Spring, Week II

The world this morning was freshly washed, yesterday’s rain blown away by strong winds, leaving a brilliantly blue sky and air with the clarity of the oceanside. Where yesterday was freezing rain followed by dismal drizzle, temperatures hovering near freezing, everything the grey of concrete, today was birdsong and 8C, and by the time I’d walked the 4 km downtown I was too hot.

The rivers are high and fast, higher than I’ve seen them for some years, and other than Canada geese and mallards there were no birds at the confluence. I grew tired waiting for spring this week: growing up as far south as you can get in Canada, my internal seasonal clock still expects it to be well on its way by the end of March. This year, too, returning from England mid-March, having already experienced the first flush of spring, I was doubly confused. So I cheated, and drove the two-and-a-bit hours down to Long Point, on Lake Erie, with two goals in mind: sandhill cranes, and tundra swans. Anything else would be a bonus.

Cranes, as I’ve written before, are birds that always make me stop in wonder, from the first I saw in a Texas dawn, to the uncountable thousands on the Platte in March; the multiple, magnificent species on the Yangtze in winter, the birds coming in at dusk to an Australian pond, or the breeding pairs foraging in the English fens. Sandhills, so long gone from southern Ontario and now returning in greater numbers every year, are one of the (sadly) few success stories of conservation. They give me hope.

I found the sandhills by sound: the field they’d been in last year wasn’t corn stubble this year. But I pulled over, turned off the car, and opened the windows. The haunting, warbling calls came from a bit further west. It only took a few minutes to find them.

I sat and watched and listened for about half an hour, watching the cranes feeding in small groups, almost always three close together—parents and last year’s chick. Every so often one would raise its red-capped head and bugle, and then another, the sound uncanny in the light fog hanging over the fields.

A single pair of tundra swans flew low over the fields, just at the limit of my vision in the fog. Time to see if there were more. I drove down the Long Point causeway; the fog thickened as I got further out on the sandspit with open water on one side and marsh on the other. No swans that I could see, but I couldn’t see, except a few meters out into the bay. I’d have to go inland.

I was a couple of weeks late for the huge flocks, but I found enough to make me happy, to reset my internal clock to say, yes, it’s late March, yes, it’s spring. I know what to expect now; my brain is firmly back in Ontario.

And now it’s April, and the sun is shining and the first of my daffodils in the front garden is budding.

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