35 Signs of Spring

The colder and snowier the winter, the more we long for signs--any signs--of spring. And if you look hard enough, you'll see them all around you. Many are subtle, some don't involved flora and fauna at all and still more, well they're my own personal signs the spring is coming sooner rather than later. Here are some harbingers of better things to come. What are your favorite signs of spring? We'd love to know. 1. Bassmasters Classic Once a rite of summer, nowadays the Bassmasters Classic is a rite of spring and Kevin Van Dam has become the keeper of the rite. Van Dam left the rest of the field lying in his wake at the 2011 event in New Orleans, winning the event for the fourth time.
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 happens in February. Perhaps it's because these guys keep at it all through spring, summer and fall.
3. Play Ball! If you're a baseball fan, spring arrives with two simple words: Pitchers & Catchers! The might not be playing for keeps for another month, but for now everyone's in first place and The Boys of Summer are back! Can the Fall Classic be far behind?
4. March Madness If NASCAR and baseball aren't your thing, there's always the NCAA college basketball championship. March Madness begins mid-month and ends in April providing just enough distraction to get us through the most miserable final days of winter.
5. Sport Shows Late February and March are undoubtedly the biggest months for outdoor sport shows. From Harrisburg, PA to the Michigan Outdoorama to (as it's referred to in New York) The Suffern Show, thousands of hunters and fishermen are browsing the aisles looking for new gear or making plans for the hunting/fishing trip of a lifetime.
6. The Masters For me, spring's long-since sprung by the time golf's greatest spectacle begins on April 4, but that's just me.
Culture--Pop & Otherwise 7. The Grammys The best music and musicians take their bows at the annual Grammy Awards. The big winner in 2011 was our favorite outdoors woman Miranda Lambert
8. The Oscars I seem to recall that the annual Academy Awards were distributed in April sometime. Although I don't seem to find much time to go to movies these days, I always manage to stay awake for at least the first hour of the program. The opening monologue is usually pretty funny.
9. American Idol It's a dumb show with dumb judges and even dumber contestants, but who can honestly avoid watching "Idol" on occasion? It's a sign of spring for me, because the damn show doesn't end til mid-May (turkey season) and I'm typically barraged with Idol chatter while driving to the turkey woods.
10. Easter For many, this is the most religiously significant day of the year. For me, this year anyway, it's the eve of spring gobbler season and I need to figure out exactly how I'll break the news to everyone that I'll be at camp.
11. Spring Break No longer concerned about where to go on Spring Break, nowadays I spend my time trying to convince my daughter why it makes more sense for her to save her money for something she really needs.
12. 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.
13. 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?
14. 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.
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."
Spring Signs
16. 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.
Flora and Fauna 17. 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.
18. 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.
19. 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.
20. Robin Sightings Spotting some robins during a recent 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.
21. 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.
22. 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.
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.
24. 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.
25. Hoot Time As a youngster, I didn't even know that Barred Owls existed in my New England woods. It wasn't until I started hunting turkeys, and was told to hoot like a Barred Owl to make them gobble, that I heard and saw my first ones. Now, on still late-winter nights, I stand outside listening intently for one of these first "spring" breeders.
26. Red-Winging It North One of the first returning birds of spring is the red-wing blackbird. Just received the first report of a red-wing at an upstate New York bird feeder on February 27.
27. Don't Feed The Bears It's bound to happen most any unusually warm late-winter day now--a black bear will rip down someone's bird feeder and send the entire neighborhood into a tizzy. It might take a lot of bird seed to fill up a bear's belly, but they're drawn to it like, well, honey...
28. Cry of the Cranes For thousands of years, beginning in mid-February, cranes begin to return to the Platte River in Nebraska. About April 10, a mass exodus occurs as the birds continue north to their nesting grounds. It is a true wildlife spectacle.
29. Willow Watching Native to Canada and the eastern, U.S., pussy willows are a spring harbinger from my childhood. I vividly recall my grandmother gathering willow branches in late February while snow still blanketed the woods. She'd bring them inside, put them in a vase of water and place them at the center of the kitchen table. "Glucklich Fruhling," she said. Happy spring.
30. Vexing Voles As deep snow begins to recede in our yards, many of us will no doubt be greeted by trails and runways through the brown grass. The handiwork of voles or meadow mice, the trails under the snow are feeding trails to winter food sources such as tree bark or plants. Although severe infestation can kill vegetation, I usually don't pay it much mind. Soon, greening grass will hide the damage.
31. Dancing Buffleheads These are just cool little ducks and one of the first to return at ice-out in my country. The drake's odd courtship ritual includes puffing up its white head patch to attract hens.
32. Good For The Geese One of the first waterfowl nesters is the Canada goose. It's not at all uncommon to see goslings on opening day of turkey season in May.
33. Crocus Caucus One of the first flowers to bloom in spring, crocuses will pop through the ground just as soon as the first few inches warm up in late winter.
34. As The Worms Turn One day within the next month or so, we will no doubt get a spring rainstorm complete with rising temperatures. In its wake, the ground--and even the pavement--will be littered with earthworms. As a kid, I'd take the opportunity to gather as many as possible for my first trip to the trout stream.
34. Shark Alert! Sometime around mid-February, the general media will call the alarm: "Thousands of Sharks Off the Florida Coast" The annual Florida shark migration draws attention--and closes beaches--each year as blacktips and spinners head for warmer waters.

The colder and snowier the winter, the more we long for signs--any signs--of spring. And if you look hard enough, you'll see them all around you.