Spring may be on the horizon, but March is fickle, quirky to the end

March may be our quirkiest, moodiest month, with its teasing and fickle transitions. Early on, especially, it rations out just enough smidgens of hope to ignite a few true thoughts of spring. The song of a blackbird, some fuzz on a popped pussy willow; these are real and inspire us to peak out the window and think maybe we’ve rounded the bend.

Then the cruel turnaround. In a flash, March dives into its dank, permafrost, semi-frozen dark late winter hole. Then it snows. Then some sleet, with a dash of cold rain. Mud prevails in a half-frozen slurry.

We dreamers are left outside, chilled and wet, muttering, “Make up your mind.”

Hooded Mergansers
Hooded Mergansers

I went out on March 1 and 2 to assess this month’s foibles and half-buried secretive charms. Two different days I could not have imagined.

March 1 basked in glory. Cold in the morning, with sun streaming through our east windows. Blue sky all day long, upper 40s and no heavy coat.

I drove to a spot where the river grows wide, slowing down to invisible current. There I found ducks for whom March offers reasons to live. They were hooded mergansers, fish divers of elegant plumage.

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Males catch the eye with their black and white patterns, highlighted by soft chestnut flanks. During courtship, they raise their crests, or hoods, to show off a pure white head patch. Females feign drabness until sun strikes their cinnamon crests.

These are tough little birds. Some survive here all winter, but the 10 I observed — neatly paired up already — looked like migrants just up from the south.

I tried to get close, walking slowly, keeping brush between me and mergansers. No luck. I got made. As one, they flashed up in a whir of wingbeats, straightened out, then streaked over a corn field’s bleached stubble remains.

March could not have begun any better.

Not so much on March 2, if bright blue and warm sun fits the bill as your day of perfection.

Waking up, I saw mist, putty sky, soggy ground, tree trunks black with a coating of rain. Can’t wait to get out there, I thought. Grab the rain gear and go.

Last patches of snow still hung on in the woods. Walking past them, I thought I could literally watch their conversion to droplets of water. The drops that resulted soaked into a soggy leaf carpet. Before long those leaves would be rotted to mulch. Only rocks here fight decomposition.

Rain filtered down, soaking a mother log next to the trail. Some call them nurse logs, these nutrient-rich starting places for mosses and ferns. Already the moss on this log glowed a rich emerald green.

Then a wild shrieking call echoed out of a shaded ravine. I watched, looking up, hoping a pileated woodpecker’s black and white wings would row steadily over the trees. It wasn’t to be. Just that one cry, then quiet again.

A breeze sifted through tall white pines in a stand up the hill. It whispered its name through their forest-green feathery tops. March was whispering, too, in my ear with a promise of spring.

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This article originally appeared on Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin: Spring may be on the horizon, but March is fickle, quirky to the end