I love the return of spring and its random patterns and awakenings. In spring, the days warm slightly – and then snow slightly – and then warm slightly, but despite the season’s see-sawing nature, we start to see the return of the flowers, insects, and animals that have been missing or were merely occupied with survival during the endless winter.
The last bit of snow left my yard just two days ago. But the worms were brave, and emerged earlier. I saw the first worms of spring two weeks back and just so you know, I had to rescue some from certain sidewalk death. Fortunately I had the assistance of a handful of 6th graders to help out. Funny how having an adult do something as “silly” as helping a worm makes it OK for kids to do it, too. Worms do have their uses, and their presence harkened the return of the first robins.
Forsythia is blooming yellow just outside my house. And the yellow dandelions are showing their sunny faces, too. I no longer spray our yard, having learned that these weeds are an important early season food for many pollenating insects. I am a little worried that I have not seen any bees yet, though it has been a cold, wet spring. But I am keeping my eyes and ears open.
Just today my ears caught the melodious croak of the first Sandhill cranes flying high overhead. Their winter migration to refuges in southern Texas and northern Mexico has ended and they are on their way back to their various nesting grounds throughout Wyoming, Montana, and Canada. The fossil record for Cranes stretches back over 2.5 million years, and we often see these prehistoric holdouts along the 10-mile section of Grand Teton’s Snake River that has served as our office for the last 60 years.
The Sandhill crane stands about four feet tall, with a wingspan of nearly 78 inches. Look for them in wetlands and prairies from Mexico to Alaska, standing singly, in pairs, or in immense flocks in their winter habitat. Sandhills mate for life, and are known for their elaborate courtship dances. They will often lay one to three eggs, and after a 30-day incubation, their “colts” hatch. From that point it is a mere nine weeks until the colts fledge the nest. Sadly, only one colt usually survives from each clutch, so ongoing wetland conservation efforts are vital to their future.
We’ll enjoy seeing these majestic birds along the Snake River until the chilly days of autumn send them winging back to their winter range in the Southern U.S. and Mexico. Sandhills are just one of many species that “vacation” in Jackson Hole, and we’re lucky to share this valley and Grand Teton National Park with them.