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Has It Really Sprung?

Submitted by April 5, 2011 1:54 pm

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Every day I drive up Senator Hwy on my way home from the office and get to read the message on the old Senator Hwy Drive-In sign that was restored a year or so ago. You might have noticed it, too. The latest message is no doubt a quip on our frenetic spring weather. 80 degree days followed by cold and rain. Welcome to spring!

In spite of the forecast, I would advocate that spring is really more of a process than that of an event. Paying attention to the plants and the wildlife will help tell you the story of spring. All one has to do is make regular visits to Watson Woods Riparian Preserve (where the arroyo willow buds are the first to swell in February), one of our several Lakes (reservoirs), or along the creeks in town. Even in your own back yard.

Our landlord at the new office landscaped alongside the existing ponderosa pines and oaks and junipers with with many native species. There is quaking aspen, chokecherry, velvet ash, seep willow, false indigo, manzanita, virginia creeper, Apache plume, yucca, bear grass, Wright’s buckwheat, deer grass and at least one currant – all with buds and leaves in action.

As the plants are “springing back to life,” so too is the wildlife. Outside my office window, I’ve been distracted by a lizards darting on the rocks, a towee scratching in the duff. The ants are active on the sunny side of the building and will soon be found by the lizards. And then there is the ground squirrel or chipmunk who moves too fast to get a solid ID. The reptile and amphibian sampling being conducted at the Preserve by our herpetologist Erika Nowak is turning up lizards and snakes and brush mice and harvest mice too. Even one Arizona toad was heard last weekend. They are observing Mexican voles much farther from the creek than seen in years’ past. This could be indicative of the wet winter – either in their productivity or due to wetter conditions in the floodplain.

Our Prescott Audubon Society partners recently reported a return of the Lucy’s warblers to Watson Woods (a species of concern for the Arizona Game and Fish Department and other groups). During the same outing they observed two great-horned owls sitting side by side in a tree and a red-tailed hawk circling near the nest that has been used for many years in a row. Two species of swallows were also seen – both the cliff and violet-green.

To help you get in the spirit, I’d like to extend an invitation to two events in April. The first is the dedication event for the Watson and Willow Lakes Ecosystem Important Bird Area. Get Out… Get Into It! Discover Prescott’s Natural History is an event designed to help you do just that. Excursions will be led by local experts in subject areas as diverse as bird-watching, geology, ecological restoration, watersheds and archeology. Sign up to reserve your free spot on one of the many field trips being offered, and then join us at the Willow Lake Hill-Top Ramada for the dedication at 10 on Saturday, April 16th.

The following weekend we’d love to see you at the Granite Creek Cleanup. At this event, you’ll experience the gritty truth about our creeks. While we’ve never presented them as pristine, you can be part of helping as many as 400 community members take the creeks one step closer to pristine. Along with the collection of trash and debris, “treasure” will be turned into art! Pre-register now to reserve your t-shirt or request a specific reach on your favorite creek.

So whether or not it actually “springs” or creeps, or comes in starts and fits, I’d argue that spring is definitely here, and I am excited about it. I hope you are too.