With February around the corner, there are now definite indications of the coming spring season. Although wildlife are still prepared for the cold, there are subtle differences all around us compared to the state of things a month ago.
- Field station in winter
There are no doubt, many changes in the forest that are completely unseen. Although trees appear dormant, researchers are finding that they lead complex lives underground, their roots growing and intertwining. It appears that trees move nutrients back and forth, exchanging them with one another, even those of different species. And, with the help of soil fungi, they communicate with each other- indicating stress or well-being, and who knows what else. They live in families, caring for their offspring and even their elders in ways that we are just beginning to understand. As I walk in the forest, I wonder what they are talking about and planning for the coming season.
Birds still struggle to stay warm this time of year, but a bit of their energy now is being devoted to the upcoming reproductive season. Around our feeders now chickadees, cardinals, and nuthatches are starting to sing, several weeks later than they did last year, probably due to our recent cold snap. Great-horned owls are thinking about nesting now, and screech owls are calling at night. Its no wonder that we celebrate love in the form of Valentine’s Day this time of year. The shoreline is busy with many winter diving ducks and an unusual number of snowy owls now, but soon they will begin to move around as the weather moderates. Inland, hawks abound, and many red-tails and rough-legs perch along highways looking for a rodent meal.
Wild canines are on the same page as the birds- foxes and coyotes can be heard singing their own songs, even during daylight hours, voicing their enthusiasm for the coming spring and their own mating rituals. Unlike some, in our preserve we welcome the sounds of these predators, because they bring balance to the forest. They’ll soon be preparing their family dens, and in a couple of months their pups will be old enough to peek out at the world around them.
We are immersed in a great sea of life that changes with the seasons and as a result of our actions. Our ability to appreciate that depends on our willingness to forego some of the distractions we create for ourselves, and open our eyes and thoughts to the realities around us. There is perhaps no better time for that than the transition from winter to spring, and no better place than this beautiful Lakeshore.