Spring progress report

Published 1:39 am Wednesday, April 16, 2003

By Staff
Early spring is a most magical time. At this moment the seemingly lifeless, brown and gray world is starting to stir from its winter sleep. Obviously, the weather has been somewhat unusual this year. It seems that the temperatures have been either unseasonably warm or cold without much in the middle. It's also terribly dry. As a result, spring is running late.
I've been keeping tabs on the Lake Michigan beaches for fishing purposes and despite a number of warm days it was just a long week ago that all the ice finally cleared from the shoreline. That should have happened over a month ago. Not a lot of bird life there, either. Over the last couple of weeks the ring billed sea gulls have been steadily returning and a few small rafts of ring billed and scaup ducks drift by now and then but that's about it. I haven't seen any sandpipers or other shore birds.
Inland, even though it seems like things greened up a while ago, that was mostly an illusion. Until the warm days earlier this week about the only significant greenery was the early sprouting grasses. Most everything else is having a hard time working up enthusiasm and things are out of sink. Last week I was strolling along the Dowagiac River and noticed the skunk cabbage and may apples are coming up just about neck and neck. Skunk cabbage is usually the first uplifting spot of greenery you see in the spring woods, sprouting right at the edges of the receding snow line. Here we are heading into may apple season and the skunk cabbages are still just short, stubby spikes only a few inches tall. The few may apples coming up are still in the leaf furled stage where at first glance they resemble a black morel mushroom, a dirty trick to us dyed in the wool 'shroomers.
The spring beauties and hepaticas are just now coming into bloom. Their dainty white, pink and lavender colored flowers do wonders in cheering up an otherwise drab woods. Not like the showy trilliums that will come later but certainly better than nothing. The tiny purple flowers of squill, myrtle and violets are also brightening things up. Down in the creek bottoms where it's just a tad warmer buds of the earliest leafing species are just starting to pop. Along the Dowagiac River the briar stems were sprouting tiny star-like clusters of chartreuse colored leaves. On the higher ground the briars are just developing decent buds with no hint of leafing out.
Of course, that shrubby bush you see in open woods that's always the first to show leaves is doing so everywhere. I don't know what that shrub is, maybe mountain laurel? Later on it produces small, almost translucent, tomato red berries. If you know what I'm talking about please let me know what it is, I don't have a shrub I.D. book and am too lazy to go to the library and look it up.
Most of the migrating birds are back. In addition to the common urban species I've been seeing many of my favorites like phoebes and least flycatchers. I haven't seen any warblers yet but I suppose it's too early to have those expectations. I saw my first butterfly last Friday. It was a little gray bugger that was too flighty to get close enough to identify. Last Sunday I was at Marcellus working on my prairies and saw a mourning cloak. I also saw a quite large, orange colored butterfly. It was over fifty feet away and departed before I could get close enough for a good look so I'm not sure what it was. Viceroys and monarchs shouldn't be showing up for a couple months yet so I'm completely stumped on that one.
Having been shackled so long by cold, dry weather spring is now poised to leap up with a vengeance. As I write, though, the forecast is for it to turn cold again, once more quelling the onslaught. It's supposed to rain, though. Should we get a good soaking rain followed by a few hot days spring's resurrection will be a site to behold. Carpe diem
Larry Lyons writes a weekly outdoor column for Leader Publications. He can be reached at larrylyons@beanstalk.net