Some animals live their lives on a strict annual timetable. Migratory birds set off about the same time each year. Hibernating animals start stuffing themselves and building up insulation-fat at the same time. Many species have reproductive cycles that match the seasons.
Some are so predictable and noticeable that they can come to symbolize a season. When the sandhill cranes arrive at the lake near my parents’ house, it is fall. When I lived there, in northern Florida, the sight of a swallow-tailed kite drifting gracefully through the sky meant summer was arriving. I have always liked summer, even in Florida where many hate it, so a glimpse of a kite always made me smile, and not just because they are beautiful. Which they certainly are. I don’t have a good photo of one in flight, so here’s a video:
But long before I lived in Florida, I lived in a much colder place: northwestern Pennsylvania. That area gets a lot of snow, and while they’re used to it, everyone is pretty sick of it by March. The earliest signs of spring are important. Spring there is announced by two sounds: the calls of Canada geese flying north, and the deafening chorus of spring peepers from every creek and roadside ditch that isn’t frozen.
Spring peepers are a species of chorus frog that covers most of the eastern US. They’re small frogs, seemingly much too small to make that much noise, and they hide in bushes and weeds along the edge of the water. They get a head start on other frogs by starting this mating call very early, while other frogs are still burrowed in the mud. (In the north, at least. At the south end of their range, spring peepers are more like winter peepers, and they overlap with other frog species.)
They vary in color. They can be olive, or brown, or orange, and the shade changes a bit depending on temperature. But almost all of them have a big X on their backs. That’s their most recognizable mark. But of course, they’re easiest to find by ear.
Even though they are loud enough to be annoying if they live right next to your house, I think of these little frogs fondly, and I always smile when I hear them, because, well. Spring is coming.
Winter has barely started in the northern hemisphere, but let’s just skip over it for the moment. What are the harbingers of spring where you live?