Welcome to Spring! Brrrrr, it's cold outside.
If no one told you that it was March, would you believe that winter is formally over. The forecast calls for a few slushy inches of snow on Monday, maybe even ice. Temperatures are still cold, in fact below normal. High temperatures should be around 50 degrees. Yet, readings seem to be stuck in the upper 30s to mid-40s.
No doubt March can be a cruel month. It's a time when winter meets spring. One day can be sunny and warm, the next can often be stormy with snow or ice. The storm tracks of winter still prevail in March.
Although many people love winter, by March quite a few folks (including me) are ready for a change. There is something tempting about the coming of spring, with longer days, emerging flowers and leaves, returning birds, and a sense of a new start.
Even with chilly conditions, if you look closely, there is a slow eruption of life taking place beyond the typical signs of spring like robins and crocuses. These signs promise the icy grip of winter will let go soon.
It all begins with the sun. Spring officially arrived last Wednesday, March 20th at 7:02am EDT. On that day, we had equal amounts of daylight and darkness. From here on out, days will be getting longer and we will be experiencing ever increasing amounts of daylight.
The ever-increasing energy of the sun warms up soils for plant roots to spread out and seek food. Spring rains bring minerals to newly stimulated plants and help to erode muddy soils to bring nutrients into the bay.
More food in the bay creates vast populations of plankton, microscopic plants and animals, which will feed small fish and shellfish, which will feed larger fish and crabs, which will feed even larger fish, which will eventually feed newly arriving Ospreys.
This ancient food web is still working today. For the past several days I have seen several Ospreys flying over wetlands near Sandy Hook Bay and Raritan Bay getting ready to begin nesting. They have migrated far to get here.
Leaving the Gulf of Mexico, South America or various islands in the Caribbean several weeks ago, and flying as much as 100 to 200 miles day, to make it near New York City soon after St. Patrick's Day.
The fish hawks are hungry. Lucky for them their food has also arrived here at the same time. Fish, like shad and river herring, have migrated long distances in the ocean, in some cases over 1,200 miles to arrive to Lower New York Bay, Sandy Hook Bay and Raritan Bay to feed on plankton and small shrimp.
Large schools of herring will eventually swim upstream to the same river or stream they were born in to spawn and start the next generation.
Right on the edge of ocean beaches, one of the smallest shorebirds is also pulling in. Piping Plovers are returning to New York and New Jersey from their winter home in the Caribbean or Mexico to feed on small clams, crabs, and worms emerging in the sand among the tide lines. Soon these tiny beach-colored birds will begin another year of courting, setting up territories, nesting, and raising a family near the edge of the ocean.
By April, spring is no longer a veiled promise, but a reality. Snowfall ceases to be a major factor, songbirds begin to nest, and migrating shorebirds begin arriving. All life is restless, moving, and ready to reproduce.
It's a time for spring. Signs are starting to appear little by little. Taking a walk outdoors in a favorite park or natural area can be especially rewarding these days. Can you smell it? Resurrection is in the air.
For more information, pictures and year-round sightings of wildlife in or near Sandy Hook Bay, please check out my blog entitled, Nature on the Edge of New York City at http://www.natureontheedgenyc.com