April is the real month of spring around here. Temperatures are beginning to stay above freezing for more than a day. There is snow but there is rain also. The soil starts to thaw and even though there may be frost or even ice a few inches down trees and other plants start to awaken. The warmer weather brings out insects and spiders. Most of these are small moths, flies, and nursery web spiders but there are enough of them that insect-eating birds like olive-sided flycatchers can find something to eat.
Normally, there is a flood in the sedge meadow and shrub carr along the river and I can canoe in it as though it were a large lake. This year we have not had our spring flood because of below normal snowfall during the winter and almost no rain for two months. The daytime temperatures have been very warm with only a few days in the 30’s and 40’s. And it has been windy which is also drying out tall grass and contributing to a fire danger. Many swampy areas are only damp and do not have enough water for wood frogs and spring peepers to lay their eggs. I am hoping for a small flood in May as the small river on my property is low and it is important that it stay full for all the wildlife living there.
Many new birds have returned or are passing through. On April 3 two trumpeter swans flew over. Other new avian arrivals this month include woodcock, mourning dove, redwings, cowbirds, white-throated sparrow, song sparrow, flickers, yellow warbler, purple finches, turkey vultures, marsh hawk, sharp-shinned hawk, broad-wing hawk, olive-sided flycatchers, barn swallows, and biterns. Robins and flycatchers are beginning to claim nesting sites by the house.
Insects are still slow to come out but cabbage white butterflies and Milbert’s tortoiseshell butterflies have been frequent. I have seen three different species of small ants including the common cornfield ant. A few bumblebees have been flying. They are collecting pollen and nectar from squill (Scilla siberica), dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), black currant (Ribes oxyacanthoides), red maple (Acer rubrum), bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), and meadow willow (Salix petiolaris). The meadow willow is abundant in shrub wetlands around here and produces many flowering catkins. It is certainly an important early spring flower for many nectar and pollen eating insects.
Some aquatic insects are now coming out of hibernation. In the river water striders, diving beetles, and giant water bugs are now active. There are not many fish in the river this year but for a short period I was catching about 50 mudminnows (Umbra limi) every day in a minnow trap. I do not trap them for bait only to see what is in the river. Mudminnows are able to survive low oxygen levels which is a frequent event in small headwaters streams.
Other arthropods seen this month are centipedes. Two centipedes, the yellow soil centipedes (Geophilus flavus) and the stone centipedes (Lithobius forficatus) are active. I have found many of them under rocks and mulch. Also under the mulch are earthworms so it looks like the robins will have plenty to eat.
The trees are still bare but quaking aspens have a faint green haze in their upper branches a sign that leaves are peeking out from their buds. Many willows are leafing out as are elderberries (Sambucus pubens), honeysuckles (Lonicera villosa and L. canadensis, and currants (Ribes triste). Woodrush (Luzula acuminata), hepatica (Hepatica americana) and the forest sedges Carex peduncullata and C. peckii are in flower. Tussock sedge (C. stricta) is now crowned with the first spikey leaves.
Garden work is in full swing and so far I have built two raised beds, spread about 70 cartloads of bedding and manure, planted more rhubarb, horseradish, and asparagus, got in the first of several 50 foot rows of potatoes, planted a strip of currants and elderberries for the birds, planted white pine seedlings, and planted a bee garden of mustard, vetch, buckwheat, and peas. Today, its back to hauling more mulch and weeding around the rhubarb before the predicted rain comes.