The Wild Side: When it comes to spring, are you like me?
Are you like me? If you are, you favor spring and fall over summer and winter. Sure, they are variable seasons, sometimes summery, sometimes wintry, but that is part of the appeal. Summer and winter can seem to last forever, but rarely do people complain about the long, drawn-out spring. You appreciate spring because there is so much life going on around you, and you are noticing it because the sleep of winter has heightened your senses to change.
If you are like me, you probably are seeking every possible sign of spring. You are hearing more birds singing in the morning; you know what some of them are, but others are a mystery. You know your cardinals, though, and your chickadees, and they are singing their hearts out. The robin is not necessarily your favorite bird, but you are looking for that first robin of the year because you know robins bring the snow-free patches of ground with them.
If you are like me, you saw a chipmunk scamper across the crusty snow, seeming baffled that there is no open ground in sight. You know this is a sign that hibernation time is over, and if you see chipmunks, bears should be out and about any time. As you drive the highways, you strain to peer into the woods, hoping to catch a glimpse of your first bear of the year.
If you are like me, you are seeing the south-facing slopes opening up along the roads. Deer are frequenting these areas, looking for any green food they can find. Male turkeys are using these areas to show off to females. You track the difference between when these south-facing slopes open up and when the last of the snow mounds disappear further back in the woods.
If you are like me, you can’t walk past two puddles in close proximity without trying to excavate a connecting canal with your toe. You yearn to help the water work its way to the storm sewer, like you did as a child. But you are a grown-up now, and people might look at you funny if they drive by and see you squatting by the storm drain with a stick. If you are lucky, though, you have kids of your own that are following in your footsteps, and they can help winter retreat toward the river while you stand close by and watch. You don’t mind at all how often you have to put kids’ sneakers in the dryer or look for rain boots that would fit their growing feet better than the ones they stowed in the fall. You recognize that splashing in icy-bottomed puddles until your socks are crumpled up in the bottom of your boots and you can’t feel your toes is a hallowed childhood springtime rite.
If you are like me, you slow down driving over every bridge so you can see how much open water there is and what waterfowl might be paired up and using it.
You never get enough of seeing those sharp, vivid springtime colors the male ducks sport this time of year. You watch every utility line that crosses the road, hoping to spot a kestrel. You watch for birds flying overhead with grass, string or who knows what other kind of nesting material. You stand on the sidewalk staring straight up into the sky, not because you are crazy, but because you heard the stray honk of a goose, or was it the trumpet of a swan? Maybe it was just the south wind that sweeps them toward the Northwoods.
If you are like me, you love winter, but are ready for it to depart. You want to put your hand in the grass to test if it is safe to sit on the ground. You want to go outside in a windbreaker. You want spring to pop and hold its ground.
Jeremy Holtz is a wildlife biologist with the Wisconsin DNR and writes a weekly column in the Star Journal. To contact him, call (715) 365-8999.