The days are growing longer, if not much warmer. I always enjoy the coming of spring. Given the winter we’ve had, even more so this year. Though we have clocks and calendars that tell us the time and signal the change of seasons, it’s the natural world’s harbingers of spring that give me true hope that the snowy, cold winter will soon be over.
Image courtesy John Cholod/Flickr
Trees, flowers and iconic species like American shad, striped bass and osprey have their own “clocks” that tell them when warmer days are on the way and it’s time to begin their return migration to the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams. For me, those are the true indications that we will soon be able to enjoy warm weather and all of the outdoor opportunities our region has to offer. Somehow I trust them more than I do the calendar on my wall.
Just as plants and animals are emerging, many people seem to be itching to get outside once again. All around me, people are preparing their camping gear, planning their gardens and getting their boats ready for the water. Groups across the watershed are gearing up for their season of restoration, and their upcoming tree plantings and stream clean-ups will benefit communities and the environment. And our partners at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have re-launched several smart buoys that are part of the Chesapeake Bay Interpretive Buoy System (CBIBS), which were removed in winter to prevent ice damage. Some of these buoys are located along the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, and they allow travelers to check real-time water and weather conditions and listen to narration about natural and cultural history.
Image courtesy Ferd/Flickr
I’m still waiting for the last true indicator of spring: that indescribable but unmistakable smell in the air. It’s hard to express in words, but you know it when it happens. The earth warms, flowers begin to bloom, breezes turn buttery and wildlife emerges. And the cycle—the rhythm of nature—begins anew. The sound of sails luffing is not far off.
Note: The opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect U.S. EPA policy endorsement or action.
The return of ospreys whistling through the air is a surefire sign of spring in the Chesapeake Bay region. But even those who can’t make it to the Bay’s shores can enjoy a glimpse of this remarkable raptor through online osprey cams at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS).
The Blackwater osprey cam is located on an osprey platform in a marsh on the wildlife refuge’s grounds in Dorchester County, Maryland. The VIMS osprey cam is trained on a nest at the top of a water tower on the school’s campus in Gloucester Point, Virginia.
The two osprey cams provide real-time views of osprey pairs during their annual nesting and breeding season in the Chesapeake region. Both osprey cams include a blog, where you can view photos and journal entries chronicling the lives and milestones of each osprey family.
Want to learn more about ospreys? Visit our osprey page in our Chesapeake Bay Field Guide.
If sixty-degree days weren’t enough to convince you that winter has bid us farewell and spring is just around the corner, these harbingers of the changing seasons surely will! Take a look around your backyard, community or local park for these five telltale signs of spring in the Chesapeake Bay region.
If you happen to live near a pond or wetland, you may be accustomed to hearing a chorus of “peeps” in early spring. The northern spring peeper is one of the first to breed in spring. This small amphibian’s mating call is described as a “peep,” but it can be almost deafening when hundreds of frogs sing in one location.
These yellow beauties are the first bulb plants to pop up each March, sometimes emerging through melting snow and always signaling warmer weather ahead. Any gardener will tell you there’s no way to tell exactly when daffodils will bloom, but they seem to pop up almost overnight. A website tracks photos and reports of the first daffodil sightings each year around the world.
If you can’t get enough of these buttercup blooms, head over to the American Daffodil Society’s National Convention in April in Baltimore.
Where there are flowers, bees should follow – but native bee populations have fallen rapidly in recent years. Find out how you can make your yard a bee haven and help give bees a home! (Don’t worry – most of the Chesapeake Bay watershed’s native bees don’t sting!)
A bee-friendly backyard will benefit you and your garden: bees pollinate plants and crops, a service that’s worth millions each year to our economy.
“PEENT! PEENT!” The mating call of the American woodcock may be a familiar sound if you stroll through in open forests this time of year. Males put on an elaborate show most evenings in early spring. After repeated “peents,” he flies upward in a spiral, reaching a height of about 300 feet. Then he begins chirping as he dives back down in a zig-zag pattern, landing right next to his chosen female.
Read how renowned nature writer Aldo Leopold described the woodcock mating ritual in A Sand County Almanac.
