Hearing woodcock peenting the field behind my house in February used to be an annual thrill—a first true sign of spring, at least in southern Indiana. Then the field was turned into a neighborhood, and then I moved to an even more urban area one state farther east. I envy those who live in rural areas and can hear that sound at dawn and dusk without having to travel for it. Julie Zickefoose has heard it already this year!
Have a listen! Sound recording by Jonathon Jongsma, courtesy of xeno-canto.org.
Another sign of spring I really miss is the sound of sandhill cranes, approaching from the south and heading north directly above my house. Indiana is on the cranes’ flyway, and every February, Hoosiers are thrilled and cheered by that sound. A birding festival to celebrate cranes, called Marsh Madness, is the first weekend in March each year in Linton, near Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area, where tens of thousands of sandhills (and usually a few whooping cranes) congregate. It’s an almost-spring spectacle! Have a listen to two cranes in flight, then imagine tens of thousands! Sound recording by Eric DeFonso, courtesy of xeon-canto.org.
My new favorite sign of spring is sunrise. Since about Thanksgiving I’ve been walking my dogs every morning in darkness. In the last few weeks, it’s not pitch black by the time we get home, and that cheers me even when there’s snow on the ground. Fewer hours of daylight during winter is more challenging for me than frigid temperatures. Welcome back, early sunrise!
Robins have been thick here in Marietta, Ohio, throughout the winter. I see them every day, sometimes in enormous flocks in my neighborhood. My dogs and I have disturbed their slumber in the dark hours between 6 and 7 a.m. several times during the past few months. Because they are here all winter, I predict with certainty that the first robin of spring will be spotted on March 20, the day of the vernal equinox—the first day of spring—and not one day earlier. Robins seen prior to that date will be the last robins of winter.
I’ve already heard a cardinal in my back yard in full song, and a woodpecker drumming in my neighborhood at first light as my dogs and I were arriving back home. Those are better harbingers of spring than robins!
My boss, Bill Thompson, III, lists his favorite signs of spring here, and not surprisingly, some of his overlap with mine. What are your favorite signs of spring? Please comment below to share yours.
About the Author
Dawn Hewitt is the managing editor for Bird Watcher's Digest and Watching Backyard Birds. She has been watching birds since 1978, and wrote a weekly birding column for The Herald Times, a daily newspaper in Bloomington, Indiana, for 11 years.