Fish & Wildlife
Friday, March 21, 2014
By Bruce Auchly
FWP Region 4 Information Officer
Some things in life we can delay, stop, even ignore without consequence. The changing seasons are not in that category.
Animals, like gophers, (yes, we know their correct name is Richardson’s ground squirrel), are much more in tune than us with the changing seasons. They have to be, their lives and their species survival depends on it.
We can skip putting in a garden this year, but we'll still eat. We don't have to change the furnace filter but the furnace will still work, though with more difficulty and probably sock us with a higher heating bill.
Gophers have a specific time period to come out of hibernation, breed, birth, then get ready for winter again. Also on the time clock are migrating raptors that know where to perch in March, waiting for those loveable rodents that have trouble crossing roads safely to pop up from underground.
Like it or not, spring is coming at us right now like a high-ballin' freight train.
Already, observant folks are seeing snow geese on the prairie heading north. If water bodies are frozen, those white birds will stage in mid- to late March by the tens, even hundreds, of thousands at Freezout Wildlife Management Area, which lies along Highway 89 north of Fairfield. To keep track of what is appearing at Freezout call the WMA at 406-467-2646.
By the end of March, Canada geese will be sitting on nests full of eggs, which will hatch out in a month, and western meadowlarks will be warbling their liquid song. Robins will soon be appearing in a yard near you. Red-winged blackbirds are not far behind.
Other March signs of onrushing spring include mature bull elk dropping their antlers, rainbow trout in reservoirs, like Holter, cruising the shoreline looking for a place to spawn, and reports of grizzlies out of their dens on the Rocky Mountain Front.
It's unclear what causes a bear to emerge from its winter den, especially when the den is buried with several feet of snow like this year. Some biological alarm clock goes off and the bear comes out.
Warming temperatures, increasing day length, snow melting around a den entrance, and the smells of spring probably all play a role. Eventually bears will move from their high elevation dens to lower, warmer habitats, looking for early green plants.
In a lush, wet spring, plants like angelica and cow parsnip dominate the menu and life is good.
If the prairie is too dry, there's not much to eat and conflicts between bears and humans may happen. This year, however, it would appear that a dry spring may be the least of our worries.
This spring should be a good one for fish, frogs and boat salesmen.
In the meantime, enjoy the unfolding spring moments and soak it all in because all too soon we will be complaining about the heat of summer.