Almost Spring.

I went out to get the mail this afternoon and noticed a change in the wind. For the past few days it has been a brutally cold wind from the North. Even just a few hours ago, it felt harsh and grains of snow slithered into drifts. Not now. This new wind smells of spring and sap and sunshine.
For the past few nights, I have not heard the lonely, pleading calls of the male owl in the walnut tree. They have been replaced with the flirty calls back and forth between he and a female out in back. Soon they will steal one of the Pileated Woodpecker holes in a snag in the woods and start to nest even before the snow melts. It takes a long time to raise an owlet to an owl and need to get an early start.
Even the African tortoise that sleeps under my desk in the winter senses spring. He gets restless and I have to take care in locking the sliding door, lest I find him out in the snow. The squirrels know it too. They play chase and tag in the back yard, to see who gets to mate with whom. The mothers will soon be kicking the grown kids from last fall out into the world on their own. No couch in the basement for these young adults to fall back on, new babies will be born in late March and April. She’ll have no time or patience for their shenanigans.
I smelled a skunk one night last week and have seen two that didn’t look both ways while crossing the road. (It didn’t end well for the skunks) The boys are on the move right now looking for women instead of cars. Here, they creep silently between the houses and when they encounter a rival, they feel it necessary to mark their territory with a quick spritz of “Essence du’ Spring” If a female chooses to den under my shed or woodpile, I’ll give them time to raise their kits till they are old enough to be out and about. If I’m cautious around them, and don’t get nosey like the dog, I’m usually ok. (Did you know that skunk spray glows in the dark? Seriously. I can personally attest to that. I also have an excellent deodorizer recipe)
Raccoons, possums, and muskrats are among those who really don’t hibernate, but spend the harshest weather sleeping, venturing out on nicer days and evenings. They will hit the snooze button more often than not for a few more weeks, then they too will be on the move, looking for love in all the right places. (Hopefully on their own side of the road) Please watch out for them while driving.
Right now, the hares and ermine have their white winter coat for camouflage. It helps them to hunt unseen and keeps those that hunt them from seeing them. An early spring leaves them pitifully exposed and often hungry.
The sturdy old men of winter are the bobcats, porcupines and cottontails. They never seem bothered by the cold and spend the winter doing exactly what they do in the summer. The porcupines are especially important to the wellbeing of deer and rabbits as they snip off tender twigs high in the trees and drop them to the ground for the others. Even with their help, the low hanging branches of the old apple tree will be stripped of bark as high as the rabbits can reach.
We’ll know when the neighborhood bobcats mate. It begins with the female allowing a male into her territory. There will be a thankfully brief courtship of shouting to each other, an even noisier coupling and then she’ll chase him back to his solitary life. Raccoons are almost as noisy and a lot more frequent around here. Each will find a private, out of the way spot to give birth between April and May.
I can hardly wait for the robins to come back. I so miss their songs in the morning. Usually the first to arrive in the Northern Realm, there will inevitably be a late snow and I’ll run outside with chopped apples and raisins mixed with hamburger and mealworms. Once spread in the driveway, they will come out of hiding and fill up to keep warm. The snow won’t last though, and the other birds will follow with hummers and orioles being last.
The yard will be full of song and then it will be time for the first fawns. There is nothing as achingly beautiful as the first fawns. It takes a rehabber’s breath away and breaks her heart at the same time. By that time though, the house will be filling up with baskets, cages and crates, each with hungry mouths to be filled and sleep will be hard to catch.
Maybe wildlife rehabilitators should be like the chipmunks…we’ll snuggle in a warm hole, snacks within reach, sleep a lot and wait for spring.

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