Sounds of Spring

Thu, 03/25/2021 - 6:00pm
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The sounds of spring enter April – and our consciousness – like ocean waves: sometimes loud and thunderous, sometimes murmuring and almost subsonic. The sounds of spring build throughout April in leaps and bounds, but by the first of May the island will be in the midst of a full-on spring chorale.

Looking and seeing the greening of spring is a tangible thing, at least in its simplest form. The field is tawny one day and then it is visibly green another. But, sound is intangible, and not always perceived in the same way or with the same intensity. And, at times it can be elusive. Often, I listen intently, questioning: is that a Peeper I hear? what is that background roar? is that the sound of burbling water? There are so many sounds that herald spring, and April seems to be the month of welcoming those sounds through the thresholds of our awareness.

Listen for the micro-seasons of April.

Sound of spring rolling in: March 31 – April 4

I was recently engaged in a roadside conversation with a friend and we wondered what that background sound was we were hearing. At first, we thought someone was brush-cutting a field nearby; but no, it was the sound of spring rolling in – an adage told to me years ago by Otto Mitchel. It was the thunderous sound of long, thick ocean swells rolling in from the southwest and pounding their power on our shores. It is a sound that hangs in the air over the island no matter how far you are from the source, and to me it is a sound that is chilling, awe-inspiring and reassuring. Listen for this sound throughout April.

April 4 is also the first Sunday after the first full moon, after the Vernal Equinox. This day is used to mark the beginning of spring planting and to celebrate the season of earth’s rebirth. Some cultures call it Easter.

Swaying redwings: April 5 – April 9

Now that the red-wing blackbirds have returned in full, on sunny mornings and warm evenings they can be found swaying and trilling on phragmite reeds and other perches among any – and all – marshy areas. The redwings’ familiar conk-ka-reeee is as evocative of early spring as the highpitched peal of osprey establishing their territories and claiming the few high perches that exist around the island. Listen, and then look, for them around Rodman’s Hollow, Clay Head, Sachem Pond, and of course near the power company.

Dripping fog: April 10 – April 14

April is well known for its fog, which can blanket the entire island, or drift in and out over different parts of the island. It is not unusual to be enjoying a sunny day at Clay Head and look south to see that the Old Harbor and/or Mohegan Bluffs are shrouded in fog. Fog can be heard in at least two ways. The fog can be so dense that drips from every branch and twig gives the air itself a hint of sound. The other way that fog can be “heard” is by how it muffles normal sounds, sometimes muting a sharp noise, but also facilitating the carrying of sound further than you might expect. Fog seems to amplify the sound of a horn, bell or hooter.

Fortunately, the presence of fog does not impede the migration of fish. April is the time of many fish species reentering the island’s waters. Atlantic herring, on their way to their spawning grounds in the north Atlantic, are an important forage fish for many species of fish, birds and mammals. If the Atlantic herring are here in April, can the stripers be far behind?

Atlantic herring tend to arrive mid-month; this year their arrival coincides with the time of the new moon. Look for them around the time of the New Herring Moon of April 12.

Deafening peepers: April 15 – April 19

Spring peepers start peeping and chorusing in March, but it is not until April that the evening crescendo of the tiny chorusing frog is overwhelming. There are few things more wonder-filled than a night walk while the sounds of spring peepers are filling the air with sound. Listen to how the sound ebbs and flows as you approach or leave an actively singing wetland.

Flowing water: April 20 – April 24

April can of course also be known for the rain that comes. As the ponds around the island become filled to the point of overflowing you will start to hear the trickling, splashing or rushing of water in places where it is not usually heard. We don’t usually think of the island as having streams, but, they exist in many more places than you might think. It is during the time of spring rains that the island’s streams can be detected by listening for the sound of flowing water coming out of wetlands, draining through stone walls, running through ditches and down the coastal banks. Stop and listen in April for all the different sounds of falling water.

During this time of April there are also falling stars to be seen. The Lyrids Meteor Shower spans from April 16 to the 28, and peaks around April 22. Although the night sky will be awash in moonlight during the Lyrids this year, a lucky observer looking to the east may catch a glimpse of a meteor.

Whirring woodcocks: April 25 – April 29

Many bird species start returning to (or passing by) the island to begin their mating rituals. One of the earliest arrivals is the American Woodcock. Part of this species’s ritual includes the male standing in a field making a distinctive insect-like “peeeeenting” at late dusk. After several calls, the bird launches skyward and then plummets back to earth in a controlled fall. As it falls, a specialized wing feather behaving like a woodwind reed makes a very distinctive “whirring” sound. American woodcock are secretive and well camouflaged birds, but with careful listening in the evening the bird can be detected and appreciated in many open fields around the island starting in April. 

The Full Pink Moon on April 26 will appear to be a super big moon at its rising (because the moon’s elliptical orbit around the earth brings it very close to earth). The strength of the moon’s pull on the tides at this time will mean that afternoon clamming will be at its best.

April is a great time to hone your listening skills for nature. Many sounds of spring may not be immediately heard, but practice by closing your eyes. You may be delighted to realize that you are detecting the sounds of spring rolling in.