The past several days feel like spring might actually show up and stay for a while. The warmer temperatures and rolling thunderstorms seem to indicate there might be a chance of May flowers after all. I think we all would prefer that option instead of April snow drifts. If you’ve been out on Duck Creek in the past few weeks, the weather isn’t the only indicator that seasons are changing.
There are clues all over the place. Within the forest and along the treelines you can see the small red maple blossoms. Today you can even begin to see a hint of green as willow leaf buds begin to swell. Below the flooded surface in Units A and B there are also signs of aquatic plant life. The fine green stems of water starwort have been stretching towards the water surface all winter and have finally reached their destination. Now the plants will change strategies and instead of narrow submerged leaves, they will start to develop broader floating leaves on top of the water’s surface. Mud plantain is another small annual plant that emerges early from cool wetland waters and is just starting to green up on the muddy bottoms in places with 2 to 5 inches of water. While we might not think of March and April as peak growing season, when there is a diversity of native communities, something is always happening.
The presence of amphibians in the spring is not something you typically see, but often hear. Spring peepers, chorus frogs, and southern leopard frogs have begun to call and indicate they are ready to initiate another cycle of life. As a result of these spring choruses of availability and approximate location, you can occasionally stumble upon the proof of a successful collaborative effort by these various species. Southern leopard frogs, for example, attach their globular egg masses to sticks and stems of vegetation in flooded habitat to anchor and provide cover for this year’s cohort of frogs. This year those stems might be the residual stalks of smartweed and toothcup in different parts of the pools.
Elsewhere in the marsh there is a different kind of activity. Thousands of waterfowl have already pushed through Duck Creek and headed back north. However, that isn’t to say the area is empty. Gadwall, shovelers, teal, bufflehead, canvasback, a few mallards, and perhaps a swan or two are still foraging on the area. Eating isn’t the only thing they are doing. If you look closely, many of these ducks are paired up and working on strengthening the bonds with their prospective mates.
Buffleheads are a great example of this. These sharp little diving ducks with their big poofy white heads can be seen moving about the marsh next to their drab grey mates. The drakes are positioning themselves in front of the hens, nodding their heads up and down, trying to keep their attention, and doing all the right moves in sequence so that they’ll be guaranteed a spot once they reach the breeding grounds.
Aside from the late waterfowl migrants, another indicator that seasons are shifting is the arrival of shorebirds. Greater yellow legs are just that, larger shorebirds with longer yellow legs. A number of these birds can be seen on the edges of the marsh poking and prodding the saturated mudflats and shallows as they look for nutritious bugs. They too are refueling before the next leg of their spring migration journey towards the breeding grounds in the north.
Granted we’ve had a hard winter and seems to be a variable spring, but the days are getting longer and most days appear to be getting warmer. The natural clockwork has continued to turn and the plants and animals are responding. If you haven’t had a chance, take time and come out to see for yourself that spring is in the air and the water.