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The signs of spring are here if you know where to look | TribLIVE.com
Valley News Dispatch

The signs of spring are here if you know where to look

Mary Ann Thomas
| Wednesday, February 6, 2019 4:00 p.m
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Christian Tyler Randolph | Tribune-Review
Robins often remain in the region throughout the winter but visits to backyards, even in February, are a sign of spring.
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Courtesy of Dave Brooke
The Eastern Bluebird is one of the first song birds to herald the return of spring.
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Courtesy of Steve Gosser
An adult great horned owl guards its nest high in a tree in Harrison Hills Park recently. The birds begin nesting even before the start of spring.
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Courtesy of U.S. Fish & Wildlife
Male striped skunks are looking for mates in January and February.
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Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune-Review
Armstrong Rails to Trails President Kay Owens in 2015 with a tree along the Armstrong Trail that was chewed by a beaver.
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Courtesy of Deborah Sillman
Skunk cabbage is an early sign of spring.
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Courtesy of Deborah Sillman
Red maple trees are among the first trees to bud each year.
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Courtesy of U.S. Fish & Wildlife
A chickadee with an insect.
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Submitted
Invasive Ladybird Beetles
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Courtesy of U.S. Fish & Wildlife
Cardinals are starting to sing in February, setting up their breeding territory.

Recent warm temperatures, no matter how pleasant and notwithstanding the prognostications of a groundhog, aren’t signs of spring.

But the signs already are here. They’re just a little more subtle.

In his book, “Signs of Spring,” Bill Hamilton of Kiski Township, a retired biology professor from Penn State New Kensington and author of the blog, the “Ecologist’s Notebook,” says signs of the waning winter are around, if you know where to look.

Hamilton’s observations of spring are taken from actual events in the wilds of our region. Here are his top signs that, even now, spring is on its way:

Follow your nose

Male skunks are on the move, looking for mates. “They cruise through yards and grab snacks under bird feeders or in easily overturned trash cans,” writes Hamilton. “They also stray onto area roadways and represent a high proportion of fresh road kills.”

Even the plants smell

Skunk cabbage are out. “We’ve spotted quite a bit of them at the end of February at Harrison Hills,” said Hamilton. He has done experiments with skunk cabbage with Penn State students, finding out how much heat the plant generates as it melts the snow above it.

Hello, lady bug

Ladybird beetles look like lady bugs and, although an invasive species, are tucked into porches and other crevices waiting for sunny days to make an appearance.

Chowing down on bugs

Chickadees, titmice and woodpeckers try to mine the insects “hibernating inside bark of trees, with deposits of their eggs. The birds come out and clean it off. The health impact on the tree is considerable,” noted Hamilton.

The first robin

A misnomer since many, but not all, robins overwinter in the region in flocks, devouring fruit wherever they find it. But, still, there is that special moment when a single robin or a flock returns to your neighborhood. “I’ve had 15 years in a row when, on Feb. 14, I would see my first robin,” said Hamilton.

Busy beavers

Trees “beavered” at the Roaring Run trail in Kiski Township. Hamilton and Carl Meyerhuber, another retired Penn State New Kensington professor, noticed abundant signs of beaver activity along the stream bank starting about a quarter of mile from the parking area. “Numerous small trees (mostly red maples, yellow poplars and yellow birches) were cut down to pointed stumps a foot to a foot and half tall,” Hamilton wrote recently in his nature blog.

The red maple buds are swelling

During last week’s subzero temperatures, Hamilton found what he terms as “transient blue skies” and spotted red maple bud, which continue to swell through February and March, If you look at the bare hills leading up to spring, you can see the red buds of the maples start to subtly brighten the landscape.

Songs of spring

Some birds, year-round residents, are starting to sing again. One of the first to begin its song is the cardinal.

Great-horned owls

The owls are the first birds during the year to nest, with breeding starting as early as December. Their calls already can be heard near nesting sites.

Bluer than the sky

Hamilton and a cadre of volunteers, who tend to about 30 bluebird houses in Harrison Hills Park, will soon inspect the nesting boxes to make sure they are cleaned out and ready. While many bluebirds leave the area, some roam in flocks. “The males should be showing up during the bottom half of February ‘setting up territory’ and singing if we have a mild late winter,” Hamilton said.


Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary Ann at 724-226-4691, mthomas@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MaThomas_Trib.


Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary at 724-226-4691, mthomas@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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