Signs of Spring

Every part of the country has its different sure signs of spring. Growing up in southwestern Pennsylvania, it was the return of the robin. On the west coast it might be Cliff Swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano, California (though even that venerable tradition is under threat: ). I’ve had to re-calibrate my spring clock since moving to Colorado in 1990. Now what I look for is a combination of birds, flowers and insects.

As for birds it is another member of the Thrush family. Instead of the robin I am on the lookout for the Mountain Bluebird. Males are a spectacular sky blue and they typically travel in small flocks, heading up into the mountains as early as February and March. They somehow survive the late winter and spring snow storms and find enough to eat.

Say’s Phoebe are another bird to look for in March. These flycatchers are very tolerant of humans and are often found nesting under the eaves of houses and porches. We even had one spend the winter with us at Venetucci Farm, instead of migrating (see my Feb 3rd Blog entry  for more on the wintering Say’s Phoebe).

The first insect that catches my eye each spring is the Mourning Cloak. This somber named butterfly has purplish-brown wings edged with yellow and accented with blue spots. They are one of the insects that are able to survive winter as adults by seeking shelter, sometimes under tree bark, and then producing antifreeze-like chemicals that keep them from freezing.

Lastly, there is the humble Crocus Flower, sometimes known as the Prairie Flower or Pasque Flower as it shoots up around Easter. One of the first spring flowers, it hugs the ground for protection. This year, I found my first one on April 4th, a week after Easter, sheltered in a small canyon in nearby Garden of the Gods park.

As the climate continues to change these seasonal signals, also known as phenology, can also change. Check out this cool site to learn more and even participate in sharing your observations as a Citizen Scientist!

Our winter rebel. While other Say’s Phoebes were warmly snapping up insects well to the south, this individual stuck around Venetucci Farm, probably using access to our barn and asparagus shed to help it survive the cold.


Mountain Bluebird male. That these small thrushes can survive late winter in the mountains is a testament to their hardiness.
To really appreciate a Mourning Cloak butterfly, you have to see them in the sun. Then the purple in their wings comes out.
The Prairie Crocus seems to irrupt out of nowhere and then suddenly they are everywhere.


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