Nature Notes – Signs of Spring

Red osier dogwood in early spring

With a whole series of winter storms this March, you may have put off your hopeful search for signs of spring. Rest assured that there is plenty of spring activity taking place right now, though! March is a peak mating time for many mammals in Maine, and if you’ve heard strange screams and yowls from the woods, that is likely the source. Many of them are exiting winter sleeping spots and seeking mates and dens for raising young, and so a walk in any woods after our storms will yield plenty of signs of animal activity. Like me you’ve probably gotten a mood boost already from cardinals singing and perhaps the “peter, peter, peter, peter” of the tufted titmouse. At the end of this post (first in our new series Nature Notes), you’ll find some places to find out more about nature. One resource that anyone can enjoy is a new version of the classic pocket guide Track Finder, by Dorcas Miller (a Maine resident). It is packed with easy useful tools so that anyone can identify even vague tracks. I highly recommend it!

Plants are waking up too, which you know if you do any maple sugaring, because the sap is flowing. But take a look in roadside wet areas….you can see lots of new color, because twigs of some of our native plants are turning bright purple, red and yellow. One of my favorites is the red-osier dogwood, Cornus sericea (see picture), whose twigs become bright red with a pigment that reacts strongly to light. The sun is bright now, and no leaves are in the way so its twigs are at their brightest, and they are red year round, which makes it a great landscape plant that will brighten your yard or woodland edge in all seasons. Birds are very attracted to its berries, so it doubles as a wildlife habitat plant. Also brightening up right now are willow twigs turning yellow. These wild species are also plants you can landscape with. Both red-osier dogwood and pussy willow are available as part of our shrub sale this spring, in fact! It’s possible to add a few of these native plants to your woods edge, property border, wet areas, and pond edges and really beautify your landscape and attract wildlife. It’s also great to add plants that you will harvest fruit from, because they too offer habitat and beauty….highbush blueberry and elderberry come to mind.

Tufted titmouse

Some armchair nature study resources:

Track Finder: A Guide to Mammal Tracks of Eastern North America (Finders) by Dorcas Miller. New 2nd edition has a cover photo of a coyote.

To see common birds and listen to their calls, visit All About Birds. There is lots to do on this site, including watching feeder and nest cams!