Spring is a time of dramatic change in Maine. After months of ice and snow, the landscape thaws, animals wake from hibernation, songbirds return and trees bud. Throughout the state, people rejoice upon witnessing even the smallest of these changes in their own backyards.
In celebration of the season, we asked BDN readers to share their favorite signs of spring in the outdoors. What signals that winter is truly over, even when April snow showers persist?
In early spring, the fluffy, soft flowers of pussy willow trees emerge, beating most other plants to the punch. Often, Maine residents will cut branches from these trees and arrange them as woody banquets to be enjoyed indoors. This is a favorite sign of spring for Nada Lepper of Sedgwick and Shanon Logan of Biddeford.
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Of the nine species of frogs and toads found in Maine, wood frogs are usually the earliest to emerge in the spring — often when snow is still on the ground. Congregating in pools, they breed, leave behind egg masses, then head into the woods for the rest of the summer. While Kerry Diskin of Lamoine has managed to find this spring sign and photograph it, they’re often much easier to hear than see. Their call is often described as a “clucking” or “quacking” sound.
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Another frog that loudly announces spring in Maine is the spring peeper, which is a tiny chorus frog identifiable by the “X” marking its back. This frog produces a high-pitched trill that can drown out all other evening sounds. Visit your local wetland this spring and prepare to be blown away with how loud these tiny creatures can be. This is a favorite sign of spring for Lacey Sinclair of Hancock and Jill Bachelder Morse of Belfast.
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Maine is home to a wide variety of ferns, and in the springtime, these plants pop up from the earth as tightly wound spirals. This is a favorite sign of spring for Marcie Palmer of Milo. Resembling the wooden scroll of a fiddle, these baby ferns are often called “fiddleheads.” In addition to being quite beautiful, the fiddleheads of a particular species of fern — the ostrich fern — is considered a springtime delicacy in Maine, when cooked correctly. Just make sure you identify that it’s the right type of fern before carrying it home for dinner.
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Rhubarb is one of the first plants to make an appearance in gardens each spring, and their bright red growth is hard to miss. A hardy, perennial plant, rhubarb is often combined with some of Maine’s earliest berries in a traditional early summer dessert: strawberry-rhubarb pie. This is a favorite sign of spring for Kristina Gonser Weaver of Orono.
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A beautiful waterbird with a haunting call, the common loon spends the winter along the coast. As soon as the ice melts in the spring, this bird returns to many of Maine’s lakes and ponds to nest along the shore and fish in freshwater all summer long. The distinct call of this bird, heard most often in the evening, is a sure sign of warmer days ahead. This is a favorite sign of spring for Dan Sullivan of Big Moose Township on Moosehead Lake.
Wild brook trout
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Maine is the only state with extensive intact populations of wild, self-reproducing brook trout in lakes and ponds, according to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Each spring, when Maine’s open water fishing season begins, this species of fish is sought after by fly fishermen around the state. Catching sight of one of these beautiful fish is a favorite sign of spring of Matt Denbow of Bangor.
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In the Northeast, mushrooms of all shapes, sizes, colors, flavors and toxicities (yes, some are poisonous) pop up from the earth and out of trees from spring through fall. For mushroom enthusiasts like Michael Gray of Rockport, the emergence of new fungi is a welcome sign of spring. Keep an eye out after a good rain.
Baby wild animals
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For wildlife enthusiasts around the state, spring is a time to spot baby animals of many different species, from tadpoles to ducklings. This baby chipmunk was spotted by Gary Janson of Waterboro on Cousins Island. He always keeps his eye out for Nature’s new round of babies each spring.
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The mayflower, also called trailing arbutus, is a creeping evergreen plant that grows throughout the Northeast and blooms in early spring. It’s the state flower for Massachusetts and the provincial flower of Nova Scotia. Its blossoms are pale pink or white, and they announce to Donna Frost Ritchie of Ellsworth that spring is finally here.
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This little yellow flower, often mistaken for a dandelion, is one of the first bright wildflowers seen each spring in Maine. It’s often seen growing in disturbed soils, such as the gravel along the side of the road. The flowers actually bloom and die before the plant produces its leaves, which are wide and roughly shaped like a horse’s hoof print — or colt’s foot. Susan Keppel of Winterport always keeps an eye out for this sure sign of spring.
High water streams
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As snow melts from the landscape, streams, brooks and rivers swell, and waterfalls rage. It’s an exciting time to visit these bodies of water and enjoy the roar of the rushing water. This is one natural event that Colby Libby of Waterville looks forward to each spring.
Crocuses and snowdrops
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Both crocuses and snowdrops are plants that bloom early in gardens throughout Maine. These perennial plants return year after year. Crocus flowers vary in color, though purple, yellow and white are the most common. And snowdrops, as their name implies, have small, white bell-shaped flowers. For Nancy Rivers of Searsport, both flowers tell her that warmer days are to come.
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Though American robins live in some areas of Maine year round, they’re much more noticeable in the spring, when they hop about on lawns — sometimes in great numbers — in search for worms in the newly thawed ground. They also fly farther north as the weather warms, appearing in areas of Maine they abandon during the winter months. This bird is easily recognizable due to its bright red-orange breast. For these reasons, the robin is viewed by many Mainers as a harbinger of spring.
April and May are busy times. Other spring signs that readers shared included turtles sunning on logs, ospreys returning to build giant stick nests and ice finally disappearing from their favorite bodies of water. What’s your favorite sign of spring in nature?
Aislinn Sarnacki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Facebook: facebook.com/1minhikegirl, Twitter: @1minhikegirl, and Instagram: @actoutdoors. Her guidebooks “Family Friendly Hikes in Maine,” “Maine Hikes Off the Beaten Path” and “Dog-Friendly Hikes in Maine” are available at local bookstores and wherever books are sold.
Watch: Baby animals mean spring at these Maine farms