by John Koethe
Snow melts into the earth and a gentle breeze
Loosens the damp gum wrappers, the stale leaves
Left over from autumn, and the dead brown grass.
The sky shakes itself out. And the invisible birds
Winter put away somewhere return, the air relaxes,
People start to circulate again in twos and threes.
The dominant feelings are the blue sky, and the year.
—Memories of other seasons and the billowing wind;
The light gradually altering from difficult to clear
As a page melts and a photograph develops in the backyard...
Today was a tease of a day. It felt like spring, looked like spring, sounded like spring, but was it really spring? The calendar said no, still another couple of days, yet... The sun was warm, the snow gone, no cold wind. But the trees are still bare, the grass still brown, the mud still... muddy. Would those "invisible birds return?"
Well, I must say the birds today were quiet, hardly appearing in numbers suggesting any sort of spring migration taking place at Indian Trail. A few raptors overhead, a Towhee, some resident Cardinals and Mockingbirds. I had hoped to see a few Phoebes, maybe an early Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, but no such luck. The real stars today were the frogs, mostly Chorus Frogs. They were many and loud and happy.
The powerline trail was wet in spots, but not impossible to navigate in knee boots. It was the trail leading down into the swamp that went beyond "wet." These puddles have become true "vernal ponds." I can say this for certain because one of the defining features of a vernal pond is the presence of frog egg masses, and these were plentiful. Probably wood frog eggs. I did hear one calling at midday (even though they tend to do their best singing in the evening and early morning). And NJ Chorus frogs everywhere. Chorus frogs outnumbered spring peepers by about a thousand to one today. Learn about vernal ponds here, and learn the calls of NJ frogs here.
A few anglewing butterflies made a welcome appearance: a comma and a mourning cloak. Both of these species overwinter as adults and appear in late winter and early spring on warm days.