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Cattail marsh springs to life

Ranger Steve

By Ranger SteveMueller

Anticipation greets our mornings and weekends. We have experienced wonderful weather on weekends of late. Like a magnet, the weather has pulled many of us from winter abodes into sunshine and happiness. 

With rake in hand, we entered gardens to remove dead thatch that was allowed to stand through the winter to supply the needs for wild winter residents. Clearing dead stems before new perennial growth begins is good. Daffodils and hyacinths brighten our yards with early color and cheer. To prevent damage to new growth, it is beneficial to prepare the garden early. 

Some stems in the garden like ironweed are left standing about two feet tall so solitary native bees can find habitation for their offspring. Native insects that create a healthy neighborhood can use all the help possible. Insect populations are experiencing a pandemic of sorts and it has ramifications for our food crops that need pollinators. Reduced insect numbers mean reduced birds, mammals, amphibians, and life in general. 

We should take joy in seeing the marsh come alive each spring. Though we might not cherish mosquito season, invertebrates in marshes equals duckling, geese, and other water bird survival. Sora, Virginia Rail, and American Coot young require an abundant diet. We are aware of crises that impact human lives like the Irish potato famine, black plague, and now the coronavirus. By adding one and one to equal two, we should recognize how our activities impact plant and animal survival and our own community health. 

March might seem early for spring life abundance but shortening night hours causes hormone changes that result in altered behaviors. Bird migration is well under way. Sandhill Cranes are seen in farm fields or heard making their dinosaur-like calls in flight. Male Red-winged Blackbirds began returning to cattail marshes by early March and can be seen standing on last year’s cattail flowering stalks. Rhizomes are preparing new growth for the coming warm season. Female red-wings should arrive by the time this article appears. 

It surprised me that I did not hear frogs calling from marshes by the first week of March. Spring peepers, chorus frogs, and wood frogs begin calling before ice is completely gone. A warm rain kick starts a March mating frenzy. Had I gone to some of my favorite marshes or ponds, I probably would have heard frogs.

American Woodcocks have been displaying their spring sky dance, ground stomping ritual and associated peenting calls. At dawn and dusk they are in fields like that found at Luton County Park. I am drawn to Ody Brook’s Big Field to enjoy the mating display annually. It is a highlight of spring that energizes me. I wonder how lonely life might be for people that do not experience the joy of life that surrounds us. 

We hear that depression and sadness are rampant in society and commercials offer pills as a remedy. If only I could help others experience the joyful rush of spring as marshes spring to life. It seems a better alternative to pill popping. The abundance of life is wonderful and offers more than a lifetime’s opportunity of experiences if one spends time outside exploring nature niches. 

It reached 63ºF on a sunny Sunday afternoon in early March. I was outside looking for butterflies with friends and surprisingly, we did not locate any Mourning Cloaks, Eastern Commas, or Milbert’s Tortoiseshells that hibernate as adults. I received an e-mail from a friend stating he saw a Mourning Cloak that day. I was just in the wrong place. Perhaps somewhere at Ody Brook, butterflies were on the wing in warm sunshine.

Spending time outside exploring marshes, forests, and fields, is a healthy endeavor. Many of us spend less time exploring the healthy benefits and wonders of nature when we become adults. For many the experiences continue through fishing, wildflower photography, bird watching, gardening or other nature pursuits. Head to a marsh this week to witness it springing to life. In swamps, skunk cabbage flowers are blooming and hepaticas in forests might be flowering when this goes to press. If not, go out again in early April. 

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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