Despite today’s forecast, the weather soon begins to warm and nature stirs.
As we the people of the Chesapeake Bay region look forward to spring in our human ways, other critters are engaged in their late winter routines too.
Muskrats are among the busiest. They’re living in their burrows and lodges and their fur has grown thick and glossy. They’re looking for food. Muskrats prefer roots of various plants, but will also eat clams, grass shrimp, and such. They are also having lots of sex and babies.
Most fish have gone deep or left the Chesapeake for the cold months, but as the thawing broadens, the croaker, spot, and bluefish return from the Atlantic Ocean. Winter’s over when the perch and rockfish begin their spawning runs in earnest. These fish will spend their summer feeding in our shallower waters, getting bigger and bigger before heading out again in autumn.
Tough, well-insulated sea ducks have migrated to the Chesapeake for thousands of winters. They thrive on the small shellfish that attach to oysters. Declines in water quality and oyster populations have also reduced the number of these beloved avian visitors to our area.
Tundra swan are getting ready to return north, to places like the Arctic Coast. Osprey and heron will be hungry upon their Chesapeake homecomings from their holidays in South America. Great blue herons fly to the privacy of their rookeries for mating season. Eagles roost.
Thousands of horseshoe crabs come ashore to lay millions of eggs. These prehistoric throwbacks, beautiful in their ugliness, have been welcoming spring with the rebirth of their species for 400 million years. They existed before there was a Chesapeake Bay, or even an Atlantic Ocean.
Lots of nature is still asleep, though. Blue crabs are inactive, settled into the bay’s deepest trenches. Oysters and clams have slowed their metabolism down to the bare minimum. Snapping and diamondbacks turtles are buried deep in the mud too. They’ve closed up shop until temperatures rise and spring has sprung.
We, the people, we don’t have that option.
Even if some of us get a snow day once in a while.