We will leave our winter home in Cedar Key, Florida, and return to our home place east of River Falls, Wisconsin this week. We will be in time to watch spring happen again. Around here in Florida the white pelicans, turkey vultures, robins and most of the warblers have already migrated north. Deciduous trees and bald cypress have been leafed out since late February. Blue flag iris, spiderwort and Magnolia trees have blossomed. Ticks, chiggers, deer flies, mosquitoes and sand gnats are out in force now. We’re “snowbirds” here and don’t want to become “sweaters” that stay for the hot steamy summer.
We’ve watched weather reports and have heard from friends about the early snowmelt and ice-out in Wisconsin. Anglers won’t be fishing in snow squalls on the fishing opener this year.
The National Phenology Center has reported that first leaf-out in northern Wisconsin has happened up to three weeks early this year. The First Leaf Index is based on the leaf-out of lilacs and honeysuckles, which are among the first plants to show their leaves in the spring. For parts of Wisconsin, this spring leaf-out was the earliest in the National Phenology Center’s 40-year period of record.
Phenology is the study of the relationship between plant growth and animal life and physical factors of the environment, particularly climate and weather. Wisconsin has a long tradition of phenology observations.
Aldo Leopold, University of Wisconsin-Madison wildlife biology professor and author of “A Sand County Almanac” kept phenological records at the Leopold family “shack” on the Wisconsin River starting in 1935. The Leopold family has accumulated over 70 years of records of migrating bird arrivals, wildlife activities and flowering plants.
There’s an abundance of evidence that the seasonal timing of spring events in Wisconsin such as ice-out on lakes, arrival of migrating birds, and plant flowering has advanced two to three weeks in time since Leopold’s days and that these shifts are related to climate change.
Plants and animals are dependent on environmental conditions favorable for reproduction and growth. When their biological activities occur outside the windows of favorable conditions, there are consequences.
For example, the early warm-up in March 2019 triggered many trees, including basswoods, oaks and apple trees, to bloom and then the flowers were killed later by a hard frost. That could happen again this year, but no deep freeze is in the current long-term forecast.
Farmers are raring to go but need warmer soil temperatures for planting so that seeds can germinate. Somewhat cooler and wetter than normal conditions are in store for Wisconsin during May according to forecast models from the NOAA Climate Prediction Center.
We look forward to returning home, watching the new shades of green in our woods, looking for morel mushrooms, the spring ephemeral flower show and to hearing the frogs and birds singing their spring songs.
Where to look for wood anemonies
Locally, people likely will find established colonies at:
Kinnickinnic State Park
W11983 820th Ave.
Willow River State Park
1034 County A
Nine Mile Island Natural Area
North of Durand
Between Chippewa River branches
Accessible only by canoe