Outdoors

Signs of spring get slushed away

Wildside column: Snowstorm ruins what was encouraging

Tundra swans lounge in a cornfield near Quasqueton on Feb. 27, representative of the many migrating waterfowl heralding spring in Eastern Iowa. (Orlan Love/correspondent)
Tundra swans lounge in a cornfield near Quasqueton on Feb. 27, representative of the many migrating waterfowl heralding spring in Eastern Iowa. (Orlan Love/correspondent)
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By Orlan Love, correspondent

At 8 a.m. on the next-to-last day of February, as I looked out my kitchen window hoping to see the first sign of spring, four snow-white tundra swans, at utility pole height and in diamond formation, streaked through my field of vision, gone before I could do a double take.

Such an unlikely and unprecedented sight made me wonder: Had I really seen a squadron of swans winging down Dubuque Street in the city of Quasqueton or was I hallucinating?

Real swans, I reasoned, likely would alight for breakfast. And, with relief that my mind had not been playing tricks, I soon found them in the first cornfield south of town,

While I photographed from my pickup parked on the shoulder of the road, a swarm of snow geese circled the field in descending spirals but, perhaps spooked by my presence, flared off before landing. It was the first of several flocks of snow geese observed that morning in southern Buchanan County.

With “migrating waterfowl” checked off my ”top signs of spring” list, I went looking for others.

Five minutes later, at the junction of two muddy gravel roads, I spotted my first male red-winged blackbird of the season, singing from a swaying cattail stalk.

Just around the corner, a pair of kildeer flitted low along the shoulder, and I checked off “return of the early birds.”

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On my trip back to town I caught a whiff of skunk, recently roused from its winter dormancy and, after I spotted its carcass, checked “spring roadkill” off my list.

That pungent odor was soon replaced by the pleasing scent of sun-warmed wet soil, and I checked “spring smell” off my list.

Two days later the last of the winter’s accumulation of snow had disappeared, even from shaded spots and snowplow piles, and I checked “retreat off the glaciers” from my list.

Spring with its strengthening sun continued making inroads through last weekend when snowmelt finally raised the level of the Wapsipinicon enough to lift and break up the ice that had cloaked it since Christmas.

With “ice out” off my list, I thought I saw the truest of all spring harbingers, a pale green halo outlining the dark branches of a plum thicket.

But when I stopped to look for buds, it turned out to be an hallucination.

I only wished I’d been hallucinating on Tuesday when a slush-slash-snow storm undid almost all the preceding week’s seasonal progress.

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