Is it spring, or is it not?

Published 8:35 pm Tuesday, April 5, 2016

By Susan and Biff Andrews

The experts are SO confused! Does spring start with the spring equinox and run until the summer solstice? Does it run from March 1 to the end of May? Or does it begin after the final frost — average date March 21-31?

I lie awake at night pondering this question — not! Instead, I look for other signs that spring has sprung.

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Among those signs are these:

  • Ospreys returning. And they’re here. So it’s spring!
  • Butterflies! On a walk in the Great Dismal Swamp last week, we saw one tiger swallowtail, about 10 zebra swallowtails, and some spring azures (I think).
  • Robins and cedar waxwings — the waxwings are about done with their binge eating.
  • The Dismal Swamp Birding Festival takes place at the peak of the spring migration. Come and see your prothonotary warblers, your Swainson’s and every other bird that travels along the East Coast in spring.
  • Trees dropping doodles on the deck. Sure, it’s lovely watching the fresh green as they bud out, but they create a mess when the leaves finally open. Oh, well. One sight to anticipate soon: tulip poplar blooms carpeting our front lawn.
  • Turtles are up on every log basking on warm sunny days.
  • Daphnia bloom and scent the area.
  • Weeping willows leaf out before most other trees — ironically a beautiful, joyous sign of spring.
  • Camellias finish blooming. We have a gorgeous white one that would win any show and a hideous pink one that never produces a single attractive bloom. Go figure.
  • Coral bell azaleas are always among the first to bloom, a sure sign of spring.
  • Not only has the Burpee catalogue arrived, but so have the seeds you ordered from it.
  • Our weekly expenditure for black oil sunflower seeds, thistle seeds (finches), suet cakes, wildlife peanuts, and mealworms reaches a peak, but $15 a week is cheaper than a movie.
  • Crabbers are readying their pots. Large stacks of them can be seen at nearby ramps and marinas.
  • Blue catfish are everywhere in the James, about as far east as the James River Bridge.
  • Dogwoods are blooming out everywhere, in yards and forests.
  • Chicks and ducklings appear in feed and seed stores. No ducklings or goslings on the lake as yet.
  • Bluets — how beautiful! And spring beauty. If you don’t know them, Google them, or just take a walk.

So, spring! It has nothing to do with calendars, Cadbury creme eggs, Peep shows or springing forward an hour. It has everything to do with Mother Nature.

Susan and Bradford “Biff” Andrews are retired teachers and master naturalists who have been outdoor people all their lives, exploring and enjoying the woods, swamps, rivers and beaches throughout the region for many years. Email them at