Spring is upon us, with the emergence of new plants, the return of migrating birds, and the awakening of dormant species; tree buds, reptiles, and amphibians alike. As life begins to quicken in pace with the changing of the seasons, take a slow walk in nature using your senses with intention to notice these signs of spring.
The Return of Wildlife in Spring
One of the season’s highlights is the return of migrating birds. Among the first to visit in April and May are waterfowl such as the Wood Duck and Blue-winged Teal. Visit Wood Duck Pond or Mink Pond along the West Meadows Loop, and you may hear the whistling of Wood Ducks flying overhead or see their bright orange bill and green head on the shore. Hike to Dragonfly Pond and Teal Pond to observe the Blue-winged Teal, with their distinct cheetah-patterned wings and white-striped head.
The Center becomes a birding hotspot in May due to our location on the Mississippi Flyway along the shore of Lake Michigan as more species make their trips back north. Among the most abundant are the warblers; 36 species stop in southern Wisconsin, creating a swarm of vibrant colors and sounds. Look for the bright sunlight colored Yellow Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, and Black-throated Green Warbler. These birds can be seen from May to June throughout the tree canopy in our forest habitats.
As soon as the wetlands and ponds thaw, brumating reptiles and amphibians reappear. In early April, during the day, look for little painted turtle heads starting to poke above the surface of the water on our ponds. Closer to evening, tune in to the songs of frogs like the spring peeper and boreal chorus frog. Named for its high-pitched call, the spring peeper makes a distinct “Peep, Peep!” The songs of the chorus frog sound similar to running a thumb across a hair comb.
Newly Budding Branches
While taking a walk in the forested areas of the Center, such as the Lake Terrace Loop or the Central Wetlands Loop, look up at the towering trees above and notice the newly budding branches. The dormant green giants are waking up with the weather as their buds begin to turn into leaves that will later produce food for the tree through photosynthesis. Closer to the ground, the buds of red-osier dogwood trees are being nibbled on by white-tailed deer. You can easily locate these dogwood trees as they reside in clusters and have bright red branches in the spring. Their buds will turn into bright white flowers in June, providing pollen for returning migrators such as the monarch butterfly and hibernators like the rusty-patched bumble bee.
The Center is the perfect place to observe the first signs of spring. From the forests and ponds, to the shore of Lake Michigan, experience the changing of the seasons by taking a close look at nature.