Hope for the winter-weary

Hope for the winter-weary

Skunk cabbage

March has the decision-making skills of a squirrel dodging city traffic — darting one day toward spring with 50-degree temperatures and sunshine, then back to winter with more ice and snow the next. 

At a time of year when Ohioans are trying to recoup from yet another long, cold, gray Midwestern winter, what does March offer us as the first “wildflower” of spring? Skunk cabbage. In short, March has no rules. The obligatory transition from winter to spring is nothing but a tease. In like a lion and out like a lamb? Well, maybe. It might be in like a lion and out like a lion. Or, in like a lamb and out like a lamb. We just never know. 

Maple syrup being tapped from tree

The nearly nightly freezing and thawing coaxes moisture from tree roots, and all across the state, folks will be tapping their sugar maple trees.

Forsythia plant
“Mole” salamander
Bald eagle
Turkey vulture
Male red-winged blackbirds
Phoebe songbird

Weather folklore says to expect three snows after the forsythia blooms — and more years than not, that’s correct. What we can count on is that April is just around the corner — and once we then reach the warm, welcoming days of May, these few bleak days of March mud will be a barely remembered blip on the yearly cycle of the natural world in the Buckeye State. So, hang in there, fellow sufferers: The equinox, the official start of spring, arrives on March 21. Until then, here are a few things to look out for this month.

Bird migration gets underway in March. Male red-winged blackbirds will show up early in the month — a few even in late February — bobbing on cattail stalks while singing and squabbling over breeding territories. The females will be along in a few weeks. A songbird that says its name, phoebe, will arrive mid- to late-month.

Wild turkey toms
Diving duck

Wild turkey toms begin gobbling in earnest this month. Waterfowl are already on the move, seemingly pushing the ice on ponds and lakes northward ahead of them as they go. Hardy diving ducks, as a group, lead the parade, with the dabblers close on their tails.

Woodchucks and chipmunks emerge from their long winter’s sleep in March, and spring peepers start their, well, peeping. It will be only a few at first, but their chorus will gradually rise to a roar from swamps and marshes by late month. At other more temporary wetlands called vernal pools, “mole” salamanders in untold numbers make their annual breeding trek under the cover of darkness on the first relatively warm, rainy nights. 

Scarlet cup fungus

Woodcocks arrive in March, too — the males “peenting” and sky-dancing at dusk and dawn, trying to impress the females (I’ll be writing in-depth next month about these odd birds that appear to have been put together by committee).

Eagles and owls are already nesting, and hawks are about to. Vultures — turkey vultures and black vultures — will be tilting in March winds as they soar aloft. For a splash of color on the bland, brown forest floor this time of year, look for scarlet cup fungus growing on hardwood branches fallen from trees.