March 2014

3/1     The wind rages as March comes in like a lion. No signs of spring to be seen. The frozen Hudson booms and rattles with changing tides.

Photo of the Hudson River mostly frozen over in late March, 2014

The Hudson is still frozen in late March – Photo: Judy Kelley-Moberg

3/3     The snowstorm went south of us and we escaped one at least. Gray and cold today, lows predicted to crack 0°.

3/4     I heard woodpeckers drumming, cardinals singing, the first killdeer, and song sparrow talking to song sparrow, so despite the chill, spring advances.

3/5     Chipmunks have sprouted from the white blanket that covers the landscape. Those little rascals look like wind-up toys as they zip over the frozen surface, reconnoitering and reclaiming their feeding territories, and getting ready for spring.  — Robin Fox

3/5     The sun is shining and the birds are calling. I saw a chipmunk yesterday, even though it was 0° Tuesday night and 1° last night.  — Elise Barry

Ed. note: In March the males awake from their winter slumber (they do not truly hibernate) in burrows that they dug slanting below boulders and under tree roots. Males precede females by two or three weeks. Hunger and the sex urge wake the guys up and as soon as they can they take care of both needs. They will go into burrows looking for love.

3/6     From the Hudson River Almanac a nature sighting of a different sort: “As our Metro North train slowed to negotiate the turns just beyond Anthony’s Nose, I had a fairly good look at a seal hauled out on the ice midway across the river. It had a light brownish-tan coat and my best guess was harp seal.”

As its Latin name, Phoca groenlandica, suggests, the harp seal is a creature of boreal waters, arctic seas, and ice floes. They are uncommon in the New York Bight and primarily come as the result of being orphaned as pups. Like the gray seal, and the more temperate harbor seal, their presence in our area may also be the result of increased northern populations. Most sightings in the estuary occur at the end of winter (late February and early March).  — Tom Lake

3/7     Reports trickle in from birders in Westchester and Manhattan of early migrants’ return: drake green-winged teal (males come first?), long-tailed duck and golden eyes Several flocks of the reliably early hooded mergansers are finding open water to await the big melt.

3/8     Last night the thermometer did not drop to single digits, but hovered around freezing. Once the sun came up, the day warmed quickly to a balmy 50°. It finally feels like spring is coming, even though there is still a foot of snow on the ground in some places. In other low-lying spots, springs have melted through, and voila! The skunk cabbage is blooming. Good thing, because the honey bees are flying and looking for pollen or nectar and there isn’t anything else out yet. The robins are bobbin’, the blue birds are picking insects (stone flies?) off the snow, the woodpeckers are drumming to stake out their nesting territory and tonight the clocks will be moved ahead one hour!

Photo of skunk cabbage in bloom

A sure sign of spring: the skunk cabbage is blooming! – Photo: Beth Herr

3/9     Today, I was hiking along the abandoned train line near the spot where the ducks come into a protected area of the Great Swamp. There were two open spots – one right below the beaver dam and the other right in front of the beaver lodge. There was evidence of beaver activity that was recent – floating sticks and a trail to a tree they had felled. I saw a kingfisher who was taking advantage of the open area to hunt! Cattail fluff was all over the track area and I picked up an oriole’s nest.

Further down the tracks, closer to Ice Pond, I spotted an eagle flying overhead! The pond is still frozen, with congregations of springtails in evidence. Pools of melting water are forming on the surface – a sure sign that winter’s icy grip will soon loosen!  — Diana Lee

3/10     I saw a question-mark butterfly open and sunning on a rock today!  — Jill Eisenstein

Ed. note: This butterfly is one of three that overwinter in the butterfly stage. The other two are the mourning cloak, and the eastern comma. Imagine spending this winter outside, on a tree perhaps, folded under the bark! At rest, with their wings folded up, they become invisible with colors that mimic that pattern of the forest floor or a dead leaf. There is a little white “question mark” in there, too. Lucky is the observer who can follow its erratic flight until it pauses on a warm rock and opens its wings to the warm spring sunshine. Inside the upper wings glow warm orange and light up the winter-faded forest.

3/11     A warm sun beckoned the winter-weary to step outside. There the smell of the earth, the warmth of the spring sun, the sounds of house finches and robins evoke renewal. And yet a walk in the new public open space property south of Haviland Hollow Road and along the north-facing ridge meant trudging through snow still a foot deep. How Old Man Winter holds on, refusing to relinquish his icy touch. There were flies about, and a small spider dropped on the snow, but alas, all is frozen in the forests still.

3/11     Turkeys are gobbling and hobbling through the still deep snow.

