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Spring Will Soon Arrive

These are the times that try our souls. Isolation, face masks, drugs and diseases that are difficult to pronounce, let alone understand.

Take heart. There’s a world out there that proceeds without us. A place where winter stubbornly exits stage left, while spring occasionally lifts its head but seems too shy to take command. A place of beauty we should try to visit.

As the calendar approaches May, red-winged blackbirds and Western meadowlarks are staking out their breeding and nesting areas. Sandhill cranes stand silhouetted on prairie hilltops like a weathervane on a barn.

Mature bull elk have started to regrow their massive headgear, and by early May, female pronghorn will start to calve their young. Montana’s members of the deer family — elk, mule deer and white-tailed deer — generally don’t have their young until early June.

Bears, both black and grizzly, have started to venture from their winter dens while ground squirrels, also known as gophers, have been running around above ground for a couple of months or more.

Already a snake or two has emerged from its hibernaculum, soaking up solar heat on a rock ledge. And warmer, wetter nights will soon bring out a chorus of boreal frogs.

Boreal frogs are heard everywhere in the spring and early summer. During their April-June breeding season their loud, short chirp that resembles the slow running of a thumb over the teeth of a comb, seems to come from every prairie pond and water- filled roadside ditch.

By midsummer, the inchlong boreal frogs disappear underground, beneath vegetation, into water tanks, or even on building foundations, anywhere they can keep their skin moist.

In rivers and streams, wild rainbow trout are spawning. The peak often occurs from mid-April to late April, in rivers and streams with gravel bottoms. Those requirements are important for a couple of reasons.

First, flowing water provides oxygen, which keeps the eggs alive.

Second, gravel helps protect eggs from predators and keeps them alive — a silt bottom could smother and kill the eggs.

As daylight lengthens and water temperature warms, at least into the mid-40’s, a female rainbow will clear a slight depression, called a redd, in gravel. She does that by turning on her side and beating her tail up and down. Then she deposits 2,000 to 3,000 eggs in the redd. When she’s done, she will dig at the upstream edge of the nest, covering the eggs with gravel.

As she releases her eggs, a male rainbow will move alongside her and release his milt over the eggs, fertilizing them.

And that’s it. The pair swim away and let nature take its course. In a month or two the eggs will hatch. Pretty simple, really.

Rainbow trout in lakes and reservoirs are also looking for a suitable tributary with flowing water and a gravel bottom. That’s why right now they are slowly swimming along the shorelines, searching.

However, most reservoirs in north central Montana lack suitable spawning tributaries for a self-sustaining rainbow population. As a result, they are stocked from the state’s hatcheries.

That’s not a secret to the men and women who know where and when to go fishing for them.

If being stuck in the house, isolated, is gnawing, then perhaps a day spent bird watching, or fishing will lift the spirits.

Nature and wild things may not need us, but right now we sure need them.

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