March came in like a lion, cold and windy. Pipes froze and hydrants burst. According to the National Weather Service, our March weather is highly variable, but usually windy, with gusts regularly hitting 20 mph at the airport. Most of the month’s winds this year were dry and continental from the north, instead of the more typical moist, southeast maritime ones. At 3.4 inches, snowfall in March was among the lowest for the month. Historic amounts vary from a trace to 77.8 inches. The average temperature this March – 22.8 F. – compares to a normal average of 35.3°F.
Forest Chorus: We’re getting many reports of flocks of songbirds. The first of these have mostly been resident dark-eyed juncos, pine siskins, golden-crowned kinglets, redpolls and several species of owls. But summer migrants are also showing up. The first are usually varied thrushes, with their distinct spring whistle. Fox sparrows and savannah sparrows also are here. American robins overwintered, as they do some years, making it hard to say when the migrant ones arrive. They usually show between March 1 and April 30. This year they started singing on March 22, which is earlier than usual April 7 – 26. On a rocky ledge, a common raven nest already has eggs.
Birds on the Move: The Chilkat Valley is a major flyway used by more than 100 species of migratory birds. Snow buntings are among the first to fly north along the river. These flocks of pretty white birds have already passed through to northern breeding grounds. Some birds seem to swap out. Black-billed magpies are winter visitors, and Steller’s jays are more prominent in summer. Likewise, rafts of Barrow’s goldeneye ducks feed in local waters in winter, and huge rafts of surf scoters arrive in spring to mate. They will return in fall to gather before flying south.
April is an exciting month. The world turns green as plants leaf out, then bloom. Look for skunk cabbage to appear through the snow. This plant can actually generate heat up to 70 F. to melt snow, giving it a head start attracting insect pollinators.
Heads up for migrating birds. Many are the usual suspects, but there have been changes in recent years. Mountain bluebirds used to be rare, but since 2006 have been regulars, arriving in mid-April. Bright red and yellow western tanagers began coming here the same year. Eurasian collared doves started showing up in 2009. They were introduced to Cuba from Eurasia about 100 years ago and have been moving north and west since. In 2007 and 2010, pileated woodpeckers may have been spotted.
This woodpecker sighting is not official yet, so if you see one, try to photograph it! Also, keep your eyes high on the mountains for bears digging out of their dens and walking down to the valleys. Sows with cubs will be the last out.
Pam Randles is education coordinator for Takshanuk Watershed Council. “Wild Things,” a column on nature and wildlife, will be published monthly. If you have questions, sightings, or photos, call Randles at 766-3542.