Nature Connection: Listening To Spring Arrive

By: Mary Richmond

Mary Richmond illustrations

It was dark when I got up on this dreary, rainy morning. I could hear the splatter of raindrops against the glass of the windowpane but mostly I was listening to the cardinals. Song sparrows and cardinals are always some of the first birds we hear singing in the spring in our own backyards, and their songs are a welcome sound come April.

“My” pair of song sparrows is already nesting beneath the forsythia, but the cardinals are still singing away. One sings very close to the house while a competing suitor, or what I think is a competing suitor, sings from across the lawn. You have to be careful with cardinals because both the males and females can sing at this time of year.

I made my coffee and settled in with the morning paper. The dog was curled up by my feet, a beeswax candle glowed from the middle of the table, and one of the cats licked his paw and then his face, having finished his breakfast. Another song quietly began, and I smiled. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard it, but I noticed that it was getting more boisterous, more insistent as the singer moved about the boundaries of the yard, declaring his territory. The singer was a male robin, that robust caroler of the thrush family that even most schoolchildren recognize as a harbinger of spring here in New England.

As I sipped my coffee I reflected on the sounds of spring, for I think it is the sounds that wake us up to the season, even more than the sights and smells. When I first became aware of the bees in the patches of crocuses on my lawn, it was through the buzzing, not the sight, of the bees. I saw my first pussy willows of the season when I looked up to see what the merry breezes were whooshing about. The gurgle of a stream brings us to see the first watercress of the season and the cries of the ospreys overhead remind us that winter is sneaking out the back door at last.

There are several vernal pools I visit each spring. I do this hoping to see the wood frogs splayed across the surface of the water as they float, call and copulate. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to see them but more often I just hear them. Wood frogs sound like little ducks, making funky quacking calls. Right now, they are calling in just about every vernal pool I’ve been to. The rainy warm weather around a full moon in early spring is their favorite time for frolicking.

Spring peepers calling at night or even in late afternoon is a sound even children easily identify. There’s something cheerful about a chorus of tiny frogs peeping, all hopeful of finding that perfect mate. Actually, they’re not that fussy about perfection, but don’t tell the kids quite yet. As spring slowly turns to summer I occasionally hear a lone peeper and I always feel sorry for that little guy. Poor thing missed the party. It’s like the last lonely grasshopper or cricket calling in the fall.

The herring are arriving and although they don’t exactly make noise; the rushing water, the screaming gulls and even the croaks of the herons announce their arrival with the incoming tides. This annual migration was cause for boisterous celebrations in Indigenous families long ago but overfishing culled the bounty to a mere trickle of what it once was. You’d think we’d learn that taking pregnant animals doesn’t bode well for their reproduction and population stabilization, but apparently we aren’t that smart. Herring populations are slowly rebounding but large factory ships threaten their continued survival. Enjoy the marvels of this migration while we still can.

The sun may have finally gotten up but she was still hiding behind clouds dripping rain. The cardinals were finally quiet but the robin was still belting out his song for anyone to hear. Last year it took him a while to find a mate, so I hope he has better luck this year. He’s a lovely and reliable bird so if you know of any available female robins, please let them know.

At the beach there is always the sound of waves against the shore. Often we hear gulls calling or bickering. These days we also hear the ospreys overhead and now the piping plovers are on the beaches with their telltale peeps. Soon the willets will be here with their distinctive calls and then the terns. There will be no peace for the weary once they arrive. Terns are very chatty and expressive.

Right about that same time the songbird migrations will pick up and the early morning symphonies will become multilayered and multilingual with so many birds singing their little hearts out. Whether you’re new to bird and amphibian listening or someone who already knows more than a few of their songs and calls, this is a good time to hone your listening skills and there are many sources online and apps for your phone as well. As I’m sure you can guess, it’s not cool to play the songs or calls to get their attention. 

I heard it through a grapevine full of chickadees that there’s a whole world of aural delight out there if we take the time to listen and enjoy. Happy April!