It is a time of discontent for those of us who love the natural world. It seems every day brings a new threat to the environment and concern that the natural world itself is under siege. Our best efforts to protect the land and its inhabitants that we cherish seem to be for naught. Rather than despair at the present circumstances, this is a time to step back and celebrate what we love about the natural world. Only this gives us the strength to continue fighting for what we love.
As I write this, spring is approaching; it is a time of renewal, a time of hope. Already the buds are swelling on the maple trees, bringing the promise of the renewal of life. My resident birds who have clung to my feeders all winter, are now dividing their time between my feeders and the trees, where they hunt for the small insects that emerge with the opening of the buds. The male birds who have co-existed at the feeders all winter are becoming feisty. Already the dominant titmouse is chasing away potential rivals and has begun to sing. While two or more pairs of cardinals are still peacefully occupying the hedge nearest the feeders, the alpha male will soon assert his dominance, joining the Carolina Wren and titmouse in a growing spring chorus that will greet the coming of dawn around the world, reminding us that life is not so easily suppressed.
The Great-horned Owls are nesting, the earliest species to do so. The males are nest guarding this time of year. If you stumble upon one in the woods, he will stare you down with his yellow eyes, daring you to challenge him. He is the guardian of his realm, a fearless top predator, and he knows it.
Already the first migrants are headed north, following an ancient instinct that has survived the waxing and waning of glaciers. Soon the Long-eared Owls wintering in evergreen groves near open fields, will grow restless and start to move. Only time will tell if any of this threatened species stay and nest in the more secluded of our evergreen stands or depart with our winter visitors, the Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Brown Creepers, Winter Wrens, and others who have graced our woods, hedge rows, and fields this winter. The Pine Warbler, first of the wood warblers to nest in our area, will soon be singing at Baldpate and in the Institute Woods. Wintering in the southern states and barely into the Neotropics, Pine Warblers arrive at their nesting ground in late March. Louisiana Waterthrushes are the next to arrive in mid-April. They need to fledge their young before the streams, which support the invertebrates they feed to their young, dry up. Other species follow in late April and early May as the stream of migrants that began as a trickle becomes a torrent. Life, following ancient instincts, struggles onward.
The skunk cabbage has already bloomed. As the forest floor warms up and before the trees leaf out, spring ephemerals, among our most beautiful and delicate wildflowers, will bloom. Bloodroots, Trilliums, Hepaticas, and Virginia Bluebells give us reason to look down, as well as up, in the early spring. The Mourning Cloaks, the first butterfly of the year to be seen in the woods, appear concurrently. Baldpate Mountain and the Sourlands are strongholds for these species, yet another reason to fight for the ecological integrity of these lands.
While this is a time for vigilance against the many threats to the natural world, it is not the time to despair. There still remain places of great beauty brimming with wondrous life. Go out this spring and celebrate the world around you. It will give you the courage to fight for what you cherish.—Sharyn Magee, President, WCAS