What You Can See on March 1

From Audubon’s Earth Almanac by Ted Williams and compiled in “Wild Moments,” edited by Connie Isbell, Illustrations by John Burgoyne, Storey Publishing, 174 pages. Flash of Red Epaulets In most of the United States, the first bird of spring is the red-winged blackbird, said without proof but probably without exaggeration to occur in every county of our nation. The males—black with scarlet shoulder patches—come first, sometimes in flocks of thousands that blow like coal smoke over the soggy earth, veering suddenly right, left, up, or down as if steered by a common will. Through most of March you can attract them to your yard with cracked corn. A flock will stake out a large marsh in which each male defends a territory of about a quarter-acre. The male does this in a way that gladdens the hearts of winter-weary humans—by riding a bobbing bough or cattail, raising his red epaulets so they flash in the sun, and shouting Oaklareeeee! Butterflies of Mudtime There is snow in the woods and ice on the ponds, so why are black, purple-and-yellow-trimmed butterflies sailing over the chaff of last year’s lawn? How could they have hatched so soon? They didn’t; they hibernated as adults in deep crevices and under bark. A month hence, they will feed on nectar and rotten fruit; now they sip sap from the ice-splintered, deer-scraped branches of birch and maple. Mourning cloaks, as they are aptly called, are among the most widely distributed of all butterflies. You can find them in Eurasia, Mexico, and all of North America, from the wilds of Alaska to the sidewalks of Manhattan. In northern latitudes they also hibernate during summer, reemerging in the fall. Later in the season, look for their dramatic mating dance. A pair will spiral straight up for 60 feet, couple, and probably mate; then one drops to the ground as if hit by a windshield.