by Marjorie Rachlin
Now that the March “snow storm that wasn’t” is over, signs of spring are everywhere. There are a few daffodils on sunny lawns. The birds have tuned up into a symphony. In the early morning, you can hear the doves “coo,” the cardinals pealing “cheer cheer,” the titmice piping “peter, peter,” and the woodpeckers drumming. The house finches have a high wandering obligato above. These birds are courting and declaring territory: “Watch out, this is my pad.”
In my front yard the male cardinal sings loud and lusty, off and on throughout the day. He’s got a mate, and they’ve picked a front bush for a nest. They won’t start building yet – all the songbirds are waiting until it warms up and there are plenty of insects to feed the young. The books say that robins, cardinals may lay their first eggs in early April.
Everyone talks about the cherry trees downtown, but there is a much more important sign of spring right here – the red maples are blooming!! They are the first native tree to bloom. The trees have become a misty red, and when you look at the silhouette against the sky, you see that the twigs have hundreds of little “bumps.” Those are the tiny red blossoms, which will be pollinated by the wind and produce hundreds of winged maple seeds.
The elms are blooming too, tiny non-descript brown flowers lining the twigs. There are no leaves yet, but you can see that the tree looks fuller. Elms produce thousands of seeds – quarter-inch little green discs. Next month you’ll see the squirrels and the goldfinches up in the branches, feasting on them.
Golden bush, not forsythia
In Forest Hills, we have another spectacular bloomer that I look for every February. At the corner of Linnean and Davenport, there is a lovely witch hazel bush, which flowers into a mass of golden yellow and lasts through March. The forsythia hasn’t started yet as far as I can see, although the winter jasmine at the corner of Brandywine and 30th often fools people into thinking it has.
January cheerI hate January, grim and grey. That’s when I need to get a jump on spring, so, in the fall, I plant the early-blooming bulbs. I have had lavender species crocus and yellow aconite blooming in the front yard since late January. On warm days over 50 degrees I see honey bees that have emerged from hibernation, busy collecting pollen from the crocus. Snowdrops have also been blooming for several months – right now there is a big patch on the other side of Broad Branch Creek, just north of the intersection with the Parkway.
We’re waiting for the spring peepers in my neighbor’s pool to start singing. Last year the trilling started March 12, and there were tadpoles by March 25, but we have to have a few warm sunny days before they’ll start.
Squirrel babies have been born, but you won’t see them out for a couple of weeks. We don’t know whether the foxes mated – if so, they should have kits by now.
Right now, the only wildflower blooming in Rock Creek Park is skunk cabbage, but there will be more kinds by the end of the month. Patches of bluebells will be visible along the Creek, although the deer have browsed the vegetation so much that there are fewer wildflowers than there were ten years ago. (The C&O Canal is the place to go for wildflowers).
Butterflies that have wintered over will appear – I saw the first mourning cloak on March 8. And bumblebee queens will come out of hibernation soon. You often see them cruising around close to the ground looking for a crevice or a hole to nest.
I love spring – I can’t wait!