March 2017: Celebrating Spring with Hobie

Yellow-rumped Warbler standing on nest with young; Photo by Jeff Foott,  June 1983

Celebrating Spring by Hobie Hare

Sure Signs of Spring

Winter has been more intense, unpredictable and longer this year in Montana, even at lower elevations. We’ve had snow on the ground in the Missoula and Bitterroot valleys since early December, and there are few signs that things are letting up just yet. My other half, Erik, recently befriended a new arrival to Montana who moved here from back east. The man mentioned how much he loved winter and all the snow we’ve been getting, and if we didn’t have so much of it, Montana just might have five million instead of one million residents!

Unlike in winter, our longest season, Montanans welcome far more spring, summer and fall seasonal residents and visitors. As daylight lengthens and the sun’s angle climbs higher in February and March, hope seems to skyrocket in our communities, anticipating spring’s inevitable arrival. We may still get a blizzard even into June, and for the next few months we’ll have to watch out for puddles and potholes large enough to swallow an SUV. Nonetheless, we’ll soon witness human snowbirds returning from their perches in California, Arizona, and points farther south, but also many avian species doing the same thing. Both, you might say, serve as harbingers, or sure signs, of spring.

At Dunrovin Ranch, everyone is anxiously awaiting the safe return of ospreys Harriet, Hal, Honor and Glory sometime in late March, but well before they get here, there are numerous other birds returning to Big Sky Country that herald the return of spring. Why do birds migrate in the first place? According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, there are about 650 species of North American breeding birds, and about half are migratory to some degree. The Cornell Lab states that “Birds migrate to move from areas of low or decreasing resources to areas of high or increasing resources. The two primary resources being sought are food and nesting locations.”

Migration is not always fully understood. Some species, especially waterfowl (such as swans and geese) and cranes, have preferred annual pathways with important stopover locations. These are usually rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, and prairie potholes, and many overlap with agricultural and ranching lands. Many smaller birds, though, take different routes in spring versus fall due to seasonal weather and food patterns.

In the second half of March, you may see hundreds of thousands of snow geese and tundra swans in places such as Freezeout Lake not far from Great Falls, Montana. Hundreds of miles farther east, as many as half a million sandhill cranes and a handful of whooping cranes use the Central Platte River Valley in Nebraska en route to summering locations farther north.

Timing is everything with migration, yet favorable conditions vary enormously season to season and year to year. Arriving early could mean getting a head start on having the best breeding habitats and mates, giving some birds a proverbial leg up on raising their young and their learning to fly before migrating south in late summer. Yet springtime in Montana can also bring crappy weather which might sink all their prospects. Getting here later could also mean foul weather; maybe a certain hatch of insects has already happened, or hasn’t happened yet. Later arrivals could also miss out on the best breeding habitats and mate choices, so it’s a bit of a gamble either way.

Montana also has some bird species that come south (and in some cases, move to lower elevations) in winter, such as bohemian waxwings and northern shrikes. Year-round permanent residents at Dunrovin Ranch and throughout Big Sky Country include the house sparrow, and the ever-present black-capped chickadee.

So who’s on their way to Montana now, and who’s already here? Red winged blackbirds usually arrive late February into March, followed by mountain bluebirds. The meadowlark, our official state bird, usually arrives around the same time, and by the end of March, sandhill cranes and ospreys have made their landing here. From March and well into April, look for flocks of snow geese and tundra swans flying in formation overhead, and for other migratory waterfowl.

Yellow headed blackbirds typically arrive back in Montana from mid April to late May. In early May, yellow-rumped warblers usually are here, and throughout much of Big Sky country, late April to mid-May is peak migration time. Western tanagers, one of my favorite migrating bird species, follow insect hatches as they migrate north to spend the summer, often in conifer forests. They are usually here by the first part of May, having flown from Costa Rica and Panama and points farther south.

 

From August into mid-September, most species have already migrated for the winter, as have many of Montana’s snowbirds, to areas with more favorable food and nesting options. Shifting cycles, rhythms and seasons are a constant for all earth residents, reminding us to be adaptable, resourceful, and open to change. They also help us to trust in the great unknown, believe in our abilities, and navigate adversity in our lives. After all, if a yellow-rumped warbler, which weighs about 1/20 of an ounce, can travel up to thousands of miles against all odds, in uncertain weather, with myriad challenges, twice a year, aren’t we up to some challenges and opportunities as well?

On March 16, 2017, Hobie came out to Dunrovin Ranch to sit on the “porch swing” with Lady Dunrovin and invite the D@d members to join them in celebrating spring. Please enjoy this recording of their conversation.

 

POSTSCRIPT

With each seasonal change, Hobie Hare finds his way to Dunrovin Ranch to sit on the “porch swing” with SuzAnne to celebrate nature’s annual cycle. Hobie has a way of letting you close your eyes and follow his voice to that special natural space where your soul is replenished – no matter where your feet are. It is a gift that Hobie has to share, this ability to follow sounds, conjure the sights, and ask our minds to take us to nature to receive its many healing benefits, even when our entire body cannot there. It works and it is such a blessing.

You can connect personally with Hobie by visiting his web site at YourLifeNature where you will find meditation tapes and nature photographs to help build a nature connection into your daily life.

We are delighted to have Hobie contribute a nature celebration article for the Dunrovin Ranch Lifestyle Magazine each month.

Enjoy more articles from the Dunrovin Lifestyle Magazine!