Nature’s stirring from its long winter nap.
As we, the people of the Chesapeake Bay region, look forward to spring in all our human ways – planning outdoor projects and travels, setting the clock back, and avoiding the mirror while naked, other critters are engaged in their late winter routines too.
Muskrats are among the busiest. They’re venturing from their burrows and lodges, looking for food. Muskrats prefer roots of various plants, but will also eat clams, grass shrimp, and such. Their fur has grown thick and glossy. They are having lots of sex. Each female will give birth to dozens of babies in the next few months.
Most fish went deep or left the bay for the cold months, but as the thawing broadens, the croaker, spot, and bluefish begin to return from the Atlantic Ocean. Winter’s over when the perch and rockfish start their spawning runs in earnest. These fish will spend their summer feeding in our shallower waters, getting bigger and bigger before swimming out to the Atlantic again in autumn.
Tough, well-insulated sea ducks have migrated to the Chesapeake Bay for thousands of winters. They thrive on the small shellfish that attach to oysters. In recent decades, declines in water quality and oyster populations have reduced the number of these beloved avian guests to our area, and weather patterns have great effect on their local presence, but no matter where these birds are visiting up and down the Chesapeake, they’ll all once again be headed back north in the next month or so.
Tundra swan are getting ready to return to places like the Arctic Coast.
Osprey and heron will be hungry upon their Chesapeake Bay homecomings from their holidays in South America.
Great blue herons fly to the privacy of their rookeries for mating season.
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 half-asleep, though.
Blue crabs are inactive, still settled into the bay’s deepest trenches.
The metabolisms of oysters and clams are still operating at wintertime’s bare minimum.
Snapping turtles and diamondback terrapins are still buried in mud.
They’ve closed up shop until temperatures rise and spring has sprung for real.
We, the people, typically don’t get that option.
Regardless of season, we, the people, keep on keeping on.
But it sure feeds the Chesapeake Bay soul to feel spring’s stir of nature.