15 Signs of Spring

At long last, it's April and if you look hard, Spring is everywhere. By now, most of these 15 signs are there to be seen. 1. That Very First Gobble Yes, turkeys gobble all year long, but if you listen carefully enough you'll hear a discernible difference in tonality. Spring, hen-gathering, territoriality gobbling, sounds very different than fall pecking-order and shock gobbling. Step outside just at sunrise on those first warmth-promising days of winter and you'll hear it. There's nothing that quite beats hearing that first gobble of spring.
2. Nascar is Back! Okay, granted I'm a bit odd, but hearing all the hype and hoopla surrounding The Great American Race somehow signals spring to me--even though it's still February. Perhaps it's because these guys keep at it all through spring, summer and fall.
3. Drumming Grouse Just as toms will gobble at any time of year, grouse will drum at anytime--even at night. I can't wait and am already listening. In the Northeast, grouse drumming typically begins in early March and peaks in April. Drumming serves the dual purpose of proclaiming a male's territory and as an attractant for hens. Any night now, when the winds go dead, I'll hear the drumming of a grouse in our nearby thicket.
4. Skydancing Woodcock Although little is known about their spring migration, woodcock are one of my favorite harbingers of spring. When snowfall is minimal, I'll typically hear their plaintive breeding peent-peent-peent in mid-March and then watch in awe just at dusk as males take to the sky in their unique mating ritual.
5. Robin Sightings Spotting some robins during a recent January thaw instantly made me think of spring, but also piqued my interest in robin migrations. I guess I should have already known this, but because I don't hunt robins I probably didn't care to investigate their seasonal movements. That's when I discovered the 37 -degree isotherm theory of robin migration. That is, the huge bulk of male robins move along a 37-degree temperature line in spring. Those precious few Janruary thaw days brought temperatures in the mid-40s...and robins with it. They've since disappeared once again.
6. Tree Tapping Warming days and cold nights--it's almost maple syrup time! Sap buckets have sort of become a thing of the past, but while driving through southern New Hampshire early last week I saw sap tubes stretching from maple to maple. The sap should begin to flow any time now.
7. Seed Catalogs Don't look now, but here they come. Burpee, Johnny's and Gurney's seed catalogs have been shipped and are about to hit your mailbox if they haven't already. Can your garden be far behind?
8. Trout Stocking Schedule Many states typically send out press releases providing a list of streams, rivers and lakes that they plan to stock with trout. Maryland, for example, will stock more than 325,000 trout and its program is already well underway (www.dnr.maryland.gov/fisheries/stocking/index.asp). Other states are right behind.
9. Mud Season Mud flows right along with the maple tree sap as the frost leaves the ground in the Northeast. According to Wikipedia (yes, they actually have an entry under "Mud Season"): Mud season occurs only in places where the ground freezes deeply in winter, is covered by snow, and thaws in spring. Dirt roads and paths become muddy because the deeply frozen ground thaws from the surface down as the air temperature warms above freezing. The snow melts but the frozen lower layers of ground prevent water from percolating into the soil so the surface layers of soil become saturated with water and turn to mud.
10. Incredible Sinking Trucks Although it can--and does--happen anytime of winter and just about anywhere outdoorsmen icefish, vehicles have a propensity for crashing through the ice from late February through March. A recent tragedy on Wisconsin's Lake Winnebago prompted the DNR to release this caution: "Because of its unstable condition and unpredictability, anyone who travels on frozen lakes or rivers is taking a risk. Ice is never completely safe," said Todd Schaller, education and enforcement chief for the DNR. The DNR has outlined the following ice safety precautions: "Use caution near shorelines--water level drops may occur close to shore and ice may not be supported by water underneath. Keep the windows open and doors unlocked. Operate below 15 miles per hour or above 25 miles per hour. Vehicle speed can impact ice safety. Do not follow other vehicles closely--the vehicle weight creates an 'ice wave' that could cause breaks. Keep at least 100 feet between your vehicle and the one ahead. A frozen lake is a beautiful sight to anyone trying to escape winter dormancy in Wisconsin but safety adds even more beauty to the tradition of ice fishing in this state."
11. Road-killed Deer As snow begins to dissipate (I know that's hard to wrap your head around if you live in certain parts of the country), you'll begin to notice an uptick in road-killed deer. Deer, lured to the sides of roads by snow-melting road salt, are killed in numbers only rivaled by the fall-rut.
12. Skunk Pies Ahhhhhhhh....the sweet smell of spring! Maybe in some places, but in others the fetid smell of crushed skunk is one of the first harbingers of spring. One of the first critters to leave its winter digs, skunks comprise a high percentage of road kills in many parts of the country.
13. Popping Peepers Whereas drumming grouse and peenting woodcock can sometimes be somewhat false harbingers of spring, peepers generally mean that spring is here to stay. The high-pitched calls of male peepers typically begin around the vernal equinox and continues throughout the spring.
14. Sheds Aplenty Although I'll keep an eye out for shed antlers whenever I'm in the woods, late winter is a great time to intentionally hunt shed racks. Start your search in known wintering and feeding areas and be sure to mark found sheds on a map. Deer will tend to lose their racks in the same areas year after year.
15. Play Ball! If you're a baseball fan, you know that The Boys of Summer are back! Can the Fall Classic be far behind? What are your Sure Signs of Spring? We'd love to hear 'em.

At long last, it's April and if you look hard, Spring is everywhere. By now, most of these 15 signs are there to be seen.