Northland Nature: Spring snow helps vernal ponds – Duluth News Tribune
Sports news recently reported the start of baseball season, with a few local games scheduled. However when I come out I am greeted by 4 inches of fresh snow.
Canada geese are screeching as they have done every day since mid-March. These wandering geese are joined by trumpeter swans and distant sandhill cranes (two of the loudest birds in the state). The usual crows, ravens and woodpeckers also add sounds on this spring morning.
With a temperature of 32 degrees, the snow that fell is very wet. It is heavy and difficult to shovel. Fortunately, today’s temperature rise will melt much of that snow from the patio and driveway. Spring snow tends to be wet and sticky, while snow from a few months ago fell at cooler temperatures and was light powder, easy to shovel or sweep. (Four inches of snow in April can hold about half an inch of moisture. Four inches in January – maybe only a tenth.)
I put more thistle and sunflower seeds on the feeders than I planned to stop. Redpolls that have been here for more than two months find them quickly. In addition to these two dozen small striated birds, I see a new arrival: a purple finch. The brightly colored male is very easy to see. Although some purple finches overwinter here, I consider them a migrant.
Spring migration happened, but not so quickly. I noticed robins and mourning doves along my walks and one day a red-winged blackbird sang from the marsh. In the open waters of a nearby river, I observed a couple of crowned mergansers. Usually I expect more migrants at that time.
Among the plants I found flowering crocuses and dandelions. Silver maples bear either male or female flowers while alder catkins have ripened with pollen.
At the beginning of April, we had a seasonal snowfall total of 75 inches and a diminishing snowpack. It looked like the snow season was waning. Mother Nature had other plans. It varied a lot in Northland, but in the first five days of April, the Duluth Weather Service had recorded more snow than the whole month of March. Wet, unwieldy and late in the season, spring snow is often overlooked.
But I found some values in the snow right now. This is the perfect time to see animal tracks. Wet snow tends to give good impressions of footprints, crisp and clear. In dry powder it is often difficult to see clear indentations.
Also, with milder temperatures, more wildlife are active now. During recent walks I have spotted distinct tracks of deer, foxes, coyotes, bobcats, squirrels, hares, weasels, fishers, skunks and raccoons (still no bear).
Spring wet snow is precious for what’s to come. Unlike rain of equal moisture content in which much of the water could run off onto the still frozen ground, wet snow retains precipitation here. And as it melts, it heads for low-lying sites, replenishing the vernal pools that will soon appear. I looked at these pond sites a few weeks ago and noticed they had some snow in them but could use more.
The April snow lends that moisture to the ponds and possibly helps the frogs and other critters that inhabit these little ponds. These replenished ponds will come alive in the coming weeks with the sights and sounds of frogs, thanks to the late fall snow.