The Fox River and Winnebago lakes are already beginning to show signs of spring with patches of open water and a swift current slowly eating away at the thick shield of ice. With larger patches of open water, ducks, such as these goldeneyes, are gathering, watched over by hungry gulls and bald eagles. / Rob Zimmer/For Wisconsinoutdoorfun.com
MEET THE FOX VALLEY’S NEWEST NATURE CENTER
Meet the Fox Valley’s newest nature center March 15 when the Fox River Environmental Education Alliance holds its Fox River Community Celebration at its new property, the former Monte Alverno site in Appleton.
Located on the shore of the Fox River at 1000 N. Ballard Road, visitors to the event will have the opportunity to tour trails at the property, witness magnificent bald eagles in flight and see a variety of other bird life, plant life and more.
FREEA recently purchased the property in preparation for transforming the grounds into a sprawling outdoor classroom and nature center, complete with trails and river access, along with native vegetation and a wide variety of wildlife species.
Future plans call for locating a floating classroom here, where students of all ages can get hands-on access to the river and learn about preserving this precious watershed.
This prime location along the shores of the Fox River promises to become one of the area’s richest and most diverse natural areas.
The Fox River Community Celebration will include historical tours of the property, presentations to include future plans for the property, as well as nature and photography classes. Snowshoeing and hiking will be available, as well as Batik art classes. For children, explore the world of robots and Legos, and enjoy many art and environmental projects.
Admission to the March 15 event is $10 for adults, $5 for children or $25 for a family.
It seems to me that not enough people get excited about the first robins of spring anymore.
Over the last month or so, as I’ve been posting robin sightings on my Facebook and Twitter accounts, I’ve often got responses back saying, “Big deal, they’ve been here for a month, Rob.”
Maybe, for a few lucky people, they have. At the same time, I’ve gotten phone calls and emails from readers nearly breathless with excitement and surprise that they have robins coming to their heated birdbaths, even in our most frigid cold snaps of this long winter.
My hope is that people truly are not becoming jaded by the sight of robins in winter, as these birds still offer a magnificent glimmer of hope for those old-fashioned souls who still look to their rusty colored breast and cheerful warbling song as a true sign of spring.
Meteorologically speaking, spring began across northeast Wisconsin on March 1. Climatology records for the spring season span March 1-May 31, and, regardless of the weather outside, signs of spring are everywhere.
You can hear it in the songs of our colorful backyard birds as they burst into their spring love songs. You can see it in the branches of trees and shrubs throughout our area, as swelling buds and blushing branches begin to show increasing signs that sap is beginning to rise.
Speaking of sap, it’s already time to start tapping those maples and box elders for the annual spring syrup season. Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve of Appleton held its annual Adopt-a-Bucket program this past weekend.
Spring is upon us, regardless of the temperature outside.
The creatures of the wild, which do not distinguish the seasons by the calendar, or by temperature, but by length of daylight and position of the stars and other miraculous natural events, are already in full spring mode.
Great horned owls have begun nesting across our area, already on eggs in some locations. Barred owls are soon to follow.
Bald eagles have been migrating north for the past few weeks, increasing in number along area waterways that are slowly opening and will soon be ice-free. Eagles are already sparring in the skies and in some locations breeding territories are occupied.
Wild turkeys are beginning to grow restless as well, as toms begin to compete for love.
A rising tide
Waterfowl have also been showing signs of movement north. To our south, a tremendous wave of millions of ducks and geese is building. The spring migration of snow geese, Canada geese, white-fronted geese and other waterfowl is nearing a crescendo.
They come from the east as well, as tens of thousands of tundra swans have begun their long, continent-wide journey west across the eastern United States, then up into northern Canada and Alaska where they will breed.
Whitetail deer are nearing fawning season and showing the signs. Pregnant does become more agitated, chasing off last year’s young to prepare for a new brood.
Raccoons and opossums have emerged from their loose slumber to begin wandering lazily among the snow-covered countryside. Squirrels will be nesting soon, if they have not started already. Nestled in there tree hollows and leaf nests, the breeding season for these foragers of woodlands and backyards has begun.
The cheerful siren song of the northern cardinal is one of the most beautiful sounds of spring. The high-pitched, pulsing whistle is given by both birds, male and female, as spring love heats up. Males will often sing from the highest perch in their territory, although when the urge is really strong, you’ll hear them singing everywhere.
Colorful house finches in beautiful reddish-wine plumage also begin to sing their rapid, warbling song, along with mourning doves. Black-capped chickadees begin to whistle there sweet, plaintive “fee-bee” song as spring light increases.
Canada geese are in the throes of increasingly intense sparring with other individual birds and pairs as the breeding season nears. As more geese arrive, you will be able to see the defensive behavioral displays and posturing that takes place as the birds grow increasingly protective of their mates or increasingly determined to find one. Already, the first flocks of migrating white-fronted geese have been spotted in southern and central Wisconsin.
The beautiful voices of red-winged blackbirds and sandhill cranes are, to some, replacing the robin’s song as the true sign of spring. Soon, both will be ringing loud across the countryside.
While not necessarily songs, the “voices” of our area woodpeckers also ring through the forest with the coming of spring. The hammering, or drumming, of woodpeckers increases as spring deepens, as woodpeckers begin to use this display to establish and mark territories, as well as communicate with their mates. Drumming simply means rapidly pounding their sharp beaks on a surface that produces a good sound. It may be a hollow tree or log, or it may be the siding of your home or metal flashing on a telephone pole.
As winter draws to a close, check out the buds of the trees in your neighborhood, backyard or nature trails where you walk. Large buds on cottonwoods, birches, aspens and other forest trees are seemingly ready to burst.
The signs of rising sap are also seen in the fresh, blood red blushing of red osier dogwood, and the increasingly powerful glow of amber and gold willows.
The tide is turning. A swelling tsunami of life is about to sweep across the countryside, bringing with it the new spring. Once it starts, there’s no turning back.
— Rob Zimmer, Post-Crescent staff writer, writes about nature every Tuesday in his Nature Calling column. He is reachable at 920-419-3734 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @YardMD.