This bright green, large-leaved wetland plant that appears in early spring may actually help melt leftover snowfall. Skunk cabbage generates temperatures up to 59-95 degrees above the air temperature, allowing the plant to literally break through frozen ground and sprout when temperatures are still too cold for other plants to sprout.
The plant’s foul odor attracts pollinators, including flies and bees, and discourages predators.
Welcome to the latest entry in our "Ask a Scientist" series! Each month, we take a question submitted through our website or Twitter (@chesbayprogram) and have a scientist from the Bay Program partnership answer it here on our blog.
Today’s reader question is about the effect of spring rainstorms on the Chesapeake Bay's health. We asked Scott Phillips, Peter Tango and Joel Blomquist, scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey and members of the Bay Program’s Nontidal Water Quality Workgroup, for their explanation on why heavy rains have such a big effect on the Bay and its local rivers.
They say April showers bring May flowers. But around the Chesapeake Bay, rainstorms bring a whole lot more.
The rain and snow that falls on the Bay watershed, an area of land that stretches from New York to Virginia, drains into local streams and rivers, which eventually flow to the Chesapeake Bay. About half of the water in the Bay comes from its rivers; the other half from the Atlantic Ocean.
The U.S. Geological Survey measures river flow throughout the Bay watershed and estimates the amount of fresh water that enters the Bay each month and year.Typically, 52 billion gallons of water drain into the Chesapeake Bay each day.
The river water that flows into the Bay has a significant impact on the Bay’s water quality, habitats, and fish and shellfish. Spring rains affect the amount of pollution going into the Bay. During periods of higher river flow, more nutrient and sediment pollution enters the Bay. During dry periods, fewer pollutants are washed into streams and carried into the Bay. In general, river flow into the Bay is highest during the spring, when there are more rain storms.
This past March started with noteworthy flooding across the watershed. River flows in March were some of the highest ever recorded. Field crews mobilized to collect nutrient and sediment samples that help determine the amount of pollution that washed into the Bay.
Too many nutrients and sediment contribute to pollution in the Bay and local streams. Elevated nutrient levels in the Bay tend to cause excessive algal growth. As algae decay, dissolved oxygen levels drop. This leads to unhealthy conditions for fish, crabs and other underwater life. Algae and sediment also block out sunlight that underwater grasses need. For these reasons, Chesapeake Bay Program partners are working to reduce these pollutants.
River flow also affects the salinity, or amount of salt, in the Bay’s water. The Bay’s salinity ranges from fresh water near the top of the Bay at Havre de Grace, Maryland, to ocean water near Norfolk, Virginia. In dry years, there is less river flow so saltier water moves further up the Bay. During wet springs, more fresh water enters the Bay, pushing salty water farther south.
Changes in salinity affect fish, oysters and underwater bay grasses. For example, some underwater grasses cannot survive if the water is too salty, while others can only survive in fresh water. Diseases spread to more oysters in saltier waters. Finally, sea nettles are more common in saltier water. So salinity and river flow influence our choice of places to swim to avoid frequent and painful jellyfish stings!
Don't shoot the messenger if I'm wrong, but I think spring is just around the corner. Recently we’ve been teased with a few days that may be a sign that this miserable cold weather really won’t last forever. One of those days happened a few Mondays ago.
There is nothing better than kicking your week off with a photo trip, especially when the weather cooperates. This time, we headed out to the Chesapeake Exploration Center on Kent Island at sunrise and followed the paths down to the water.
The plan was to capture some photos of wintering birds. However, it was a windy day so the birds must have been hanging out somewhere secluded.
Birds or no birds, I think we still managed to get a few high-quality shots to add to our online image library. You can see photos we captured in the slideshow below.
Some of the other photos featured were taken at the Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center, about 10 minutes away in Grasonville.
As you can see in some of our photos, there is quite a bit of trash in these beautiful places. This leads me to a perfect opportunity to plug the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay’s Project Clean Stream. On April 2, dozens of organized cleanups will take place throughout the Bay region to rid our local waterways of some of this pollution. Visit the Project Clean Stream website to see a map of all the cleanup locations and find the one that is closest to you.
Since we are sharing our photos with you, we would love to see links to some of your photos as well. Do you have any pictures of birds that winter the Chesapeake region? Or photos of you and a team participating in a stream cleanup? Leave links to them in the comments!