By Ranger Steve Mueller
The warm spell in February was a big tease. It forced me into action. I pruned some low branches along trails at Ody Brook that I knew would grow to interfere with free travel. I thought hazelnut shrubs would appreciate me clearing some shrubs and small trees away from them to provide space for growth. There are relatively few hazelnut shrub clumps in the nature sanctuary and I want to encourage their survival.
The landscape mound’s dead vegetation was left standing in fall as a place for insects, birds, and rabbits to use as shelter during the winter. Usually before March ends and snow has melted, I rake the dead stems from the mound to allow unimpeded new spring growth.
There is always something to draw one outside every day of the year but the extreme February warmth and sun created an irresistible enticement. I got a jump on spring “clean-up.” It was good exercise for my muscles with the rake instead of using exercise equipment. Exercise equipment might be better for targeting specific muscles for toning but somehow indoor machines leave me empty compared with good meaningful work in the yard.
The benefits of work in the yard are many. It helps maintain appropriate living space for wild neighbors. I see animals moving about more during the warming. Two Sandhill Cranes flew over to increase my outside enjoyment. They were my first for the year. Anxious to reach breeding grounds, they advance north as quickly as the frozen water retreats. Finding remnants of corn left in fields, mice, and aquatic animals in open shallow water sustains them.
Frogs were active in their nature niche during what must have seemed like spring’s arrival. Unfortunately, some explorers of territory do not survive the early season jaunts. I went to the road to remove animals killed by passing vehicles. An opossum lay dead just north of the creek, where it tried crossing from west to east during the night. In late afternoon, a wild turkey lay dead south of the driveway where it was not present at midday.
For early spring color and nectar, daffodils and irises were planted in the gardens years ago. Already in February, the warmth stimulated activity. Daffodil leaves stood three inches tall and irises showed green to one inch above ground. I would not have seen their rush to grow if I did not do some early season gardening. I have learned from observations during previous years the new growth will survive the coming cold that will return.
The warmth persisted and I cleaned the butterfly garden of dead leaves well before the spring equinox. I looked for butterfly activity in the woods and was surprised I did not find Mourning Cloak or Eastern Comma butterflies taking advantage of unseasonable sunny warm weather.
The Sugar Maple trees by the house were daily dripping sugar rich sap from winter wounds during the warm spell. Birds like chickadees and titmice carry black oil sunflower seeds from birdfeeder to tree branches where they peck the hulls to get seed meat. In the process, birds break thin bark on small branches. The wounds drip sap.
Some butterflies that hibernate as adults find the wounds a rich source for nutrition to recharge their energy after months of not feeding. Though they hibernate and use little body fat during the cold, it must be good to wake to a ready source of quick sugar sap energy from bleeding wounds.
Take the opportunity to witness spring life in your yard.
Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at email@example.com – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.