3/11     I had a flock of 40 red-wing blackbirds in my yard this morning!  — Bullet Hole Road

3/11     I went for a walk at Nimham Mountain State Forest (off Nichols Street). There were five deer crossing the road where there is construction at the old condos. I got there at dusk – 7:20ish – and the trail was a mess of soft snow ranging from ice to above-ankle mush. No moon on this drizzly night, but plenty of ambient light reflected off the snow. There I was greeted by perhaps three woodcocks “peenting,” the whirl of wings, and the end of the free fall!  — Diana Lee

Watercolor sketch of an American Woodcock

American woodcock – Sketch by Beth Herr

3/12     Cloudy but warm at daybreak, light rain by afternoon, and fog by day’s end. Usually in mid-March, naturalists check in with each other: Is the rain warm enough and heavy enough for the annual salamander migration? The phoebe has not returned. It is hard to imagine any creature slithering under or over the ice.

3/12     Even in the house one can find signs of spring: Spotted a fly and an ant in our living room!  — George Baum

3/12     Charlie Roberto counted seventeen tree swallows, buzzing like bees, at the entrance to Croton Point. He saw at least four go into nest boxes!

3/13     A bitter, icy wind rages today, stalling all thoughts of spring. It was 12° this morning, and barely cracks 20° now. While roadways have melted and highway islands are free of snow, the hills of Kent are still blanketed in heavy snow. Now, with spring just seven days away, it is bullet-proof with a coating of ice.

3/14     From the Hudson River Almanac: “I thought I had seen the first snake of the season – a brief look at a small garter snake before it disappeared into the leaf litter – until Krista Munger told me she had seen a snake three days earlier.”  — Tom Lake

3/14     Temperatures reached 50°, yet I was totally surprised to find a 30-inch milk snake basking on the front stoop this evening. It tried to shy away and moved a few feet staying on the warm concrete as the sun set. As the air temperature plummeted, I threw a towel over the snake and left it for the night. The next day it was gone.  — Krista Munger

3/15     The Ides of March – the traditional day to plant peas. But there is nary a spot of brown soil to probe, and the raised beds stay frozen with a thick blanket of snow cover.

3/15     I went kayaking on the Ten Mile River in Kent, CT. It’s almost all quick water, class I and some class II. It was amazing! We saw a fox right off the bat followed by a mink then – I’m almost positive – a black bear. Also it was my first sighting of red-winged black birds, a huge flock! What music to my ears – delightful! Birds everywhere!  — Diana Lee

3/16     It’s the full Worm Moon tonight, but brrr! It’s cold. There are no worm castings scattered over the soil. Usually by this time the soil has warmed enough to entice the earthworms to rise out of their winter chambers to feed. This is just in time for the early birds, like robins and woodcocks, who need them for food. Maybe by month’s end, the worms will be back.

3/17     It’s St. Patrick’s Day and folks in Kent are wearing green, except for Mother Nature. There were ice fishermen on Lake Carmel and Lake Gleneida today! Raccoons and opossum are active at night, but there are no sign of skunks yet. Turkeys gobble, house finches chatter, and the dawn chorus grows despite the ice.

3/18     Chilly and in the teens at daybreak, but above 40° at noon: the perfect maple sugaring weather. Sap is flowing, and if it made noise, the sound of water and starches being pumped up the trees would be deafening. Squirrels, with young ones already leaving the nests, know to nibble branch tips and slurp up sweet sap drip-drops. Usually at sugaring time there are sallow moths and other insects attracted to the sweet – about 4% sugar – sap, but it’s been too cold for those flyers.

Photo of maple sap collection operation at Clearpool.

Collecting maple sap at Clearpool – Photo: Beth Herr

3/19     Watched a red fox find a warm sunny rock in our backyard, lie down to rest, stay to soak up the rays and sleepily think spring thoughts.  — Mooney Hill Road

3/19     Last night’s heavy rain had naturalists wondering if there had been enough rain, warm enough temperatures and enough snowmelt for the spring migration of the salamanders and wood frogs from their winter burrows to their mating pools. Some went out in the rain to see, and some went out the next morning to look for dead amphibians who never made it across the roads (yes, this happens, and yes, it’s important to get out to see before the crows have their breakfast of roadkill). No sign of living or dead amphibians, so the next all-day, all-night rain may be the important one.

3/20     Happy first day of spring. The lion is still here. The wild wind whips the newly exposed leaves. Clouds race across the brilliant blue sky. Spring? Yay! This is the equinox, when the length of the night equals the length of the day everywhere on earth. This is also the day when the sun rises due east and sets due west everywhere on earth.

3/20     The river is becoming less ice-bound and the open reaches are luring eagles and waterfowl northward toward their breeding areas. Pollen alerts today are from juniper and maple trees! The first tree flowers of the season.

