunning themselves on logs and rocks. Approach a pond quietly and count how many turtles you see. Notice their mud-covered shells.

American toad (Photo by Keith Robinson)

5. Toads
American toad (Anaxyrus americanus) mating season is underway. In the evening and sometimes during daylight, the high-pitched trill of the male’s mating call can be heard. If you hear it, look for the toad and watch as the vocal sac on its throat fills like a balloon! Then look for the long strands of hundreds of eggs in the water.

Sometimes it’s hard to remember in the early cold days of March, but if you look close enough, you can see the first signs of spring are already all around.

Want more nature education fun that you can do at home? Click here for all of our backyard challenges.

Paul Seevers, Nature Interpreter, Farbach-Werner Nature Preserve