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Natural North Dakota

Harbingers of Spring

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The spring equinox occurred a few weeks ago, and the calendar says it is spring.  But I am not convinced yet.  The calendar or spring equinox both tell us it’s spring, but I am not sure that it makes it official.  It takes some observation of nature to make it official.  Maybe it’s the first thunderstorm or ice-out on a local lake.  For the botanically inclined, it may be the trees breaking bud, or when a particular plant comes into bloom.  For many of us it is probably the return of some migratory bird.

As kids, I suspect that most of us learned that robins are the official harbinger of spring.  Seeing the first robin of the year made it official.  Robins are a good choice because most kids are familiar with them, and their song seems to hold the authority and joy of such an important event.  Even now, when I hear the first robin’s song after a long winter, it evokes thoughts of childhood wonder and the summer fun to come.

Other birds also serve to mark the official coming of spring.  As always, the sights and sounds of skeins of snow geese flying overhead announce that spring is here.  Their cackle sounds as though they’re all giddy with the coming of the season.  If you use the return of Canada geese as your symbol, spring is already here.  Other birds heralding spring include the male sharptailed grouse strutting their stuff on their dancing grounds.  

As a botanist, I look a little more carefully at the plants.  And like many other lovers of the prairie, it is the wild crocus or pasque flower that I use to assure myself that spring is officially here.  They can be observed on the prairies across our region and may well be in bloom in the southern part of the state already.   

So what’s your “harbinger of spring?”  What does it take for you to officially declare spring is here?  We would love to hear from you. Head to Prairie Public’s Facebook page and post your thoughts and experiences on what makes spring official.

-Chuck Lura

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