Signs of Spring

Top photos: marbled salamander; bottom photo: leopard frog. Photos by Maria de Bruyn.


By Maria de Bruyn

We had freezing temperatures last week, and we could still have a few more brisk mornings this month. But we can acknowledge that springtime has emerged to many people’s delight. Nature is giving us signs of this everywhere.

While our volunteer team has been digging out invasive buckthorns and preparing for controlled burns at Mason Farm Biological Reserve, we’ve been unearthing marbled salamanders who have been overwintering in the woodlands. Our state salamander is an attractive amphibian who makes no noise, unlike the hundreds of chorus frogs who are making quite a din along vernal pools and ponds created by recent rains.

The frogs produce a sound similar to that made by running your fingers down a small-tooth comb. You might hear the occasional pickerel frog, which makes a sound akin to snoring, a leopard frog whose croak has been likened to rubbing an inflated balloon or a spring peeper that, to me, sounds like it’s whistling.

Top and bottom left: striped skunk; right: groundhog. Photos by Maria de Bruyn.

Mammals are beginning to move around a bit more in areas where we may see them. One groundhog, whom I’ve seen often at one reserve, does not seem shy when people are around. An animal that I did not expect to see, however, was a gorgeous skunk that emerged from some bushes about 5 feet from me one day.

Mid-February to mid-April is the skunk’s mating season and this individual may have been searching for a mate. While most skunks are black and white, I found this one’s cream coloring especially beautiful. And I was grateful that s/he did not choose to spray me while I was so close by.

Top left: red-shouldered hawks; top right: wood ducks; bottom left: brown-headed nuthatch; bottom right: great blue heron. Photos by Maria de Bruyn.

The birds are also getting ready to start new families. As I was watching a red-shouldered hawk eating a meal, her partner suddenly flew in and mated with her. It was a quick act and didn’t give me time to get to a spot where I could take photos without a pesky branch in front of them, but it was still a sight to see. When the wood ducks came by in the distance, there was also some vegetation in front of them, but it was a somewhat better look.

At home, the much more diminutive brown-headed nuthatches were busy constructing a new nest in one of my yard boxes. They’d investigated other boxes yet chose the same one they used last year. Though they finished the nest quickly, they continue carrying a few more dried leaves or soft bark in each day to make sure the eggs and offspring will be well cushioned. At a city park, the great blue herons also have been busy constructing the nests in their rookery.

Springtime is a wonderful season with lots of activity going on in the natural world. Because the vegetation is just emerging from the ground and the trees are just budding out, the animals are easier to see than in the summer and fall, so it is a great time to go walking and be on the lookout for them.

Do enjoy this time and, on a more serious and somber note, let us remember that we are incredibly lucky to be living where we don’t have to worry about missiles destroying our homes, environment and the lives of our families, friends and neighbors. If you can donate to the organizations working to help the people of Ukraine (or other conflict areas), please do so. Lists of organizations can be found at and

Maria de Bruyn participates in several nature-oriented citizen science projects, volunteers at Mason Farm Biological Reserve and the Orange County Senior Center, leads a nature-themed book club, and writes a blog focusing on wildlife at

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