By Ranger Steve Mueller
Spring is more than a date on the calendar in nature niches. By the end of March, spring is less than two weeks old and the region appears to be in winter’s wardrobe. A close look reveals change is underway.
The Great Horned Owl pair has selected breeding and feeding territory. In the evenings during March, they are heard hooting together from various vantage points near territory’s edge warning other owls to stay clear. The male owl selected a horizontal branch at field edges. It was more comfortable than standing on one that angles upward. Soon he joined the female to the west and they began a large circle hoot fest as the night sky darkened along Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary’s forest boundary. In darkness, their focus changes to eating mice and rabbits with periodic breaks for nighttime hooting.
I am anxious for the greening of shrubs and trees during April but March has been busy with its own spring activity. Children are better at discovery and seeing changes so make it a family affair to get out as “Spring Springs.” Less commentary below about each species allows more listing of March events but it will be easy to add your own commentary on family outings. Take 15 to 30 minutes with family to explore occurrences at your home site. More will occur if you dedicate some yard space to things natural and wild. Allow yard space for native plants and animals that resided in pre-settlement Michigan.
Male Goldfinches are yellowing and their black cap has returned. Male birds of many species are chasing females wherever they fly. Females birds only find peace when standing.
Groups of male Brown-headed Cowbirds stand in trees near a female ready to pursue when she flies. Female cowbirds select forest/field edges where they stand and watch other species hour by hour to learn where nests are built. When egg laying begins their eggs are deposited in other bird’s nests. They have them raise their young. Nest parasitism is not underway in March in our area.
Male red-winged blackbirds arrived two weeks before females to claim the best habitats for improved mating success. The most fit females compete for best habitat to insure reproductive success with adequate food, nesting location, and water. Most people do not notice the arrival of the dull gray female with its eye stripe and no red on the wing.
Chipmunk daily activity outside their burrows is typical except during late season snows. Painted Turtles sun on logs during moderately warm sunny days. Woodcock’s spectacular display is well underway. Wood Ducks float on streams and ponds where they depend on neighboring live or dead hollow trees for nesting. Let large dead trees stand.
Wood Frogs singing peaks in March and mating winds down by early April. Spring Peepers and Western Chorus Frogs are well into spring chorus. Gray Tree Frogs try out their song on warmer nights.
Moss’s two-toned green of new and old growth is obvious. The sporophyte stalk with spore head stands tall and grows out of the leafy gametophyte plant below. Look closely from inches away.
Elms, silver maples, and aspens flower high above while speckled alder, hazelnut, and skunk cabbage are shedding pollen in closer view.
Eastern Comma and Cabbage White butterflies are on the wing. The first overwintered as adult and the second emerged from a chrysalis that overwintered in protected recesses attached to wood or other structures.
Eastern Bluebirds have not started claiming nest boxes by the end of March but I am anxious for their blue and orange colors to brighten the field. That will be one of the April pleasures not to miss.
Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at firstname.lastname@example.org – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.