NatureWatch: Red-wing blackbirds mean spring!


‘Happy Spring’

Maybe spring is on its way after all. This morning, March 19, we had a number of red-winged blackbirds at our feeder. I always remember you saying that is a better sign of spring than robins. That must be true as I’ve been seeing robins since the middle of January. I can’t wait for the hummingbirds to return.


Over the past few days, I have received a number of reports of male red-wing blackbirds showing up in yards at feeders and in still frozen wetlands in numbers that would indicate their spring migration is under way. And while a few stragglers may be found at bird feeders during the winter months, or in sheltered locations along our rivers, the birds we are now seeing are spring migrants. In two to three weeks, the totally different appearing females will arrive and pair up with the males, and begin housekeeping.

I, too, have considered the red-wing a harbinger of spring, along with the bluebird and robin. All three birds are tough enough to survive Berkshire winters, and a few do, sometimes in sizeable flocks.

Observing individuals at this time of the year will sometimes allow you to differentiate wintering populations from spring arrivals. For instance, a large flock of robins and cedar waxwings have been "working" the fruit-bearing shrubs and trees along our street, while a lone robin is in our birch tree singing its well-known song. It is a recent arrival claiming its nesting territory and will build a nest either in the nearby maple or even the birch tree itself. The same is true for a song sparrow that arrived a few days ago. It is claiming an evergreen shrub close to our house.

Amphibians rousing

Any day now, amphibians will be rousing with one thing on their mind -- breeding. In wet places, a cacophony of frog choruses will delight some, deafen others. And while the spring peepers get most of the early credit, the much-less-common wood frog gets the medal as the first to sing. But first though, this excitement must wait for nighttime air temperature to reach 40 degrees and preferably with a heavy rain. With those two factors in place, amphibians, most notably the wood frog, beige with a brown mask across its eyes, and the spotted salamander, a large black creature with bold yellow spots, will leave their below-ground retreats in nearby woodlands and instinctively head, in the case of the wood frog, to the vernal pool it was born in. The spotted salamander is less determined, breeding in both vernal and permanent pools, and ponds. Vernal pools do not support fish and usually dry up completely by midsummer, often earlier. More next week on vernal pool programs and field trips.

Film festival

Don’t miss Project Native’s fourth annual Free Film Festival:

n "Revolution," a highly acclaimed film about changing our planet from the director of the award-winning film "Sharkwater." (Recommended for middle-school-age students and older.) A panel discussion will follow. Saturday, March 29, 7 p.m., at Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, Great Barrington.

n "Flight of the Butterflies," a family film in 3D. Follow monarch butterflies on their epic migratory adventure. Sunday March 30, at 10 a.m., at the Triplex Cinema, Great Barrington.

Also, a full day of films on current environmental films will begin at 10 a.m.

Free tickets are available at box office on a first-come basis the day of performance.

Questions and comments for Thom Smith: Email


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