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The spring equinox was March 19, but as the groundhog Punxsutawney Phil predicted last month, spring came early this year -- and in some places, people are wondering what happened to winter. The pleasant warm weather has coaxed out fields of daffodils, the crocus have already poked their bold-colored heads up from the ground, and native plants and wildlife are springing into action.

Daffodils and crocuses aren't native, though they are familiar friends to many people. Right now, we're mostly seeing non-native invasive plants blooming: Ozark hills are sprinkled white with Bradford pears filling the air with a smell described in myriad ways by various people, and the infamous bush honeysuckle has already leafed out. Tip: If open windows are bothering your nose with the unwelcome scent of Bradford blossoms, and presumably you can't replace the nearby pears with native trees and don't wish to close the windows on pretty days, put an unlit strong-scented candle on a plate on the windowsill.

Our native trees and shrubs are still mostly dormant. The tiny native wildflowers, however, are already abundant and can be enjoyed this week (especially in areas with short grass). Bird's foot violets with their legendary "footbath" shape are fun to find, and bluets create a carpet of lavender blue. It may help save your back if you use knee pads or a mat of some kind and kneel in the grass to discover this world of color, but be careful to check yourself later -- because the ticks are active!

Frogs are hopping madly about, and we've already heard wood frogs, spring peepers, Cajun chorus frogs and more. Tiger salamanders have courted, and our local foxes, coyotes, mink, bobcats, raccoons and flying squirrels have mated or had their chance. Squirrels will be giving birth to new spring litters throughout March, and cottontail rabbits may already have their first litter. Be on the lookout for baby bunnies while mowing the fast-growing grass.

Bluebirds are wing-waving at nest boxes and calling to their mates. Screech owls and Barred owls are nesting. Birds of all sorts are engaged in the drama of territorial disputes, mating and migrating. Canada geese are flying north over Northwest Arkansas, honking all the way. Some songbirds may already have a nest or eggs. The inquisitive, observant eye can find the nests, but be respectful and don't disturb them. (If nests are located in a dangerous or terribly inconvenient location, carefully relocate them nearby.) Bats, our nocturnal mammalian "birds," have been active for awhile already, swooping down on unsuspecting insects in midair.

Opossum babies are in their mothers' pouches, developing a mouth full of more teeth than any North American mammal -- 50 of them -- all the better to eat those ticks. Small butterflies are flitting around the mud puddles. It's time to dust off those nectar feeders for the ruby-throated hummingbirds that are on their way here.

Spring is a great time to get out and enjoy the weather, see the new colors, smell the flowers and observe wildlife. Plus, spring makes us exercise more, according to the University of North Carolina. So get active outdoors, away from indoor crowds and the coronavirus!

Amanda Bancroft is a writer, artist, and naturalist living in an off-grid tiny house on Kessler Mountain. She and her husband Ryan blog about their adventures and offer tips to those wanting to make a difference at www.RipplesBlog.org. Her column ordinarily appears in The Free Weekly at freeweekly.com.

NAN What's Up on 03/22/2020

Print Headline: Spring Has Sprung

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