Spring is a full time resident now

Barbara Hootman Columnist

Spring blew in on winter’s coattails with snowflakes and ice. The difference between this seasonal mood swing and the one a month ago is that this one passed quickly. Winter will swing back through the Valley when the dogwoods and blackberry bushes bloom.

The willows have leafed again, making them huge amber fountains along creek banks. When the sap begins to rise, the willows seem to pulsate with life and growth. Seemingly overnight, there they stand dressed for the season. The color is one of vitality. The willow seed travels on the wind, and its vitality lasts only a day. However, a willow branch will take root in just about any moist soil. And it will grow.

Winter’s silence began last fall with the last raspy sounds of the last katydid. But it has ended. Now there is the sound of water cascading over rocks, the sounds of the peepers, and the morning chorus of songbirds.

The first female bears with cubs are out and looking for food. To a bear, just about anything is edible. In spring, tender grasses and shoots, leaves and ferns make up the bear diet. After denning, they need at least a couple of weeks for their digestive systems to begin to operate at full throttle. Black Oiled Sunflower seeds can be digested most any time, so easy-to-reach bird feeders cannot be passed up.

The White-Throated Sparrow is a winter visitor to the Western North Carolina, having arrived early fall. Now, many have left for northern breeding grounds, traveling to Canadian forests, New England and the Great Lakes region to nest. The males, ready to breed, have already colored with white and black crown stripes, white lines above the eyes and white throats. They are easy to identify because of the bright yellow feathers between the eyes and nostrils. Like all sparrows, the white-throated ones enjoy millet and black oiled sunflower seeds. To their diets, they also add tender buds, blossoms, and young seeds of oak, apple, maple, beech and elm in early spring.

Although the birds are abundant in some areas, they are declining throughout much of their breeding range. Some do not return to northern breeding grounds but migrate up to higher elevations, above 3,500 feet.

The White-throated Sparrow and the Junco cross-breed sometimes. Both are members of the sparrow family. They produce hybrids that have a grayish color, the distinguished white throat of the sparrow and the white outer tail feathers of the Junco.

Purple Martins are scouting for nesting sites. More than any other species of bird, they depend on man. In the east, Martins no longer nest in tree cavities. They nest in houses or gourds provided by man.

It isn’t unusual for them to arrive while the temperature is still below freezing, which makes foraging for flying insects a challenge for them. The scouts arrive earlier than the flock. They are the oldest members of the Martin population, the ones that head north to the breeding grounds to get choice real estate. Scouts can be either male or female. If you have a Martin house or gourds, keep close check on them because starlings and sparrows try to evict the Martins and take over the nest sites. Martins winter in Brazil and fly as far as 5,000 miles each way to return to various areas of the United States.

Purple Martins get all their food and water while in flight. They skim the surface of lakes or ponds and scoop up water.

They eat beetles, flies, butterflies, moths, wasps, bees, spiders, cicadas and termites. Mosquitoes fly at too low an altitude for the Martins to feast on, as they are rumored to do. They are sensitive to cold snaps. Bad weather kills more Martins than anything else. When it is cold for three to four days, the birds starve to death because insects don’t fly in cold weather.

Modern society didn’t discover housing Martins. Native Americans hung empty gourds for the Martins before settlers arrived in America. You can provide lodging for these interesting birds, but they will provide their own food from the air.

Take the birds feeders inside by late afternoon.

Some baby raccoons are in the dens. Garter snakes are out of hibernation, and Warbler migration is about to begin.

Swallows are returning.

Bald eagle hatching begins. Mourning doves are beginning to nest. Great Blue Herons are returning, and River Otter pups are being born.

Keep out plenty of water for drinking and bathing.

May you always hear the whisper of wings.