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Now that May is here, the weather promises to be milder. By now, it is usually safe to put the more tender plants out without danger of frost. In fact, over the last week of April at lower elevations, trees have started to bud. Other plants, such as ramps, skunk cabbage and the invasive Japanese barberry, were among the first green things to bud or emerge from the soil.
Those of us that have spent time outside in the last few weeks have probably seen or heard some other changes that spring brings. Perhaps more bird songs, the calls of spring peepers or wood frogs in vernal pools and other wetlands. The occurrence of the first particular species of birds, frogs, or any other plant or animal, occurs at approximately the same time, year after year. Science has made a study of this phenomenon: the study of phenology, or the study of periodic plant and animal lifecycle events and how these are affected by variations in climate and other factors.
Among some of the sounds that will be heard this month is the call of the wood thrush. You will probably hear this bird before you see it, with its melodic, flute-like song echoing through the forest (especially un-fragmented forestland). Another sound that will soon be heard is that of the American toad. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of these wart-covered toads will flock to lakes, river banks and other bodies of water; the males will start calling for a mate with a long trilling song. Henry David Thoreau described their song as the “Dream of the Toad.” While all this is going on, various flowering plants will fill the air with their fragrance, and the flight of bees and other pollinators will become apparent.
Spring’s clock is ticking, but it isn’t the tick-tock sound you associate with a clock. Instead, it is the inevitable emergence of a certain species of plant or animal, the fragrance of flowers long remembered, or the sound of critters calling for a mate, with the aim of continuing the cycle of life.