By Jeff Beane
Holy cow—it’s March already. If, like me, you’re wondering whatever happened to January and February, or to last year for that matter (or indeed, to the 1970s), you’d best get out there and start paying attention. It may have been a cold month so far, but, speaking as one who has already lived through an embarrassingly large number of Marches, I can guarantee that it ain’t gonna stay that way for long.
Right now, Yellow Jessamine, Hepatica, and Trailing Arbutus are in bloom, Mink kits are being born, Great Horned Owls are feeding good-sized nestlings, and if the sun is shining you’ll see a Falcate Orangetip fluttering by if you’re not careful. Purple Martins’ll be back any day now, Yellow-throated Warblers and Northern Rough-winged Swallows are already showing up, and as soon as there’s a warm day you’ll be seeing the first Eastern Tiger Swallowtails of the season. Spotted Salamanders and most chorus frogs have already finished breeding, but you’ll still hear Spring Peepers on warm nights for the rest of the month. American Toads and Pickerel Frogs started calling during that warm spell back in January, and they’ll finish their breeding as soon as it warms back up. Several herring, shad, and sucker species have already begun their spring spawning runs.
In the Coastal Plain and Sandhills, the hardwood trees are starting to acquire leaves. Tiger and Mabee’s salamanders have long since bred (in those places where there was enough water), and my telemetered Pine Snakes and Coachwhips will be emerging from their hibernacula any day now. Southern Toads, Carpenter Frogs, and Southern Cricket Frogs are just about to start calling. In just a week or two, Bachman’s Sparrows will be singing in the longleaf savannas.
In the Mountains? Well, it’s still freezing up there, but the Wood Frogs snuck in their quick-and-dirty breeding season back during those January and February rains; you’ll have to look for their egg masses if you want to see them now. Once the snow melts you might see a Bloodroot already blooming and hear a peeper or two (or even a Mountain Chorus Frog if you happen to be in Cherokee County and get really lucky with the weather).
If you don’t get out there soon, you’ll miss Trout Lilies completely, Eastern Cottontails will already have had their first litters, peak shorebird migration will be past, and you’ll miss the first emerging Luna Moths and the first returning Chimney Swifts. Gray Fox pups are being born, too. Before the end of the month, you’re going to be seeing bluets and violets blooming, Palamedes Swallowtails flying, and Brown-headed Nuthatches laying eggs.
If you start hearing Whip-poor-wills, Chuck-will’s-Widow’s, White-eyed Vireos, and Fowler’s Toads, you’ve probably already waited too long. It’s basically April, dude (or dudette).
Of course, if you happen to be a crappie fisherman (or –woman) or a Gopher Frog biologist, you’re already out there and you know all this already.
You have to get out early in the year, and get down low to the ground, to see and smell the tiny flowers of Trailing Arbutus (Epigaea repens). But it’s worth it.
Trees in the Coastal Plain are festooned with the blooms of Yellow Jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) this time of year. Just look. Don’t eat.
Upland Chorus Frogs (Pseudacris feriarum) breed in temporary wetlands in winter. If you haven’t heard them yet this year, you may have already missed them.
Right now is peak breeding season for the Carolina Gopher Frog (Rana [Lithobates] capito). With most of its habitat long gone, many biologists believe this rare Longleaf Pine specialist is doomed in North Carolina.
A clutch of Brown-headed Nuthatch (Sitta pusilla) eggs in a small dead snag. This tiny, charismatic bird’s philosophy is breed early and avoid the rush.
The beautiful and familiar Luna Moth (Actias luna) can have three broods a year in North Carolina. The first one emerges this month.
If you want to see Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) in bloom this year, it’s time to start looking. Even in good years, the flowers don’t last long.