When Derrick Mayoleth, blogger extraordinaire for Devil’s Lake State Park, reported that the great blue herons had returned, I knew spring had truly arrived. These amazing birds nest in a rookery close to the group camp parking lot on the south shore. It’s an ideal place to view them. My husband and I have met our daughter and two young grandsons at this parking lot several times in the past few years. We’ve been entertained each time. Watching these huge birds land on the tiniest of branches is like watching a Cirque de Soleil performance. And the sounds! Herons croak, squawk and squabble LOUDLY.
A word of caution. Don’t walk underneath the nests. It’s illegal to disturb the herons, and you don’t want to risk an attack or “whitewashing.”
Bring binoculars so you can get a closeup of these huge grayish-blue birds. If you time it right and are lucky, you’ll see an adult regurgitate food to its young. Sounds gross, I know, but I also find it remarkable. The adult eats the frog or fish and brings up the soup-like mixture to feed its young.
During another visit to the rookery, I felt like I’d entered a horror movie. The young were close to fledging, and several turkey vultures sat on nearby branches. Shivers crawled up my back when I realized the vultures were waiting for a young heron to fall out of the nest so they could snatch it.
The return of the herons inspired me to devote the following day to recording more signs of spring.
• At sunrise, I rejoice to hear warblers, sparrows, finches and the return of the sandhill cranes. This spring I find myself watching the sky more than usual since I’m hoping Gertie, the orphaned goose that my husband and I raised and released last fall, will return to us. I figure there’s a 1 in 100 chance, but still a chance.
• Even though it’s only in the 50’s, I dress in shorts and sandals.
• I call to Josie the Cockapoo, and she rushes for the door knowing it’s time for a walk. Neighbors are also strolling about, stopping to visit and catch up on the latest news.
• Parts of yards are still spongy, but green shoots from tulips, daffodils and crocuses signal better better weather to come. The crocuses remind me of how, one fall, my father-in-law secretly planted yellow and purple bulbs all over the front yard as a surprise for my mother-in-law.
• Josie the Cockapoo and I head to the woods. Skunk cabbage has poked through the marshy ground by a creek and pussy willows are in full bloom. The maples have that lovely reddish glow.
• I look for signs that the great horned owl is back nesting near the valley. Great-horned owls are early nesters so I could see young popping up their heads already. I don’t find the nest, but I’ll keep looking.
• Josie and I walk by a creek, and I hear one of my all time favorite sounds: the call of the red-winged blackbird. This scratchy oak-a-lee call has always meant spring to me. Since I grew up with a cattail pond in my backyard, when I first heard the male red-winged blackbird staking out its territory hoping to attract a mate, I knew that warm weather and summer vacation weren’t far behind.
• We return home, and I pull all the dead flower stalks from my garden and check on the fish in the water garden. I still count 7, so all survived.
• I decide to grocery shop and head downtown. I avoid the many potholes, lower my window, and wave to anyone outside.
• Restaurants and attractions that had been closed over the winter announce “Opening soon!”
• I return home and unearth the grill. Soon the smell of steaks fills the air. Ah, yes, spring!
• I spend time on the computer and order a dozen fertile mallard eggs. Soon I’ll start the incubator so by May I’ll have ducklings running around the backyard.
• The sun sets and a chorus of high-pitched spring peeper frogs chirp, “Goodbye long winter; Hello spring.”
Subscribe to Derrick Mayoleth’s blog at https://www.devilslakewisconsin.com