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Changes are prelude to spring

Tom Weisen
Special to the Daily/Tanya Wiesen Willows along the Eagle River are beginning to bud, which means life is returning to the dormant plants.
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It’s happening, yet it’s not obviousAs we march toward the spring equinox, we can sense the shift occurring. A warm sun rises earlier each morning to curb the chill of the morning air. The later-setting sun seems to provide a touch more free time each day.While there’s generally lots of snow in March, it is also a month of melting in lower and moderate elevations. It often snows during the night and melts in the sunny spots each day. This cycle brings about noticeable changes in the greenery.For animals that eat plants, green growth is far higher in nutrition than old, brown grasses of midwinter. Also, browsing on shrubs becomes appealing as the tender twigs start to swell with buds. Grasses and shrubs provide essential food for deer, elk, moose, bighorns, rabbits and mice.

On recent sunny mornings, I’ve heard clear singing – “fee-bee” and “fee-bee-bay” – by black-capped and mountain chickadees. Male chickadees sing to define parameters of their territory – a sort of “this land is my land, this land is your land” that limits direct competition for food and nesting sites. This also advertises availability to females.Woodpeckers also have begun to establish territories. But unlike chickadees, woodpeckers drum rather than sing. I recently heard the first rhythmic drumming of the season. The male woodpecker chooses a tall, dead tree with a dry, wooden trunk that reaches skyward to serve as a drumming post. Good resonation is essential so the “song” carries a good distance. Each woodpecker species has its own unique rhythms.Soon, while snowshoeing, we’ll stumble upon the first fresh woodchips from beavers sitting atop the snow near the bank of a stream. Beavers sleep much of the winter in a torpid state while nestled in a dry chamber within their beaver lodge. For winter food, beavers utilize a cache of limbs stored the previous autumn. A beaver lodge sports a trap door that permits them to enter the pond beneath the ice. Here they feed safely while holding their breath.

It must be the lure of fresh air and fresh growth that brings the beavers out onto the springtime snow. Beaver tracks reveal a waddling gait with swishing arcs in the snow from its leathery pancake-flat tail.Spring is also a time when we notice an influx of red-tailed hawks soaring over open grassy fields and sunny mountainsides. Areas receiving sunlight heat up, and the rising warm air creates a thermal updraft that soaring hawks utilize to cover a lot of ground without ever flapping their wings.Watch for flight displays of mating raptors. These rituals get the juices flowing. Often the male swoops down from above and behind the female, while the female rolls over and they touch or sometimes interlock talons.Soon a favorite prey of hawks will pop up through the mud and snow and begin peeping. Ground squirrels spend the winter hibernating in underground burrows. The ground squirrel, via its efficient metabolism, draws energy from stored fat reserves to keep it alive. If a hibernating animal runs out of fat, it dies. That these animals are able to emerge from such a faraway state and wake up one warm spring day is miraculous.



Springtime is the beginning of the annual cycle. It is the season of rebirth and new growth. Smile when you see the first magpie with a twig in its bill gliding over to its mate at the site of its new nest.Tom and Tanya Wiesen are owners of Trailwise Guides, a year-round Vail Valley guide service specializing in daily private outings for hiking, mountain biking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, birding and wildlife watching tours. Contact Trailwise Guides at 827-5363.Vail, Colorado


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