The Joys of Spring

Learn some of the joys of spring like bird calls, chirping, astronomy, lunar activity, blossoms and violets.


| April/May 1998



Photo Researchers, Inc.

Birds are one of the many joys of Spring. Kirtland's warbler nests in north- central Michigan.


PHOTO: O.S. PETTINGILL/PHOTO RESEARCHERS, INC.

April and May are the heart of spring. The mathematical halfway point of the season is May 6; this is the point when Earth is between the March equinox and the June solstice positions in its orbit. But of course where you are in the U.S., Canada, or elsewhere in the northern temperate latitudes of our world will affect when the weather, fauna, and flora around you tell you that spring has truly arrived. Spring is really even more complicated, of course. It comes and goes at first, like a bird looking for a nesting spot, until it decides to stay.

Waves of Warblers

Edwin Way Teale's book North with the Spring remains a classic account of spring. One memorable chapter in it is "A Hundred Miles of Warblers." Ludlow Griscom, "Harvard's famed field ornithologist", at his prime in the first half of the 20th century, had told Teale: "Be near Asheville, North Carolina, the third week in April and you will see the warblers pour across the mountains." Griscom's forecast proved correct and in one day, Teale and his wife drove one hundred miles, beholding "warblers, pockets of warblers, trees swarming with warblers, warblers beyond count." Nearly a third of all species of warblers are found east of the Rockies. Teale noted redstarts, ovenbirds, prairie warblers, chestnut-sided warblers, yellow warblers, Maryland yellowthroats, myrtle warblers, hooded warblers, parula warblers, magnolia warblers, black-throated blue warblers, and many other kinds of warbler — each species in the finest of its full plumage, each distinguished by particularities of call and behavior.

As almost everyone who has pursued binding beyond a backyard feeder knows, the warblers are special treats of the binding world. Many of them appear extremely similar when seen in a flitting instant by the unknowing eye — especially in fall, when the males' plumage is much duller and much more similar to that of other warblers. Yet delve deeper and learn the songs, habits, and lives of these birds and they — or at least their particular species — again become individual.

The rarer something is, and more fragile, the more precious we may hold it to be. Since Teale's trip "north with the spring" in 1947, the warbler populations have been, and continue to be, decimated. The biggest problem may still be destruction of these birds' winter habitats in the tropics. And some of them have very specialized diets and other needs whether in their winter or summer homes. For instance, Kirtland's warbler nests nowhere else in the world but in the jack pine forests in a region of north central Michigan that is about 60 miles by 100 miles wide. Apparently, unlike many warblers, it is neither elusive nor shy. Much rarer — the rarest of North American songbirds, in fact — is Bachman's warbler. If you saw one, it would probably be in the Southeast.

By the way, few of the warblers really warble. As British ornithologist James Fisher noted, their "cheerful noises" include "buzz and tinkle, shirr and twitter, stutter and trill." In Houghton-Mifflin's recently reissued (and superb) book Wild America, by Fisher and Roger Tory Peterson, the former observes about the warbler calls and songs:

Regular, irregular, explosive, lazy, soft, wiry, their voices make me a confused catalogue, with bee and buzz and bz; char, chee, churn, errr; me, miss; orrr; sar, see sir, switch; teach, tea, ti, tiz, teet, to, tory, tsee, tseet, tweet; up; way, wee, weet, which, wi, wont, woods; you; zee, zh, zhee, zi, zip, zit, zray, zree, zur.  





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