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Field Notes

Covering the natural wonders of the Pacific Northwest

March 20, 2012 at 4:32 PM

First day of spring, with snow showers in the high country

Spring arrived in the Olympics today with a soft dusting of snow in the high country at Olympic National Park. A nice howler of a low pressure system arrived along with the new season, giving the landscape a good blast of wind, rain and snow. A meteorological spring cleaning of sorts.

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Snow dusts the Olympics on the first day of spring. Note the milky color of the Elwha River in the foreground, caused by high sediment loads as contractors tear down Elwha and Glines Canyon Dam. I took this photo at the Olympic Hot Springs Road, on the river between the two dams.

But snow or not, the lengthening days signal fat city. From now until the summer solstice in June, we’ll have more and more daylight to savor. The lengthening days already have cued plants and animals that set their seasonal clocks to daylight length to undergo all manner of changes to commence their reproductive season.

Crows can be seen all over Seattle breaking sticks with their beaks and feet, to construct nests. A pair has been working hard in the maple tree across the street from my house, tugging at twigs, dropping them to the ground, then spiriting them up and away to their secret nest site. Secret, that is, until the squawks of their offspring broadcast to the whole neighborhood that they must and shall be fed.

Native plants have been budding and flowering for some time. Among the very first of them every year are the delicate Indian plums, with their pendant white flowers.

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Steve Ringman photographed this Indian plum in its fresh spring greenery on the banks of the Elwha River Monday.

Indian plums are like phenology clocks: to observe them is to know the progression of the season more reliably than a glance at the calendar. Their upright new leaves, clasped like praying hands when they first unfurl, gradually relax their posture as the leaves grow. The dangling white blossom slowly forms a fruit that will be a hard, yellow knob by fall.

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