The Ides of March: Tree Swallows, Spring Peepers, Peak Seal ...etc.

Sun, 03/13/2022 - 3:45am

Beware the ides of March – not! With all due respect to Shakespeare: celebrate the ides of March – the first full moon in a new year. Sparing the reader a long, complicated treatise on ancient calendars, let’s just accept the premise that the only good reason to keep a calendar is to track seasons and the lunar cycles. The ancient Roman calendar was originally based on the phases of the moon, with days counted relative to those moon phases. Moon phase days were known as kalends (day of the new moon), nones (day of the first quarter moon), and ides (day of the full moon). Only later in history were the ides designated as the 15th of the month; and much later still, did the ides of March take on a more ominous meaning – thanks Shakespeare. Going back to the ancient times with days marked by kalends, nones and ides, the yearly calendar was recorded very differently with only ten months (March thru December) and a long period of winter, which eventually became designated as January and February. At that time March began the new year. The historical permutations around “keeping
of time” is a fascinating topic, but one that this upcoming series of monthly articles will simplify to the consideration of months, moons, weather, and the
wonders of nature.
This year – 2022 – the ides of March falls on March 18 with its full moon occurring at 3:18 a.m. (interesting synchronicity). There are so many ways to
note the beginnings of a new year and rebirth of earth’s cycles in March, starting of course with the vernal equinox occurring on March 20 at 11:33 a.m.

March with is lengthening, bright, yet often chilly, and breezy days infuses reemerging life with gladness. The island’s first blossoms of the year are joyously yellow. The month starts with Witch Hazel and ends with coltsfoot, daffodils and forsythia.
As the month warms a bit and daylight overtakes the hours of darkness, critters of all types will reappear – as if by magic. A still evening during mid-March will
suddenly ring with the sound of spring peepers. The ides of March will be ushered in with the swoop and sway of tree swallows. And, on or around March 23, a morning’s walk will surprisingly be pierced by the keek-keek-keek of returning ospreys reclaiming – or claiming – prime nesting sites.
Early migration is not just for birds. As the ocean water warms, some fish species will arrive in the harbors or around the island. I recall a year (decades ago) when my brother and I were outfitted with three-prong spears mounted on long bamboo poles and attempted to spear winter flounder as they flowed under the
Trim’s Pond bridge. Fortunately for the flounder, I was no threat to them; but, as I do every March, I’ll be peering over the bridge in observation – maybe this will be the year that I see them there (as I did decades ago).

March is also the middle of “peak seal” season. Narragansett Bay and Block Island are known wintering sites for harbor seals. During the winter months the number of seals increases until their numbers peak in March. Then in early spring, female harbor seals will leave the island’s (and state’s) waters and seek more northern, isolated areas for pupping.

In spite of the dwindling number of hours of darkness, March night sky viewing can conjure all types of beasts to help celebrate the beginning of a new year.
Clear nights on March 20 through 31, at 9 p.m. will offer the year’s best views of the constellation Leo, the lion. And, by the end of the month Jupiter will start to
appear in the pre-dawn morning sky.

Whether during day or night, there are many natural phenomena in March to mark and celebrate a new year. Using the lunar cycle as the sign-posts of the
month: the kalends of March new moon - recognized by some native American cultures as the Moon of Buds on Trees was reached on March 2, and the ides of
March full moon, called the Full Worm Moon by some, and on Block Island – the Full Swallow Moon – will be reached on March 18.
To share with others your celebration of a year reborn, join one of The Nature Conservancy’s many March program offerings: Go to for the schedule.