Mariton: Spring Signals

April 1, 2013

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager.  Photos by Carole Mebus

MEBUS EasternPhoebeMaritonFieldEdge1019

Friends have reported hearing Phoebes in their yards for a couple weeks.  It wasn’t until this morning that I heard our resident phoebe return.  I may have missed something, but usually when it returns, it will call over and over again non-stop for weeks, (something I did not overlook).  Curiously, last week while working in the Poconos I heard a Phoebe.

Phoebes are one of the birds that people (myself included) use as a harbinger of spring.  I see Bluebirds and Robins all winter at Mariton.  They definitely sing more as the days get longer, but they aren’t really a spring signal.  Some people use Red-winged Blackbirds.  Blackbirds return north early, but they often show up in February, and a little bit before spring weather really begins.  It is a great reminder that spring is coming, but it is not my spring signal.

The Phoebe, on the other hand, is one bird that really does signal a change in the weather.  The Phoebe is a flycatcher, and I enjoy watching it perched on branch, flicking its tail, and dropping from its perch catch a passing insect.  Plus, I can imitate its call fairly well, so I enjoy talking with our resident male while I am in the yard.

MEBUS MourningCloakSqueezeTrailMariton0413

Mourning Cloak Butterflies are more common now at Mariton.  I saw one back in January, and have seen them off and on since then.  But last week, I really started seeing them in the woods and around the house.  This is one of the earliest butterflies to appear after its winter slumber.  If you see one and have binoculars, definitely focus in on the wings.  You will be quite surprised.  From afar it looks pretty drab, but its subtle coloration is worth a closer look.