Nine-Minute Naturalist: March Madness

By David,

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March Madness

by Josh Palumbo, Forest Management Coordinator

I welcome you to The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen’s attempt to bring some nature and knowledge into your home. The Nine Minute Naturalist borrows from NPR’s lovely 90-Second Naturalist podcast. Since we all have a bit more time on our hands, the goal is to take something that is happening out in our environment and stimulate your brain for roughly nine minutes. I hope you enjoy!


The term “March Madness” refers to a season obsessed with filling out brackets and cheering for random teams you gambled would pull off an upset. The term works just as well for the rapid environmental changes occurring in March. Gone are the subtle changes associated with February. The fascinating changes March brings are obvious to all the senses. This edition of the Nine Minute Naturalist will focus on the arrival of environmental changes that defines March Madness.

 

 

The aspect of March that grabs my attention most significantly relates to the world of herpetology. The emergence of the amphibians and reptiles that have laid dormant for months is fascinating. The term “Big Night” refers to nights in late winter when the perfect conditions occur causing a mass movement of amphibians from wintering grounds to breeding grounds. Perfect conditions are rainy nights with the temperature around 50 degrees. The soil also must have been unfrozen for a period before these conditions occur. When these conditions are perfect the amphibians begin the march towards breeding grounds. They are looking for water sources such as vernal pools, ponds and flooded terrain that is predator free so they can lay eggs in relative safety. The species you are most likely to encounter on their march are species that breed in aquatic habitats. Spring peepers, wood frogs, spotted salamanders and American toads are species you will not struggle to find at Wintergreen. Using the sense of hearing is as useful as searching visually for this mass movement. The spring peepers, wood frogs and toads will begin their incessant mating calls alerting you to their presence. This breeding can be explosive causing quiet nights to be turned into a cacophony of sound. Good spots to find these breeding grounds at Wintergreen are Devils Knob Golf Course, Allen Creek Nature Preserve or any other area that will hold water long enough for the eggs to stay wet.

Another endearing feature of March is the reemergence of familiar friends. Black bears, groundhogs, chipmunks, and bats return to our daily lives. These hibernators begin to roam our mountainside looking to break their fast. Seeing the familiar groundhog along Wintergreen Drive or the fast twitch movements of chipmunks on the forest floor reminds us that the long cold period has come to an end. While it is joyful to see our long-lost friends, it is good to remember that our black bears have emerged hungry into a bit of a food “desert.” Gone are the large acorn crop and luscious berry crop of the fall and summer seasons. The bears will primarily feed on insects such as ants, grubs, etc. and will transition to feeding on emergent plants as the spring begins. At Wintergreen, they will also frequent the dumpsters, vehicles and homes that give off the scent of a possible dinner. Be diligent to treat your trash and food sources with a rummaging bear in mind.

 

 

The visual senses will not be neglected in the madness known as March. The spring ephemerals will make their presence known as the month progresses. By late March, a couple of my favorite native wildflowers will make their presence known. Marsh marigolds are a wetland obligate plant that loves the basic seepage swamps our mountain offers. Their showy yellow flowers can be found on the current AT just north of Laurel Springs drive. Another native wildflower that begins blooming in late March is the spring beauty. This spring perennial grows in large patches that make their light pink flowers all the showier. The best place to witness a carpet of spring beauties is the Allen Creek Nature Preserve.

I encourage you to see the madness of March and embrace it. Fill out your brackets but do not forget to take a walk out on a warm rainy night in March to see the movement of the spotted salamander. Scream at your television for a 15 seed to upset the 2 seed but make sure you hike out to see the stunning marsh marigolds. Do not let this month pass without making sure you embrace every aspect!

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