The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Indicators of Spring in Texas
by Ro Wauer

Spring is my favorite time of year! It signifies renewal, a fresh start. It seems to make everything young again. It brings with it an anticipation of good things to come, warming weather, spring flowers, butterflies, and bird migration. In The Song of Hiawatha, Henry Wadsworth wrote: "Come the Spring with all its splendor, All its birds and all its blossoms, All its flowers and leaves and grasses." And Anne Morrow Lindberg once wrote: "Today I went out, It smelled, it felt, it sensed spring. I had for the first time faith - not intellectual belief, but the sudden feeling of turning tide. Yes, there will be spring."

Officially, spring begins at the spring equinox, on March 20. On that day, the earth's axis is at a right angle to the sun so that both poles receive equal illumination from the sun and the days are of equal length, hence the term equinox. Thereafter in the Northern Hemisphere, the days continue to grow longer and the weather becomes warmer. Spring continues until June 21, the summer solstice, when the earth’s axis makes its greatest angle to the sun, when the noonday sun is directly overhead at the Tropic of Cancer, and daylight lasts 24 hours north of the Arctic Circle.

But springlike days do not necessarily signify the arrival of spring. Our fickle weather still can bring us more cold. Yet for me, living in the Golden Crescent, there are certain signs of spring by late February or March that clearly indicate a change in the season. Without fanfare, the bright yellow flowers of agarita shrubs are blooming. The sweet-scented flowers of huisache trees permeate the surroundings. And lawns and fields are spotted with the white blooms of ten-petal anemone flowers.

Just as soon as the earliest of the spring flowers appear on our shrubs, various butterflies begin to put in their appearance. Gray hairstreaks, pipevine swallowtails, orange and cloudless sulphurs, gulf fritillaries, and common buckeyes are some of our earliest species, appearing as if by magic. Bees and wasps also become more numerous. And with the increased food supply and warmer weather, anoles, scaly lizards, ground skinks, and a few other lizards become active.

For the last few weeks, on sunny days some of the resident birds have become more obvious. Songbirds, such as cardinals, chickadees, titmice, and Carolina wrens, as well as a number of larger birds, have been establishing their springtime territories. Purple martins and the earliest swallows put in their appearance. And pairing red-shouldered hawks cruise about overhead screaming their appreciation of longer days and their excitement about another nesting season.

All of nature reacts to spring! One can actually watch spring gradually creeps northward in Texas. Indicators may include blooming Spanish daggers and early monarchs in deep South Texas; the first green blush on the cottonwoods along the Rio Grande in West Texas; returning turkey vultures into the Trans-Pecos; the small of yellow jasmines and dogwood blossoms in the pineywoods; return of the endangered golden-cheeked warblers and the blooming of mountain laurels in the Hill Country; blooming grape hyacinth in the Red River area; the joyous songs of western meadowlarks in the Panhandle.

Spring is a wonderful time to be alive - to be outdoors and experience nature at its best. Promise is all around and fulfillment is just ahead.

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