The last time I wrote a ‘phenology walk‘ post, winter was just beginning. The idea of snow was novel, and animals were just starting to warm up to the cold. Since then, I have mentioned events that signal the changing seasons, but I have not written a post specifically about them. Natural events are signaling the transition to spring, and a phenology walk is long overdue.
With the rising temperatures, ravens have been spotted performing courtship rituals over the sage flats. Snow is melting rapidly, and moose have been more active than they have been in past months.
Yesterday, I spotted budding aspens along Fish Creek. European starlings can be seen perched in the tops of aspen trees, and flocks of snow buntings fly low across roads in the sage flats. Red crossbills can also be heard with their sweet call from the tops of conifer trees. Soon, the first bluebirds will return.
Although it may seem like spring is just around the corner, it is possible that winter will stretch on for a few more months. The timing of spring in Jackson Hole is highly variable, and we may be thrown back into deep winter at any moment. For humans, this change may affect our mood. Maybe we will be grumpy about the return of winter, or maybe we will be ecstatic about the prospect of more snow (the latter being more likely in Jackson Hole). For animals, the changing weather can be the difference between life and death.
Animals are highly skilled interpreters of phenology; this skill is out of necessity, because failure to read the changing seasons yields the highest consequence– death. This fact is why we study the activity of animals as our canary in the mine for the changing seasons.