3/25     In a small oval of open water in Seven Hills Lake, 10 buffleheads were seen, paddling in small circles and looking confused.  — George and Kaye Baum

3/26     The wood ducks are coming back! They are using the Ice Pond roost now. We saw about 2000 birds Tuesday night and last night counted 2045 ducks (+/- 3 or 4) coming in to roost.  — Jim Utter, Judy Kelley-Moberg

Ed. note: The extensive wetland drainage of Ice Pond is an essential roosting spot for migrating waterfowl. The wood ducks, and others, come in waves starting about sunset and lasting 45 minutes. Sometimes there are so many they are difficult to count. After coming to land in the shrubby wetlands the birds chatter and whistle as if happy to be back.

3/27     I’m scouting out vernal pools for an upcoming night of the salamander event. Three pools are completely frozen, but a fourth, with an open sunny edge, was rippling with the movement of very active red-spotted newts. Hmmm, usually, at this time of year, a warm rain (55°) that lasts all night could mean the migration of yellow-spotted salamanders – an incredible spectacle. Usually this time of year, the phoebe has returned. Red-winged blackbirds, bluebirds and robins were singing away today, but nary a phoebe announced its return. Spring is a month behind. Will the salamanders be, too?

3/27     In the Great Swamp today I heard a couple of wood ducks, saw a mink, about 50 mallards, a few black ducks, about 10 geese, a downy woodpecker, blackbirds (only 2-4) and a grackle or starling taking a bath. Also, I saw a dead pigeon in the water that looked like it had been shot in the neck.  — Diana Lee

3/28     Gloomy rain, temps in mid-40s. The rivers swell, the streams roil with cascades, and yet the ice persists in all the lakes and ponds. This is the typical bloom time for the coltsfoot. Its sunny yellow face usually trims the roadsides now. The only flower blooming is skunk cabbage, able to melt its way up through the snow. Red maple trees are budding up giving the forest a blush, while willows turn bright yellow and green, subtle and appreciated signs of renewal.

Mud season begins in Kent as these spring temperatures start ground thaw at the top and the bottom – that is, at the surface and at the level that is in contact with bedrock – leaving the middle section to thaw last. Frozen ground turns to mud at 33°.

3/28     More rain and the possibility rises that the wood frogs and salamanders will migrate tonight. During the winter, wood frogs produce glucose that is circulated in their bloodstream and organs. This allows them to freeze solid without dying. When temperatures rise they begin to thaw as their hearts start beating again.

3/29     Last night’s rain did indeed thaw some wood frogs who were on their way to their natal ponds. Eight squashed specimens were counted on Bullet Hole Road. It also melted snow. Mounds of frozen white still linger in north-facing shady places, and Lakes Gleneida and Carmel are still solid ice. Many more expanses of lawn and forest are revealed for the first time in months.

Downpours predicted tonight are likely: the whistle of the train in Patterson drifts all the way to middle Kent. That only happens when a low pressure system allows sounds to travel farther. Another sign of barometric pressure falling: the release of sweet odors from the soil…and yes…life renews.

3/30     “Phoebe, Phoebe!” The eastern phoebe announced its return this morning. Overnight two inches of rain melted the last of our winter’s whopping 69 inches of snow! I set traps last night, but salamanders were not moving yet. However John Foley found some as he reports below.

3/30     I went to a few pools last night in Sherman, CT, and it was raining too hard to enjoy being out. When I got home to Patterson, I heard the sounds of peepers echoing out from my “little pond.” The rain had let up and I walked down to the edges of the emergent marsh and found a few spotted sallys out and about in the water!  — John Foley

Photo of a spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum)

The sallies are out! – Photo: John Foley

3/31     The month began with ice and ends in ice: Boyds Corner Reservoir is drained while work is done on the Ashokan system. The eight-inch tables of ice, perforated by boulders as the water level drops, create an iceberg field. Look at the picture taken on the last day of March. Sigh.

Photo of Boyds Corner Reservoir turned into a jumble of icy blocks.

Boyds Corner Reservoir is still an ice field at the end of March – Photo: Beth Herr

In April, be alert for:

  • A total lunar eclipse on April 15
  • The Lyrids meteor shower peak on April 22
  • The jingle-bell-like call of the spring peepers, and the trill of the toads on days above 60°
  • Tree swallows, killdeer, wrens, song sparrows, and the first of the warblers to arrive (pine and palm usually). When will the juncos leave for the northern breeding grounds?
  • The papery beech leaves from last year falling when the new buds begin to grow. One day they are still hanging, the next they are all on the ground and the little beech buds look like cigars.

Photo of a beech With persistent leaves

Beech leaf skeletons – Photo: Beth Herr

Photo of a white oak with persistent leaves

White Oaks hang on to their leaves, too – Photo: Beth Herr

Join us:

  • At Clearpool Campus, Sunday April 6, 1-3 for an Amphibian Hunt for kids. Wear boots!

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