Although the snow currently falling from the sky would have us believe otherwise, spring is on the way. Tuesday, March 20 is officially the spring equinox, transitioning us out of the stagnation of winter and into the movement and growth of spring. This time of year, the vernal window, brings so many opportunities for observing growth and change. Here are some classic Michigan signs of spring to get you excited for the warmer days, longer hikes, bike rides, and cherry blossoms on the way.
Spring is a time of color and growth. One of the first signs that spring is approaching is willow trees turning yellow before growing their leaves. We will soon see squat skunk cabbage popping out of the soil, with just about every color wildflower you can imagine following behind. If you live in northwest lower Michigan or the Upper Peninsula, keep a special eye out for the Michigan monkey flower, an endangered species native to Michigan. Only found in 15 locations in the world, Michigan monkey flower is extremely rare, so if you are lucky enough to find one, be sure to observe it carefully!
Spring also marks the northward migration of songbirds, waterfowl, and raptors throughout the state. Some of the first songs you will hear are the familiar American robin and the distinctive sounds of red-winged blackbirds returning to Michigan’s marshes. Listen for mallards and other kinds of waterfowl as ice on the lakes begins to melt away. As the days warm, keep your ears out for spring peepers. These small frogs live near ponds, swamps, and wetlands and have a call that would make you believe they are much larger than one inch long.
Though the traditional smell of spring is a damp, earthy scent, its earliest indicator is more often the pungent skunk. Skunks spend the winter denned in a state of torpor, a milder form of hibernation. As temperatures warm and food becomes more readily available, these stinky mammals emerge, bringing with them a very distinctive smell of spring.
For many Michiganders, one of the earliest (and favorite!) signs that we are moving out of the winter months are the ice cream shops reopening. These early cones offer the promise of warmer months to come. After the snow melts, morel and ramp hunting is a popular activity for many. These wild edibles are a delicious addition to just about any meal.
Although “mud season” doesn’t usually have a positive connotation, spring is the season to embrace the dirt. Feel the soft moss at the base of a tree. Build a mud castle with your kids. Touch a tiny, new leaf. Spring brings with it infinite possibilities to get out and experience nature.