Next week the calendar tells us that spring has finally arrived. The ground hog may have mentioned it about five weeks ago (in case you missed the announcement).
Unlike the last few years where migrating birds returned in January and gardens sprouted in February, this past winter took us back to when winters had snow and Jack Frost occasionally did take a nibble at your nose. The arrival of spring this year also bodes well for a healthy season. As we speak the vernal pools are active with amphibian activity and the endangered Jefferson Salamanders are on the move! It is breeding season for Jeffy and that comes with road closures in some areas to protect the paths they take to reach their breeding grounds.
Now, Jefferson Salamanders don’t make much noise and, while their movement heralds the arrival of spring, they are not the most commonly-noticed of creatures. One creature you will notice is the Red-Winged Blackbird. Traditionally, another first sign of spring is their migratory return from the Southern States. Keep a look out near wet areas such as wetlands and shorelines populated by tall grasses or cattails and bulrushes. They’ll start looking for dance partners as soon as they return, so their calls will be frequent and easily heard. Just watch out once they start nesting because they defend their nests vigorously!
It’s not just the little ones we watch for this month. Along the north shores of Lake Erie from Windsor to Point Pelee, mass migrations of raptors are a birder’s delight. Closer to home, the Niagara Peninsula Hawk Watch is underway with the big day coming up at Beamer Memorial Conservation Area in the Niagara Region on Good Friday. But really, anywhere along the Niagara Escarpment and the lake shores this time of year is an excellent opportunity to see large birds such as bald eagles, swans, herons, falcons and hawks on their way back to Ontario.
A few weeks from now you might even get lucky enough to see the “clouds” of Broad-winged hawks and my friends the Turkey Vultures as they migrate en masse. Last year’s count of Turkey Vultures estimated more than 20,000 traveling through Niagara and more than 100,000 through Western Ontario!
So if you’re waiting for the flowery signs of spring… they’re coming, but it’s the feathery signs that come first!
Hamilton Conservation Authority