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Signs of Spring

Claret Cup Cacti. Photo: Dr. Thomas G. Barnes, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, via Wikimedia Commons.

This episode of Nature Notes was previously broadcast on April 8, 2010 and was written by Dr. Cathryn Hoyt, then-Executive Director of the  Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute.

It's been a long, cold winter, but signs of spring are beginning to appear. In California, spring arrives when the swallows return to San Juan Capistrano. In the northeast, the Crocus and Daffodils give hope that warmer days are on their way. Here in the Chihuahuan Desert region, we look for more subtle indications that spring has arrived and summer's on it's way.

On this episode of Nature Notes, we present you with the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute's Top 10 Ways to Know Spring is Here.

1. The wind is howling. Of course the wind blows most of the year out here, but you really know spring has arrived when you can't open your car door, your dust at least once a day, and you can't get an appointment at the hairdresser because everyone in town wants short hair.

2. A green haze surrounds the cottonwoods. Cottonwoods, those gorgeous tall trees, growing along drainages, are one of the first trees to green up early in the spring.

3. The turkey vultures arrive. Although turkey vultures are  year-round residents in many parts of the state, vultures in the Chihuahuan Desert head south as soon as the days begin to shorten and the temperatures begin to drop.

4. Hummingbirds are twittering. Another sign of spring that makes the heart sing is the zip and zoom of the hummingbirds.

5. The claret cup cacti are blooming. Hand-in-hand with the arrival of the hummingbirds is the burst of color from the claret cup cacti.

6. Osmia bees start collecting pollen. Osmia, or Mason bees, are medium-sized native bees that emerge from their nest early in the spring. Look for them on trees and shrub such as agarita, Texas madrone, or cliff fendlerbush. Their metallic blue or blue-green coloring makes them unmistakable.

7. The Javelina bush is blooming. The Javelina bush is not spectacular; in fact, you've probably never really noticed a Javelina bush. They're low-growing shrubs with tiny leaves and small, non-descript yellowish flowers.

8. Battling butterflies. Butterflies are usually thought of as gentle creatures, floating on the breeze. Which they are, unless its spring, and the sap is rising. Some butterflies don't feed on nectar; instead, the prefer the sticky sweetness of tree sap. Butterfly battles occur as the butterflies jostle each other for access to the sap. It can get ugly, but it's fun to watch.

9. The oak trees turn yellow. This doesn't make much sense. After all, we tend to associate colored leaves with the fall. However, in the Davis Mountains, our live oaks turn yellow in the early spring, as the tree prepares to shed the old leaves and put on a flush of fresh new growth.

10. The tree lizards begin to scamper. One of the earliest to become active in the spring is the small, brown tree lizard. They're wary, and quite adept at keeping a branch or tree trunk begin you and them. But when you see tree lizards, spring is here.