We spend most of our winters in SW FL, but this year we were at our new nature preserve along the Haw River in Graham, NC, Feb. 7-16, 2023. We were attending a “white coat ceremony” for our grandson Blake at Wake Forest Medical School and closing on an additional piece of property purchased that gives us about 48 contiguous acres with river frontage. The first photo shows this part of the river which is deeper than our other holdings. This provided my son Bill Jr with an opportunity to try fishing when the water was low and he caught some largemouth bass and a black crappie. Many male river cooter turtles (notice the long fingernails) were out basking on sunny days and two double crested cormorants were present. These cormorants are likely migrating north along the river from their winter quarters along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.
There were many flowers blooming in the adjacent woodlands but most of these were non-native species such as camellias, purple dead nettles, speedwells and crocuses. There did not seem to be many insects visiting these flowers yet. The only native species in bloom was the spring beauty in the edges of the gum swamp in the upper river flood plain. There were many distinctive leaves of the native cranefly orchid evident which promise many of these peculiar blooms to come after the leaves disappear.
The most distinctive evidence of “Spring” was the occurrence of huge numbers of vocalizing chorus frogs Calling was suppressed by cold nights and enhanced by warm days and rain. The wetlands supporting these breeding aggregations of chorus frogs were pools in alluvial gum swamps plus spring-fed seeps draining into the river. Note that the largest seasonal wetlands are not usually filled by the river but by rainfall that drains directly from surrounding uplands. Indeed the flat part of the “flood plain” that extends inland from the river’s edge, where there is a 15-20 foot high bank, is not likely flooded directly by the river except on very rare occasions.
One of my favorite lizards, the blue tailed skink (perhaps the five-lined skink out of three possible species), was out basking on our porch steps on the warmest days. The bright blue of the tail in juveniles seems to have two functions. One is to direct the strikes of predators away from the head and onto the tail which can be broken from the body and continues to move and draw attention. The second is to warn predators that the lizard is distasteful and potentially poisonous to eat.
This time of year (early to middle February) was too early for the long distance avian migrants to be present as they fly from the neotropics to their northern breeding areas. But some of the birds provided excellent bioindicators of the season. For example a hermit thrush, which I observed foraging in fallen leaves of the gum swamp, is a winter resident that will soon be migrating back to higher latitudes and altitudes to breed. The purple finch is also such a winter resident that will soon be migrating north. In contrast there was a pine warbler at our feeder which was likely a permanent resident. There was also a massive flock of common grackles in the area which will soon be disbanding into much smaller breeding groups.
So I must conclude that despite the exact calendar date there are in fact many “springs” based on the life cycles of specific organisms. Each “marches to a different drummer” which corresponds with its own life cycle. If we sharpen our skills as naturalists we have no need of a human calendar to tell us what the “ecological calendar” reveals so well.