Friday, February 28, 2014

March Phenology

Skunk on the prowl- MDC
Phenology - the scientific study of periodic biological phenomena

February was the month of "love" for humans and skunks.  While we were celebrating Valentine's Day with candy, flowers and expensive restaurants, skunks were risking their lives to find the ladies.  We saw six dead skunks just on a drive to Galena last Friday.

March marks the beginning of the mating season for turkeys.  Theirs is a safer courtship as they apparently look both ways before crossing the highway and hunting season doesn't start until April.  Their courtship is a passionate one, as described by our own Tana Pulles.
"Wild turkey courtship is in full swing during the month of March and will continue through early May.  The males begin the courtship season by chasing the females mid to late February.  When in sight of a female, tom turkeys, with quivering wings, strut pompously, emitting a series of explosive puffs from their lungs attempting to woo the hens.  Rivalry among males may result in bloodshed and even loss of life as stronger toms strike the heads of weaker rivals.  The female turkey shows acceptance of the male by strutting near him, then suddenly spreading her wings and throwing herself on the ground before him.  This is followed by dramatic mating dances."
Harbinger of spring- Click to enlarge
Wildflowers start to make their appearance, announced by the diminutive harbinger of spring.  These are frequently obscured by the leaf litter.  Last February while we hunted for salamanders, Barb crawled around until she announced she had "found one."  We were a little disappointed when she pointed to her find, the first harbinger.  With the harsh winter, I suspect they will be coming out a little later. 

Wood Duck- Wikimedia
I saw a pair of wood ducks staking claim to their stretch of Bull Creek this weekend.  Great blue herons are also supposed to be returning now, although we have had a resident heron at the swimming hole all winter.  It may have paid the price for its winter residence as our neighbor Larry Whiteley found a dead great blue heron in the middle of the field by the barn.  Lest it died in vain, we will be cleaning its skull for future school presentations.  Red winged black birds, purple martins and swallows will also be returning soon.

Blue birds have started arriving, starting their mating cycle.  Once again, we have had a few that decided to spend the winter, watching us from the walnut field as we cruised across the pasture.  It certainly wasn't because of a mild winter.  Maybe they had heard of global warming and decided to take their chances.  Either way, this is the time to be sure that your boxes are cleaned out from last year's nestings.  If the bluebirds get an early start they might have three broods in a season, although our latest return of the "polar vortex" doesn't bode well.

March should bring out the spring peeper chorus, desperately seeking mates.  They have survived the winter with their natural anitfreeze and must be singing to shake off the chill as well as finding mates. We haven't heard them yet, but when it occurs, we can usually hear them as we drive Highway W even with the windows closed.  For all that noise, they are really hard to find, like the one below.

Spring peeper- Click to enlarge - REK
Peepers serve as a reminder that it is also time for the spotted salamanders to gather to mate.  Soon their egg clusters will be clumped in the ephemeral ponds, safe from the bullfrogs and fish found in larger bodies of water.

More to look for:
  • Woodcocks begin arriving the last few days in February on their migration North.
  • Cardinals begin celebrating Spring Break with their mocking call "teacher-teacher".
  • Tree buds begin to wake up.  Look for tiny orange cedar berries on female trees, later to turn into blue cones.
  • Big Vs of geese are heading north, hard to find at their high altitudes.
  • Gobblers begin warming up for mating season.
  • Black vultures return to the Ozarks from the south, joining their northern turkey vulture cousins in their recycling duties.
  • Mourning cloak butterflies emerge from their bark crevices along with anglewings and goatweeds, species that overwinter as adults.

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