A Walk in the Woods: The sounds of spring

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By: John Griffee


You only have to turn your ears to skies to hear the first signs of spring’s impending arrival. It was just four months ago that tens of thousands of Sandhill Cranes were departing from Jasper-Pulaski Wildlife Refuge. 

At peak, there was upwards of 30,000 cranes booking their winter travel plans for a warmer state. Like many birds, Sandhill Cranes spend the winter in a warmer spot, settling down in the swamps of Florida. Beginning in October, the staff over at Jasper-Pulaski Wildlife Refuge started noting down the first arrivals of the migratory flocks. 

Sandhill Cranes are a local common indicator of the beginning of migrational periods. Those unfamiliar with the call of the cranes might think a struggling band of trumpeteers was around; such is the distincitive rattling trill of Sandhills. 

As February rolled over into March, the rattling voices of Sandhill Cranes once again began to fill the air in Michiana, marking the end of their winter vacation and the coming arrival of spring. 

This time of year is a funny business in Indiana, with sprinklings of warmer weather flanked by bitter days that remind citizens of winter’s presence. But as the thermometers begin to rise and birds begin to return home, our local nature starts to flourish. 

Spring would not be spring without the music that fills the air. The organic orchestra holds multiple extended concerts at parks around northern Indiana and Michigan. Soon, the winding drive into Potato Creek will be filled with the incessant breeding calls of Pickerel frogs and Northern Leopard frogs. Not to be outdone, Mudlake Bog in Buchanan, Michigan hosts Spring Peepers. Spring Peepers are small frogs that do just as their name says, make a peep sound for their call. 

Northern Indiana can thank the long past presence of glacial activity for its rich assortment of wetlands, ponds and small waterways. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources states that in 1816, half of northwestern Indiana’s surface area was prone to ponding for six months. 

The rise of agriculture may have eliminated that issue for the region, however our local wetland areas and ponds still bring in plenty of avian and amphibian customers for the breeding season. Small bodies of water are due to be filled by the flapping of wings and calls of multiple species of ducks, including more than the commonly known Mallards. 

Potato Creek State Park with its wide variety of wetlands feature some of the many feathered friends that our area has to offer over the spring and far-distant summers. The morning air is like a broadcast wave for the sounds of spring. Closer to the lake, the mournful wail of the Common Loon is enough to stop hikers in their tracks, while the trees closer to the feeding station of the Nature Center host chipper American Robins. 

The COVID-19 pandemic created a large rupture in the day to day life of our planet. As you hear the sound of Sandhill Cranes this spring, remember that the seasons still come, the world still turns, and life goes on. 

Is there a park that you want to see covered? Email me at jgriffee@iu.edu with suggestions.

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