Nathan’s Nature Notes

Signs of Spring

  • A Merlin photographed in October of 2018. Paula E. Kirman

I saw a pair of magpies working on reconstructing their nest in an elm tree on the boulevard of 107 Avenue as I stepped outside of my front door on March 7, the first day after new moon in the sixth lunar cycle this winter. This was the earliest indication of nest-building activity I have seen this year, and pretty much right on time.

However, I can hear you saying, “Right on time? Didn’t we have an interminable winter that seemed to last longer than usual?” Yes, we did – but I account for that with my knowledge of the Blackfoot lunar calendar. Because lunar cycles don’t divide evenly into solar cycles, we have an “extra” thirteenth lunar cycle every now and then. Those years are the “leap years” in lunar calendars, and when the thirteenth lunar cycle occurs, it comes in right between the fourth and fifth lunar cycles of winter. This means that everything normally occurring in the fifth lunar cycle of winter happens in a “lunar leap year” during the sixth lunar cycle of winter.

This year was one of our lunar leap years, and our extended cold snap coincided pretty much exactly with the extra lunar cycle. So, the signs of spring are indeed occurring right on time – for a lunar leap year. To me, observing these phenomena confirms that paying attention to lunar time can help to make sense of ecological and weather phenomena throughout the year.

Calendrical explanations aside, I have continued to notice signs of spring in our neighbourhood throughout this lunar cycle, or the month of March. House sparrows as well as magpies have begun constructing their nests. I hear house finches throughout the neighbourhood, singing to announce their territories, and I saw a group of them feeding on last year’s maple seeds in Giovanni Caboto Park on March 21. Red-breasted nuthatches are active – I heard one on March 13, and on March 28 I watched a pair of them feeding on the trunk of the spruce tree in my front yard, which also houses a magpie nest.

The neighbourhood Merlin has returned – I saw and heard it first on March 22, flying over the intersection on 107A Avenue and 95 Street. It landed on a spruce tree on 107 Avenue west of 95 Street, where I have frequently heard it in previous years – perhaps that is close to its home base.

Happy nature-watching, folks!

Nathan lives in McCauley.

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