When Nature Brings Spring to Southern Maine

Along southern, coastal Maine, Spring shows its first signs in late February and by the March 1 there are more indications that nature has already started the Spring push.  

Spring is officially marked by the advent of the Vernal Equinox.  The Vernal or March Equinox is precisely marked by the very moment that the Sun crosses (from south to north) the celestial equator – an imaginary line in the sky above the Earth’s equator.   On that 24-hour day, the length of daylight and the length of darkness……are equal.   This happens every year on March 19, 20 or 21.  The March equinox happens at the same moment across the world but is converted to local time.

In 2015, the Vernal Equinox will occur on March 20 at 6:45 P.M. EDT, 5:45 P.M. CDT, 4:45 P.M. MDT, and 3:45 P.M. PDT.

But that does not mean that those phenomena that occur only in Spring have not already started well before the Vernal Equinox.  Flora and Fauna begin responding to the end of Winter well before the end of March.  Every animal feels the first signs of Spring and here in southern Maine, Spring truly is in the air by late February.   Unless there is a “January thaw”, the first signs of melting ice and snow do not occur until late February.  This year, there was no thaw in January.

The very first sign of Spring that I can recognize in southern Maine is the call of the Northern Cardinal.  It does not call in the dead of Winter here at my Maine home.  But by late February I will always hear the first Cardinal of the Spring, singing solo on a hardwood out back, early in the morning.  I believe it happens just on the day or the day before the brutal winter temperatures loosen their grip. 

The next indication I have here that Spring has arrived is the yellow coloration that begins to show on my male American Goldfinches that reside here all year.  Today, March 1, I noticed for the first time this Winter, the male AGF’s are beginning to show the first swatches of yellow right at the top of their throats.

Also today, a turkey appeared at my front feeding area.   I have not seen a turkey here for a very long time.  I accessed the metadata on images of the last turkey that was at my Maine home.  The metadata showed that the turkey was here from February 26, 2014 to mid-March 2014.  Then it disappeared.

And even more today, March 1:  The first species to begin moving through (northward) this year toward their breeding areas is the European Starling.  Here is one of the Starlings that came through in that group today.  When they reach my feeding station here in southern Maine they are ravenous for suet, probably because of its high fuel properties.


_RLK7654 crop 2 mb

It is now approaching dusk on March 1, 2015.  The single turkey that was here this morning has been here again and gone.  So I expect it to be back tomorrow.

Even though this is the very beginning of an essay, I have decided to publish it today (March 1, 2015) and update it as the migratory birds come through.

I planted Tulip and Narcissus bulbs here last Fall.  This Winter’s snow is over 2 feet in depth.  So it will be quite some time before the snow disappears enough to see the new sprouting flowers.  The Narcissus is the first flower to show through the snow each Spring.

This is a very difficult time for the White-tailed Deer.  In northern latitudes snow depth is the most critical limiting factor that the White-tailed faces each year.  And the critical time is right about now.  The White-tailed cannot handle snow when it gets to be two feet in depth.  And that is at least the depth of snows in Maine’s woods right now.  I am sure it is much deeper up in northern Maine, where there are very fewer deer per square mile.  Here, we are getting reports that many of the deer have busted out from the imprisonment of the snow depths and onto the snowmobile trails.  But there is a steep price to pay for this.  It is likely that there is little to no food along the trails.  But what is worse is the Eastern Coyotes are following the deer onto the trails, where they can easily attack and kill them.   We are getting reports that the snowmobilers are waiting on the trails to shoot the coyotes that have come out to kill the deer.  Deer continually lose weight throughout the Winter.  Now, it is a struggle to hang on to life until the snow melts enough that they can once again reach the living twigs of the Northern White Cedar and the various hardwoods twigs, before the grounds become exposed and they are able to switch to greenery.

Robert King