Cambrian: Opinion

Change is in the air: Enjoy spring while it lingers

Two zebras and a young foal graze the still-green hills in San Simeon, but the grasses are in the process of turning yellow.
Two zebras and a young foal graze the still-green hills in San Simeon, but the grasses are in the process of turning yellow. Special to The Cambrian

The season of spring encompasses March, April and May. Wildflowers are at or just past their peak, mating season for songbirds is in full swing, and baby ground squirrels emerge from their dens to scamper across trails and grasslands.

Spring in the Northern Hemisphere officially begins March 21, when the sun crosses the plane of Earth’s equator, making night and day approximately equal length. Until June 21, the days get progressively longer, and the nights a little shorter. Longer days mean more hours of solar radiation, which warms the earth. In the mountains, snowmelt brings abundant water runoff. On the Central Coast, creeks and streams usually flow until summer, when they historically dry up.

Nourishment abounds

Native plants thrive on long sunlit days and abundant water. Wildflowers took advantage of moist soil to sprout, bloom and seed out before slower-growing tall grasses blocked the sun.

The spring growth of plants provides food and nesting material for many species, and some of these eventually become food for others. Insects reproduce rapidly, providing nourishment for other insects, as well as birds, frogs, lizards and small mammals like mice and voles.

Hawks, eagles and other raptors hatch and fledge their chicks during the abundance of the spring rodent population.

Trees become broadcasting sites for songbirds to attract mates or compete with other males. Mockingbirds have been known to sing the whole night through! We marvel at their stamina, while grumbling over disrupted sleep. Quail proudly parade tiny puffballs that quickly become smaller versions of their parents. Mallards teach their ducklings to swim. In barnyards and backyards, the longer, warmer days mean that hens lay more eggs.

New life emerges

Not all creatures mate in spring. Larger mammals like deer, for example, mate in the fall, so that fawns are born during the peak abundance of grasses, leaves and bark. Domestic cats mate early in the year, leading to an overabundance of adorable kittens ready for adoption in May.

In the ocean, longer days mean more hours for kelp and marine plants to photosynthesize. Phytoplankton blooms may be noticeable in the spring. The abundant green food nourishes the herbivores, which in turn feed larger marine omnivores and carnivores. Gray whales and their calves travel north during spring to reach their primary feeding grounds around Alaska just when the days are the longest.

Spring is a good time for people, too — for enjoying the warmth of the sun, taking longer walks and getting out in the garden. The air is fresh, the skies are blue and the sunsets linger.

The seasons shape the most basic of species behaviors — mating and nesting, feeding and migrating. All these activities are reflections of the essential relationship we share with the Earth and sun.

The winds of May dry out tall grasses as they shed their seeds. As May wanes, the green grasslands turn a golden yellow.

Enjoy the last few weeks of spring!

Michele Roest’s Coast Lines column appears the second Thursday of each month and is special to The Cambrian.