March Phenology Notes

Fox Kits Rachael Darrah.jpg
Do you love to track the wild things throughout the seasons?

Announcing my new series...#PhenologyNotes

Do you love to track the wild things throughout the seasons? Do you make note of all the "firsts" (spring peepers, wildflowers, woodcock, songs of breeding birds)?

...Or maybe you're feeling a little out of touch with the cycles of nature and would welcome a little coaxing, a spark of inspiration to pay closer attention...

...Or maybe you are a fellow naturalist who would love to share, discuss, and compare your own regional observations throughout the seasons.

Depending on the day, I fall into each of the above categories. The art and science of phenology keeps me engaged and truly present in the natural world - from day to day.

Phenology is the study of seasonal patterns as observed in the life cycles of plants and animals (migration, nesting/mating seasons, bud break, when plants bloom,etc.).

With Phenology Notes, I aim to provide you with a fun way to follow our flora and fauna throughout the seasons, learn something new, and to interact as a community of Habitat Heroes.

At the end of each month I share my weekly social media posts here on the blog.

Please share your different observations from March with our community in the comments below. Join the conversation!


Common Raven on Mt. Katahdin (Eric Hoar).

Common Raven on Mt. Katahdin (Eric Hoar).

March 6, 2019

Corvids-a-Courtin’

Right about now amorous raven pairs are working together to repair old nests as the female prepares to lay and incubate 4-5 greenish speckled eggs.

Ravens often use the same nest site (in a tree up to 100’ tall or on a cliff ledge). For about three weeks the female will incubate the eggs (as almost all birds do, with a warm brood patch - a highly vascularized featherless patch of skin on the bird's belly).

Throughout this period the devoted male will feed her and perch nearby.

Ravens have a long-term pair bond and will repeat this process year after year, usually at the same nest.

Did you know that Ravens belong to a group of highly intelligent birds known as Corvids? In Maine, these include the crows, ravens, and jays.


sap buckets on maple trees (diapicard/Pixabay)

sap buckets on maple trees (diapicard/Pixabay)

March 13, 2019

The Sweet Sap of Spring

The sap is flowing and folks have been strapping on their snowshoes to tap their Sugar Maple trees. Did you know it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup!?

Humans are not the only ones who savor the sweet sap of trees.

In early May, hummingbirds will return to Maine when few flowers are in bloom. Evidence suggests that they time their migration to follow the specialist woodpeckers that drill sap wells in the smooth bark of trees (Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers) so they can sip this sweet nectar-alternative to get by in the early season.


snowdrop (Aaron Burden)

snowdrop (Aaron Burden)

March 20, 2019

The Power of Photoperiod

Today is the Vernal Equinox! This marks the first day of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere; when day and night are of equal length. At this time of year we are gaining three minutes of daylight per day! That's the biggest jump we'll see all year. If that's not reason to celebrate, than what is?!These three minutes a day may be barely perceptible to modern humans who are relatively disconnected from the natural world, but our flora and fauna are totally plugged into it.

The most powerful stimuli for plants and animals is something called "photoperiod" (the period of light during each day). An organism's seasonal response to photoperiod is an extremely predictable reaction.

Lengthening days are a sign of spring to those of us with cabin fever, but also to our plants and animals who take this cue as a signal that the most favorable conditions for reproduction are upon them.

A flower (like this snowdrop) knows just when to bloom because it uses the daily cycle of light and dark as an internal calendar; flowering right on schedule for what is most advantageous for its particular life history strategy.

Other environmental cues like temperature and moisture, can alter the program, but the photoperiod is paramount.

Changes in our climate are impacting otherwise highly predictable schedules. While that is alarming, I am happily struck by just how remarkably adaptable the natural world is!


March 27, 2019

Fox Kits Being Born

Right about now red fox vixens are giving birth to a litter of four to five kits (even up to 10 in rare cases). The number of kits born is influenced by the number of foxes that occupy the particular area, and their food supply.

In the winter our foxes eat mostly snowshoe hare and deer carrion (the meat of dead deer). In summer they prey on small mammals, hares, birds, turtles, frogs, snakes, and even insects. They also eat eggs and fruit. Foxes are the classic omnivore!

fox kits (Captured Moments Photography: Rachael Darrah)

fox kits (Captured Moments Photography: Rachael Darrah)

Kits are born in an underground den (usually on a sunny hillside in a woodland area) with an elaborate tunnel system (up to 25 feet long).

Spring is a time of year that foxes are working extra hard to find food because they are trying to provide for their growing kits. As a result, they are more frequently seen and observed near our homes (and, unfortunately our chicken coops).

There are ways to coexist with these mid-level predators, and many reasons to accept and appreciate their presence. Foxes and other predators provide important ecological functions such as rodent patrol (which in turn keeps diseases like Lyme in check).

That being said, problems can arise when foxes overpopulate an area, and become habituated to humans. Always keep your distance and admire them from afar.

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#ThePersonalEcologist   I partner with eco-minded landowners to create thriving wildlife habitats in their backyards, gardens, fields and farms, woods or campuses - at any scale.  I have 25 years of experience in my field, and a lifelong commitment to wildlife conservation.  Read  My Story .

#ThePersonalEcologist

I partner with eco-minded landowners to create thriving wildlife habitats in their backyards, gardens, fields and farms, woods or campuses - at any scale.

I have 25 years of experience in my field, and a lifelong commitment to wildlife conservation.

Read My Story.