Seasons are a very good phenomena, with each one offering something different. In fact, I believe they give humans vitality, and that life would be duller with a constant environment.
This time of year, the earth is tilting, and in the northern hemisphere, the angle to the sun is becoming more direct. The sun appears higher in the sky, and daylight increases each day. Spring Equinox—one of two moments in the year when day and night are of equal length—is approaching.
In this post we’ll look at the changes that may be taking place amongst common wildlife species in your woods, and then outline some best practices for taking it all in on your next walk.
Signs of Spring to Look for in Your Woods
Deciduous trees that adapt to winter by shedding their leaves are gearing up for a real green spring. Willows are showing a yellow tinge as their buds swell. Red maples are acquiring a red tinge as their flowers develop.
Change is the rule in the ornithological (bird) world. In the south, many winter residents are molting into breeding plumage before heading north to breeding grounds. White-throated sparrows are becoming whiter, chipping sparrows redder, goldfinches golder, and yellow-rumped warblers yellower.
Some winter residents, such as ruby-crowned kinglets and American robins, practice their singing before heading to their breeding territories. In the south, red-shouldered hawks are very vocal around their nest in tree canopies. Permanent resident birds are starting to sing. Carolina and black-capped chickadees, tufted titmice, northern cardinals, and Carolina wrens are vocally proclaiming spring, defending territories, and nesting.
It’s not by chance that bird reproduction coincides somewhat with insect abundance—hungry nestlings depend on arthropod protein to survive and grow.
Winter flocks of wild turkeys are busting up, dispersing, as turkeys transition into breeding season. Gobblers are starting to thunder in the woods as they gear up for reproduction.
The mammalian world is changing as well. Many species are gearing up for reproduction. White-tailed deer bucks are starting to grow new antlers, and mature does are becoming pregnant.
Reptiles and amphibians, ectothermic or “cold blooded”, are responding to warmer temperatures and becoming active. Leopard frogs are croaking challenges to competitors and attracting mates on warm nights. Alligators are coming out of their winter torpor. And on sunny days, red-eared sliders are jostling for best positions on floating logs in lakes.
Much of this spring awakening can be observed first hand with a little patience and strategy. Below are some tips for getting the most out of your spring-time walk in the woods.
Dress comfortably for the weather. And wear neutral colors to blend in with your surroundings better. (Except during hunting season.)
Protect yourself against ticks and insect bites. Wear long pants and long sleeves if you are in a tick-prone area. Wear insect repellent.
Pack your binoculars, spotting scope, or the telephoto lens for your camera. Animals are best enjoyed from a distance. In fact, you'll have better success if you use trees or shrubs as a screen between you and wildlife. Use binoculars or a zoom lens to get close up.
Leave early and/or stay out late. Many animals are most active at dawn and dusk.
Use all your senses. Sometimes if you just sit quietly with your eyes closed, your ears or your nose might pick up clues to a wild animal's presence.
Be patient, quiet and still. Animals are cautious. Let them see and hear as little of you as possible. Wear clothing that don’t rustle, and shoes that make less sound.
Learn the habits of the animals you would like to see. Knowing what they like to eat, where they live, and when they forage will help you be in the right place at the right time. Also watch for animal tracks and other signs that animals leave in the woods. With experience, you'll know what animals are around from the signs they leave in your woods.
Look around, up and down. Wildlife is everywhere. The insect world itself is complete with predators, plant eaters, and scavengers. Sometimes the most interesting wildlife drama in the woods is right at your feet.
- Don’t wear anything with a heavy scent.
- Don’t chase, follow or approach wildlife (and don't touch them!) Even if it’s cute—and doesn’t look like it can hurt you—every animal can, and will, defend itself from threats.
- Don’t feed the animals. The wrong food can harm them. Groups of animals at artificial feeding sites spread disease, and animals that get used to human food can harm people while searching for that food.
- Don’t bring your dog, or if you must, keep your dog on a leash, and don’t let it scare wildlife.
- Don’t pick up animals or take them home. Resist the temptation to "save" baby animals. Mom is usually watching from a safe distance. Besides, caring for wildlife is complex and is best left to licensed wildlife rehabilitators. Keeping wildlife as a pet is illegal in most places.
- Don’t remove all dead / dying trees. Keep in mind these trees can often provide food and shelter for wildlife.
Right now, old man winter withers and spring awakens. In the north snow is melting. Mother nature and its critters are stirring for another round of growth and reproduction. Signs portend renewed life ahead. Go to the woods and take note!
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About the Author: Dr. James G. Dickson is an award-winning author, researcher, wildlife biologist, and professor. He, with help from colleagues, produced the comprehensive and award-winning books on: Wildlife of Southern Forests: Biology and Management, and The Wild Turkey: Biology and Management, called the turkey bible. He is Scientist Emeritus, USDA Forest Service, Southern Research Station. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
*This post was written by guest blogger. The views within it do not necessarily represent those of WoodsCamp Technologies or the American Forest Foundation.