Spring Has Sprung!

As part of our Cycles of Gaia ecological calendar project, over the next year, we will share an insight each month on one of the member species of the calendar, or some other ecological element of the Northeast Coastal Zone (southern New England) drawn out by the calendar. This month, as the long winter hibernation is starting to come to an end, we focus on the eruption of spring.

March as portrayed by the Cycles of Gaia Ecological Calendar.

Happy spring! March 19 marked the start of the season with the vernal equinox. This occurs when Earth’s subsolar point (where the sun is directly overhead) passes through the Equator, causing the Northern and Southern Hemispheres to experience approximately equal amounts of daylight. (The vernal equinox is akin, of course, to the autumnal equinox, in which Earth’s position in relation to the Sun mirrors that of the vernal equinox, but on the opposite side of the Sun.) The term “equinox” comes from the Latin aequus—equal—and nox—night… “equal night.” As the vernal equinox arrives, days are getting longer, and thus getting warmer. This means that plants and animals will start to come out of hibernation and migratory animals start to return from warmer places.

Some spring migrant species in the Northeast Coastal Zone include the American woodcock, red-winged blackbird, common grackle, brown-headed cowbird and American robin. One of the earliest spring migrant species, however, is the eastern phoebe (pictured below). In migration and breeding seasons, the eastern phoebe thrives in wooded areas near water, providing good but limited nesting sites. They eat berries and insects, namely “small wasps, bees, beetles, flies, true bugs, grasshoppers, […] some spiders, ticks, and millipedes.” Click here and scroll down to listen to some of its songs (including its signature Fee-bee song)!

FEE-BE! What birds have you spotted so far this spring? Share your observations below. (Image from Andrew C via Wikipedia)

However, when you look around, you may notice that not much is happening during this time in terms of plant flowering/growth. In fact, the peak of flowering occurs toward the end of April into May. Some cultures’ calendars even begin and end in March (Happy Nowruz to those who celebrate!), perhaps equating the start of the new year with the start of new growth. But be on the lookout for red maple flowers, as this is one of the earlier plants to flower in late-March.

One of spring’s earliest arrivals: red maple blossoms and buds. (Image from Liz West via Flickr)

Looking at the Cycles of Gaia ecological calendar, you may be surprised to see that spring does not come with the spike in precipitation that most would expect. “April showers bring May flowers” does not actually hold when averaged over many years. With the end of the snow season, though, the warming days of March bring the melting of frozen precipitation, which consequently swells waterways as water flows from the colder north toward the Atlantic Ocean.

Enjoy the warmer days and be on the lookout for changes in plants and animals around you as the spring season sets in!

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