Birds celebrate spring; plants lag behind

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By Sylvia Brockner

Tuesday, March 17, was St. Patrick’s Day, of course, but it was also the first day of spring in Evergreen. The day started with a meadowlark on the lawn at Evergreen Lake, reported very early by Deb Calahan and not seen after by any others. It probably had continued on northward.

That was soon followed by Loie Evans reporting that song sparrows were singing at the lake. A few winter along the creek, but the fact that they were singing their full song meant that a newcomer had arrived and it was time to say, “Nice to see you, friend, but this nest site is already claimed and you had best move on.” The wintering black birds are also beginning to sing, for the same reason. By afternoon, Loie had found a flock of a dozen or more mountain bluebirds all fluttering around her at Elk Meadow Park.

By late afternoon, the open water at the lake had increased along the north shore, along the west shore from the inlet halfway to the Lake House, and in a large opening at the dam. On Wednesday morning, the openings had increased in size, for it had not frozen overnight. Sometime during the night, four green-winged teal had landed and were sleeping on the ice edge at dawn, along with a flock of mallards. Thus, spring came with a flourish in Evergreen, even though it did not arrive officially until Friday, March 20.

This is the warmest March I can remember in the 44 years we have lived here. Unfortunately, it is also the driest. The 90-day forecast from the weather bureau also shows the next three months as being above normal in temperature and below normal in precipitation, all of this bad news. Unless we get rain or snow soon, we’ll be in serious trouble. The drought has already reached serious proportions on the plains, and with more outdoor activity and tourists, it certainly will become a serious problem in the foothills this summer.

Those of us who have had good wells will no doubt have to reduce consumption, and those who have had borderline wells may find them going dry. Whether we call this a weather change or global warming or by some other term, we are definitely in a dry cycle. This is not something we can do much about, but it looks like water conservation will most certainly become a major need this summer. Until we swing to a wet cycle, water conservation is something we probably must learn to live. Anyone know a good rain dancer?

While the spring migration of birds has already started, there is no sign of spring in the plant world. Most plants remain dormant, waiting for the spring snows or rains that produce enough moisture to spur them into growth. Kinnikinnick, which is usually a brilliant island of green in a sea of tan grasses by this time, is still dull and lusterless. The only really vivid color is in the willows along Bear Creek, which are able to get enough moisture. Their last year’s growth is turning the brilliant orange-yellow it does each spring as sap flows up into their twigs. The native alder, which also grow along our streams, are already in bloom; their male catkins have been slowly elongating and now are producing golden yellow pollen. They appear to be having a “yellow tag sale” as these dangling catkins dance on the spring breeze.

If and when we get rain, the spring wildflowers will begin to bloom, but it will probably be a poor bloom this year, for the perennials have had a hard winter with so little moisture that some may not find enough moisture to germinate and sink a root down in such dry soil. The bulb plants such as pasque flowers and mariposa lilies really suffer in dry years. Most of them fail to bloom at all in an effort to conserve the bulb. Others die completely because the bulbs do not get enough water.

We lost most of our Mariposa lilies during the past drought years, and our pasque flowers did very poorly last year. All we can do is hope the few that remain will have enough seeds to produce new plants in future years when our damp summers return. Right now, it looks like we are in another “dust bowl” era.