How to spot the signs of spring in Ohio and Pennsylvania

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I have been looking for signs of spring, beyond Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction, for a little over a month. I just couldn’t accept six more weeks of winter. And Groundhog Day is set more in tradition than science anyway.

There are more reliable ways to identify the changing season. The behaviors, migration patterns and reproduction cycles of other animals and the growth of plants and fungi can help you determine the beginning of spring.

Three weeks ago, I spotted my first spring peeper and could barely contain my excitement. Out of the marsh at the front of my parents’ property, a lone peeper hopped across the driveway, illuminated in my headlights. 

The small tan frog is a harbinger of spring in Northeast Ohio, maybe even more so than the groundhog. When you hear the spring peepers’ chorus consistently at night, there’s no doubt spring has arrived.

Spring peepers begin emerging at the end of February through the beginning of March, depending on where they are in the state. Seeing one in my part of the state before the end of February was likely a little more unusual. Regardless, it signaled the beginning of spring to me.

Incidentally, nature gives us many clues to let us know it’s officially spring. Spring peepers are one of the first signs, but you can expect to see many more through March and into April, May and June. Find out what wildlife, plants and fungi to look for as you enjoy the outdoors this spring.

April

Wildlife. During the spring wildlife wake up from winter slumbers, reproduce and raise their young. Here are some wildlife activities to spot in April:

  • Black and white warblers, black-throated green warblers, wood thrushes and blue-eyed vireos have returned to begin breeding. Ruby-crowned kinglets, blue-gray gnatcatchers and hermit thrushes will begin returning to woodland edges and interiors.
  • White-tailed deer will begin to shed their winter fur and bucks will start growing new antlers.
  • Bats will wake from hibernation and begin feeding to prepare for their upcoming mating season.
  • First chipmunk litters will be born.
  • Baby raccoons will be born.
  • Grey foxes will be born.
  • Mourning cloak butterflies will emerge after overwintering as adults.
  • Little blue wing olive mayflies emerge within the first week of April.
  • Little olive caddisfly and little black caddisfly emerge around mid-April.
  • Mountain chorus frogs, pickerel frogs and green frogs will emerge.
  • Box turtles will emerge from their woodland burrows.
  • Black snakes begin their breeding season late in the month.
  • Eastern garter snakes also begin their mating season.

Plants and fungi. Plants and fungi begin merging and entering different stages of growth during the spring. Here are some telltale signs of spring that can be observed via plant and fungi growth in April:

  • Woodland wildflowers begin to emerge. Trailing arbutus is one of the first. Smooth-leaved and sharp-leaved hepaticas, wild ginger, twin leaf and violets also bloom in April.
  • Yellow-green flowers begin to bloom on spicebush shrubs.
  • Red maples, aspen, birch and tulip poplars begin to flower.
  • Moel mushrooms start emerging along the edges of the forests, under elm, ash, aspen and oaks when day temperatures reach 60 F and night temperatures stay above 40 F.

May

Wildlife. Here are some wildlife activities to spot in May:

  • More birds — and many colorful birds — begin arriving during May, including scarlet tanagers, rose-breasted grosbeaks, Baltimore orioles, indigo buntings, summer tanagers, blackpoll warblers, eastern towhees and gray-cheeked thrushes.
  • Porcupine pups are born.
  • White-tailed does give birth during late May through early June.
  • More butterflies are active as they begin laying eggs on trees and herbaceous host plants.
  • The mating call of Fowler’s toads can be heard as their mating season begins.
  • Frog and salamander larvae hatches from eggs laid in early spring.

Plants and fungi. Check out this plant and fungi growth in May:

  • Black cherry trees, sassafras, red oaks and blackhaw viburnum are in bloom.
  •  Wind-pollinated tree species produce pollen just before trees begin opening their leaves, so the pollen is blown to the flowers without interference from the leaves.
  • Trees typically begin opening their leaves in May, typically after a warm spell followed by a good rain.
  • Late-spring woodland wildflowers blooming in May include mayapples, trillium, and yellow and pink lady’s slippers. These will begin to fade as trees open their leaves.
  • Dryad’s saddle can be found in the same areas as morel mushrooms, such as the base of dead or dying elm trees.

June

Wildlife. Here are some wildlife activities to spot in June:

  • You’ll begin hearing fewer mating calls among birds. Only those that rear multiple brrods will continue.
  • Woodpeckers fledge their young in June.
  • Goldfinches begin breeding and can be observed gathering thistledown for their nests at the edges of forests.
  • Grouse chicks begin learning to fly under the protection of shrubs.
  • Cottontail rabbits and many other young mammals born earlier in spring are on their own now and easy to spot — but remember not to touch, approach or “help.”
  • Eastern coyote pups begin learning how to hunt at 1-2 months old.
  • Gray squirrels enter a second period of courtship and mating.
  • The last of the red squirrels to mate during winter are now giving birth.
  • The common little brown bat gives birth to a single pup. Female bats eat their weight in mosquitos and other insects each night while they are nursing.
  • The six-spotted tiger beetle can be observed along woodland paths and edges. It is easy to spot because of its metallic green color.
  • The mating calls of the grey tree frog can be heard at night.
  • Box turtles begin laying eggs. A single box turtles can lay up to 8 eggs in a hole dug with the claws on her hind legs.
  • Black rat snakes also begin laying eggs. An individual rat snake lays between 12-20 eggs, usually under a decaying log or similar spot.

Plants and fungi. You can observe this plant and fungi growth in June:

  • Elderberry bushes begin displaying their white or cream-colored blooms along woodland edges and streams.
  • Chokecherries and purple-flowering raspberries bloom along fencerows and rocky ledges. 
  • Mountain laurels can be viewed in full bloom on woodland slopes. 
  • Bowman’s root may also still be flowering late in some areas.
  • Numerous fungi emerge in June, including two-colored boletes, variable russula, rosy russula, almond-scented russula and common laccaria.

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