Return of Spring

by Gary Kline

I have long regarded the return of spring as being announced by the return of the swallows.  Oh, what joy their gay twittering (non-electronic) brings to the otherwise bleak surrounding world of February, or sometimes, March.

The swallows don’t come on a set date.  I’ve seen swallows flying over the lake through snow flurries.  They have their own calendar, timed to what else is going on in the progression of seasons.  I think it’s called phenology; e.g., when do the crocuses break ground and oak leaves get the size of squirrels ears, etc.?  First, it’s the violet-green swallows, glowing iridescently – – – when we have them.  Then come the tree swallows that stake out a nest box, generally disappear for awhile, then return to take up residency. 


The barn swallows, with forked-tail, of course don’t show up until April, as they evidently need a barn-warming.  Noisy nuisances, perhaps, but was there ever a friendlier and cuter bird?  However, before all this happens, there are other pseudo-harbinger of spring birds that hint the cycle of life is starting all over again for the billionth time.  We have our doubts, but thankfully, they don’t. 

Usually the first false harbinger to be heard is the male red-winged blackbird.  Why they haven’t all gone south for the winter is a bit mystifying, but someone has to break rules.  So, if you hear the red-wing’s clear call, appreciate it, but disregard any suggestion that it signals spring.

Next comes something that always happens about February, when things are still somewhat dreary and the pussy willow has yet to puff out; mallards.  A pair, sometimes more, shows up in the little marsh behind our house to claim ownership.  Lately they’ve been coming to the feeder in our front yard to clean up fallen birdseed. 

This year we were surprised to see them show up there on January 26th, just after the snow melted.  Getting an early start! What’s most entertaining and charming about the mallards is their crazy aerial antics with drakes chasing a hen, quacking and zooming around trees like reckless dare-devils, until it all settles out and there is a single pair sitting on the rain-swollen marsh pond near where they always nest, below or behind a large fallen (but yet live) willow.

Usually, we get to see the line of ducklings parade behind the mother, across our lawn, across the street, and on down to Black Lake.  Sometimes I’ve had to go out and direct traffic.  The most time-frantic, speeding drivers will stop for ducklings.  Possums, that’s another matter. 

So, February is here, already!  The law of averages says this is going to be a good gardening year, now that we’ve had our quota of winter snowfall.  The South Sound Food Gardener’s Calendar for 2012 (new and improved, of course) says this is the time to get out and clean up your garden site, perhaps spread some manure, do your orchard pruning, start a compost pile, and engage in other preparations. 

When March comes, you really want to get going and sowing.  Come get your copy, with handy planting charts for what to plant and when.  And if you’re thinking of soil testing, we’re starting that up too.  Come in and see us for instructions and a leaflet on our service and our fees.  Meanwhile, cross your fingers, and watch for the swallows.

Gary Kline is the owner of Black Lake Organic Nursery and Garden Store in Olympia, Washington.

© 2012 Gary L. Kline

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