By BRUCE AUCHLY
If you cannot live without ice fishing, well, you have my sympathies.
If your world collapses absent skiing, or snowmobiling, I’ll attend your pity party.
That’s because spring is here, and the signs surround us.
Yes, cold weather and even an occasional blizzard may still hit us into May. But look around; robins and meadowlarks sing their songs, bluebirds fly about looking for insects like the mayflies coming off the river, crocus and daffodils bloom away.
Out of sight yet equally important Canada geese are sitting on nests right now.
In Montana, goose hatching peaks from the end of April to the first week of May.
Ducks hatch their young in late May to early June.
Canada geese usually nest near water on an elevated spot with little vegetation. That allows them to see danger, like a red fox, approaching and defend their nest. And whoa to that fox trying to snatch an egg or gosling from the nest. Geese can be terrific nest defenders.
Early spring can be tough for migrating songbirds, like bluebirds, especially on those cold and snowy days. Bluebirds eat insects and snow and cold don’t produce a lot of bugs, although even during spring snow birds will find a warmer micro climate near the river that continues to produce insects.
Most songbirds don’t arrive this far north until well into May. Bluebirds, which winter from Utah and Arizona south through Mexico, are an exception, arriving in Montana in early to mid-March. That’s taking a chance because a prolonged cold snap could kill those lovely feathered patches of blue.
Of course if the weather cooperates, the advantage of being an early bird is the pick of the choice nest sites and young that stand a better chance of surviving the rigors of the nest and making the trip south in good shape.
In the mammalian world, mature bull elk have dropped their antlers already this year on windswept ridges and in forests and are starting to regrow a new rack.
For a mature bull, that mammoth headgear, weighing as much as 40 pounds, takes a long time to grow, about five months.
Antler growth usually stops by mid- to late August, so counting backwards five months puts us into March. That means within a week or two of dropping the old antlers those two bumps (pedicles) on top of a bull elk’s head will start to bulge, then grow into antlers.
Antlers are the only mammalian appendages capable of complete regeneration. A few amphibians can have portions of their bodies severed, only to regrow the lost limb or tail. Not so with mammals, except for antlers.
For members of the deer family antlers are both weapons and status symbols, especially for indicating male supremacy.
Look around, the natural world is awakening from its winter slumber, stretching and opening its eyes. So should we.