March 31, 2013

Easter marks time to 'Awake Thou Wintery Earth'

For a brief time when I was a child, before I took to the woods on Sunday mornings, I was in a church choir. The most memorable song we sang was an Easter anthem, “Awake Thou Wintery Earth…”

It is a poem by Thomas Blackburn that was sung to music of Johann Sebastian Bach. It begins, “Awake, thou wintry earth — Fling off thy sadness! Fair vernal flowers, laugh forth your ancient gladness!”

I have much better nature skills than vocal ability and long ago stopped singing hymns but I like to feel that springtime gladness. After long winters we all need gladness.

This year, Easter’s early date and last week’s heavy snowfall cause somewhat of a mixed sense of where we are in time. But the light and day length are unmistakably spring-like and the animals in the forest sense it.

Recent hikes have revealed all sorts of spring signs among the mammals. In winter, most predator tracks have a deliberate, focused quality derived from hunger and the need to hunt.

In spring, some of the tracks deviate from the pattern in an important way. The tracks of typically solitary animals now occur in pairs.

Fishers are among the most solitary hunters for most of the year. They have a widespread home range and travel long distances on hunting routes. Males and females live apart, coming together only to mate.

This week in the forest I have noted two occurrences of large fisher tracks, presumably from a male animal, intersecting, overlapping and intertwining with tracks of a small fisher, presumably a female.

Fishers have an interesting life history that relates to the seasonal changes in daylight. They mate in late spring, however the embryos that are conceived do not begin to develop until 10 to 11 months later.

After 30 days of gestation, kits are born in mid-March to early April. So this year’s litter of two to four kits was conceived in spring 2012. One to two weeks after birth the female comes into heat and breeds again. If the tracks I saw were from mature females, it’s likely that they have a den somewhere where kits are growing as they court next year’s dad.

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