Sun is shining and spring is coming! Everything was covered with snow and only first birds were coming, when I wrote my previous post about early spring in the forest. But days are getting longer and warmer, snow is melting and by the middle of April, only last white islands still wait in the shadow of spruces. Usually, in the middle or in the second half of April, the first heat wave arrives for a few days. This triggers the nature to awake from winter hibernation. The catkins on alder trees are first signs of spring. They were waiting for the first warm rays of sunshine and wind and appeared from nowhere.
Forest glades are now clean and have a brown color, but the spruce forest and rock hills toggled into green instantly. Bright green leaves of lingonberry overwintered beneath the snow and now they look even brighter than in summer. Blueberry stands without leaves, but its stems also have bright green color. All the ground in between is covered with green moss, where you can meet the first purple flower of spring – liverleaf, or hepatica. While big trees stay bare, the understory of the forest has the first and last chance to catch the sunlight.
As soon as the snow has melted away, brown glades get the first colors. Small yellow dots appear here and there. The flowers of coltsfoots (Tussilago farfara) open on leafless stems before the leaves appear. At the same time, you can meet first insects and even first butterflies. Adult common brimstone and colorful small tortoiseshell butterflies overwintered in woodland beneath the snow and leaf litter and now they are moving to wetlands.
Red wood ants produce Brownian motion on the sunny side of anthills. They warm up their bodies under shining sun and run inside to heat up their undergrounds. Hundreds of thousands of ants cover the top of the anthill. It looks like the whole heap is moving alive. However, ants don’t go to the forest. There is still nothing edible, and heating is the first task to achieve.
Melted snow soaked the earth with water. You can meet running brooks and deep puddles in lowlands, but the hills and rocks are dry. Though, moss and lichens are very wet and slimy. Lake water level raises up very fast. This is the time of floods. Water runs down from the lake over rapids, making a loud noise.
Usually, the lake remains frozen till the middle of April. Ice starts melting rapidly when the average day temperature exceeds the freezing point of water. The lake opens a few days later. Cracking ice produces booming echoing sounds, like a neck – water spirit. The whole population of backwaters is happy to spread out and to find places for new nests. Whooper swans are building a huge nest in the midst of the reed bed. Common goldeneye and mallard ducks already formed pairs and peacefully swim in the lake. Great crested grebes behave more aggressively. They formed pairs, divided surface of the lake and now defend their aquatory with loud quacking. You may notice loud splashes in shallow waters. Look at this and you can see fins of pike. They start spawning when the water temperature first reaches 6-9°C.
The forest is getting louder day by day. Blackbirds start singing in the morning before sunrise. Next chaffinches and leaf warblers take their turn and sing louder when the sun is shining. Woodpigeons utter cooing sounds from the darkness of spruce trees. Blackbirds jump on the ground during the day. They dig dry leaves in search of insects and bugs. But at sunset, they give another beautiful concert. From dawn till dusk the forest is full of sounds.
Trees stand bare, but they already started pumping water from roots to crowns. First green leaves start unfolding on birdcherry. Birch produces a large amount of sap and now is the best time to collect and drink it. When the sap is fresh, it is a clear uncolored liquid, slightly sweet with a slightly silky texture. But if you wait for a couple of days, the sap starts fermenting and the taste becomes more acidic.
When walking in the woods you can meet shrubs with tiny pink flowers on bare stems. Flowers cover the whole stem and whole bush has pink color in contrast to brown surroundings. This is Daphne mezereum, a very toxic plant. The whole plant is deadly poisonous, so do not touch it and never pick these beautiful flowers. Better let them decorate the forest.
First green grass appears from leaf litter. Chervil and ground elder show first leaves. They contain vitamin C, carotene, potassium, calcium, magnesium, silica and can be prepared like spinach. Deers and hares move to forest glades to find fresh vitamins. White hares are changing their coats. They are still white, and you can easily notice them running away. More and more flowers of liverleaf form flowerbeds surrounded by succulent evergreen leaves. And soon you can meet first white flowers of windflower.
Warm days do not stay long. Usually, the weather turns back to cold and rain in late April or early May. And the forest makes a pause. But this pause is not a stagnation. Nature is preparing to make a huge jump as soon as the next wave of heat will come in May. But this will be the next story…