Much as I enjoy winter activities, there comes a time when I get tired of the cold, snow and winds, and being bundled up to the eyeballs. I think of the joys of summer hikes, and start looking for those first signs that spring has arrived. For hiking, we start spending time in the foothills of the Rockies, where the snow tends to disappear first. This also gives us a bit more of a margin of safety, as the bears start to come out of their dens, and avalanches become more common in the mountains as temperatures start to warm up.
Some of the earliest arrivals are migratory birds, ducks and Canada geese. Some always winter over on the open water of the Bow River, but now they arrive in flocks, the familiar V’s flying overhead. But I get most excited when I see the white forms bobbing on lakes and ponds, Tundra and Trumpeter swans stopping briefly on their way north to their breeding grounds.
Another bird we begin to notice more in spring are the Mountain Bluebirds. They’re more common in the foothills, and at this time of year, they’re looking for nesting cavities. Quite a few birders in this area also monitor bluebird nesting boxes.
Other birds start nesting as well. A few years ago, I was fortunate to see a pair of Bald Eagles nesting near the Bow River. The nest still exists, but doesn’t seem to be occupied this year.
I also start to look for wildflowers hidden in the grass. The earliest we tend to spot are the Prairie Crocuses, usually on some open slope, hidden and protected by dead grasses. I saw my first one of the year recently at Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park (an awesome spot for early spring hikes, by the way) – I was so excited, because to me it meant we officially had spring, after a long, rough winter.
A little later in spring, a number of other flowers start to appear, among them Kinnikinnick (Bearberry) and Early Blue Violets. By then, we’ve started to venture back into the mountains.