After Maine’s record cold and snow this winter, astute observers have noticed signs of warming trends. Sure, despite the spring equinox last Thursday, we’ll endure cold snaps and snowstorms in late March and maybe early April, but the new season has begun in earnest. It’s just a matter of looking at nature and truly seeing.

Right now, daylight lasts three hours longer than on Dec. 21, so more direct sunlight for longer durations quickly melts packed snow and ice off driveways – and I, for one, notice the difference at my home at the foot of the Kennebec Highlands. My snowblower leaves a thin skimming of snow on the paved driveway. After snowstorms around Christmas, that snow required days to melt. Now, it becomes bare within a day.

At the equinox, dawn’s newly arriving bird sounds, not heard since the previous spring, perk my ears up. The serenades please me each morning, even cacophonous birds, because they’re harbingers of spring.

In late March and surely April, birds arriving from the south alert me to the new season: mating American woodcock emitting “peent” calls at dusk, American robins with the melodious, caroling syllables and eastern phoebes with the ubiquitous “fee-bee” sound. Woodcock and robins forage on earthworms and phoebes on insects, and perspicacious folks know warmth activates bugs and worms, so the three birds are a spring sign.

Also, mourning doves call “coo-ah, coo, coo, coo” now – hence the name mourning dove – but the melancholy, monotonous sound announces spring to me despite snow and ice.

One spring sign proves less joyous and escalates in early April – mating skunks. Around April Fools’ Day, amorous males wander around looking for a mate, and humans sleeping behind secure windows and walls awake to a nighttime smell that they can almost taste at times.

For Jolie, my intrepid companion, and me, the skunk problem goes beyond odors permeating our house. Our female yellow Lab was a year old when a skunk sprayed her, an experience that taught the ebullient retriever an indelible lesson to avoid old stinky. However, one night two years ago, I was watching her search for a spot on the lawn to urinate, when a skunk hiding downwind by a hedge sprayed the sharp-nosed dog. The skunk really nailed her, too, and despite baths, she stunk for a week.

The 100 species of nonflying squirrels become active in daylight, but the 30 species of flying squirrels that inhabit the earth are nocturnal. In winter, northern flying squirrels nest in tree cavities lined with grasses, lichens, mosses and birch bark, and at times they apparently get out in the cold season. I’ve never seen one until spring, though.

Red and gray squirrels step up foraging now to crack into rodent-proofed bird feeders, and when they cannot find a way to the seeds, they scrounge on the ground shoulder to shoulder with dark-eyed juncos, picking up seeds spilled by birds that prefer eating from birdfeeders.

Speaking of birdfeeders, black-capped chickadees, tufted titmice, white-breasted nuthatches and house finches are common each winter in my backyard feeders, and less frequent visitors are brown creepers, red-breasted nuthatches, golden-crowned kinglets, northern cardinals, common redpolls, pine siskins and more too numerous to list. In the next weeks, more species from the south join them.

Many folks who feed birds dislike blue jays and gray squirrels, two species that can put a dent in the birdseed budget. Frugal folks hate the two because of their insatiable appetite, but I grew up with jays in my life so I like them a lot. In Belgrade Lakes village, though, gray squirrels are so plentiful that familiarity has bred contempt – at least from me.

As nature’s food supplies for turkey dwindle in late winter, these huge game birds become more brazen around birdfeeders and apple trees on lawns. People who know turkeys from chance encounters may wonder why hunters think these birds are so wary, but folks who hunt them and know the birds best often make cracks like this: “Adult wild turkeys have a Ph.D. in surviving hunters.” Turkeys evade hunters that often.

A southwest wind wafting from southern states brings a smell that shouts spring to nature watchers – as do warming earth and rotten vegetation under a hot mid-morning sun. These fecund odors make us all antsy.

When walking out of my house or stepping from my vehicle before a hike, there’s a spring feel that I like a lot. For the first several minutes, the wind feels cold enough to make me uncomfortable, but soon, walking or pedaling warms me and the day feels deliciously perfect for exercising. This happens again between fall and winter.

Yes, our five senses are attuned to outdoor happenings, and many of them will be happening in the next four or five weeks.

Ken Allen, of Belgrade Lakes, a writer, editor and photographer, may be reached at

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