It's late winter as I walk through Hogback Ridge Preserve, and the only tracks on the trails besides mine are those left after the snowfall by deer and squirrels.
I arrived at the park early enough on a beautiful snowy morning to take some pictures; my timing was just right, because an hour after I finished, most of the snow had fallen off the trees. This snow cover will be fleeting for sure, with temperatures to rise into the 50s by the time you read this. Such is March.
The month is named for Mars, the god of war in Roman mythology. It's an apt name, I would say, since battles between winter and spring perennially occur during this transition month. Luckily for us, spring always wins -- eventually.
Signs of spring remain elusive as I continue along the snowy trails. Bird song has increased and, I could be wrong, but it appears the male goldfinches' winter plumage (a dull olive-green/taupe) is starting to trend toward the brilliant yellow that gives these birds their name. Still, we're a ways off from seeing the woodland floor carpeted with spring beauties, hepatica, trilliums and other wildflowers.
Despite the snow, Preservation Parks naturalists assure me signs of spring are everywhere. Skunk cabbage is blooming, even though it's difficult to see in the parks because it's not growing near the trails. Skunk cabbage, incidentally, can generate temperatures much warmer than its surroundings, which allows it to melt its way through frozen ground.
Owls are nesting now, and it was a treat for me to hear a barred owl call just before sunset the other day. Owls are nocturnal hunters, but the barred owl, especially, will make itself heard at other times of day. We think this particular owl is nesting just outside the Hogback Ridge Preserve boundaries; we hear it but rarely see it.
American woodcocks are one of the earliest-returning migrants; if they are not in central Ohio yet, they will be soon. They are known for their aerial courtship dance, and are most likely to be spotted in areas of the parks that have seedling and sapling trees, with grassy or weedy openings. Gallant Woods and Blues Creek preserves are two of the parks where we have seen woodcocks in past years.
The naturalists also tell me waterfowl are starting to group for their moves further north, and we might see the first migrants moving through Ohio later this month.
With warmer weather, we'll start hearing spring peepers and chorus frogs. If you have never heard a vernal pool full of spring peepers, I encourage you to take a walk along the trails at Gallant Woods Preserve this spring. It's a joyous cacophony that heralds in the season.
There are fewer dark-eyed juncos at the feeders these days. I love these birds, which nest further north and treat central Ohio winters like a vacation at the beach. Having joined us in October, they've spent the winter gobbling up seed from under the feeders, never daunted by even the worst weather. They are heading north, and I'll miss them.
I can see the buds on many of the trees have fattened, even though they are still encased in their hard covering that protects the tender leaves within from freezing. I always look forward to that day when the taupe and gray treetops take on that first tinge of green, telling me the leaves are finally emerging. I wish for it to happen in March, but it's invariably April before that day arrives.
Obviously, I'm seeing none of these harbingers of spring as I walk the snowy trail. But that's the cool thing about March: Even if it brings a 7- or 10- or 20-inch snowfall, we know this is winter's last stand. The battle of March will end, and spring will be here.
Sue Hagan is marketing and communications manager for Preservation Parks of Delaware County.