One of the few good things that has come out of the COVID19 situation is that it has resulted in many more people taking walks at our local parks, refuges and wildlife sanctuaries than usual, since it allows us to maintain social distancing while also getting some exercise and enjoying the fresh air. I’ve seen more people on walking trails around the state in the last month than I do in an entire summer. And despite the circumstances, just about everyone has been smiling.
Nature has a way of doing that. Innumerable scientific studies have demonstrated the value of spending time outdoors. It improves our mood and self-esteem and generally makes us happier and healthier. It absolutely does that for me.
There’s another benefit, too. The more we’re outside, the more we’re observing what’s going on in the natural world and learning about wildlife and the environment. And the greater the chances are that we’ll see something especially noteworthy or something we’ve
If you were strolling on Scarborough Beach late last month, for instance, you may have seen a Wilson’s plover, a shorebird related to our piping plover that is seldom seen north of
And on the same stretch of beach at the same time were three black-headed
gulls, visitors from Europe that are turning up in Rhode Island more and more often
|Black rat snake (Todd McLeish)|
Or maybe you noticed the extra-early emergence of marsh marigolds and skunk cabbages in wetland habitats. Or painted turtles sunning themselves on rocks long before they usually appear. Or mourning cloak butterflies fluttering in the sunshine. The warm winter has made these early signs of spring occur even earlier than we’re used to.
If you haven’t made an effort to get outside and explore nature yet this spring, it’s not too late to start. There are plenty more signs of spring still to come that you could easily pay attention to on your periodic social distancing walks. The massive numbers of birds migrating from the tropics is just getting started, and you don’t need to go beyond your backyard to see it happening.
What else might you see? The first dragonflies of the season are just about to emerge, and you could be the first to see one. Snakes are due to make their first appearance any time now, too. Or maybe you’re more interested in watching for the season’s first blooming orchids or the first mushrooms of the year. If mammals are more your thing, then watch for the return of bats to your neighborhood, or for the first evidence of newborn foxes or rabbits or woodchucks.
The point is just to get outside and pay attention to the awakening of spring and see what signs you can find.
I recommend starting out by visiting your local wetland or pond and searching for frogs, toads and salamanders. There are a half dozen kinds of frogs commonly found in Rhode Island at this time of year, plus several toad and salamander species. And the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management is looking for help to document all the places they are found.
The agency now offers a free smartphone app called Herp Observer, which allows anyone to submit observations of reptiles and amphibians from anywhere in the state. It’s easy, fun, and safe.
After all, there’s no need to maintain social distancing from frogs.
This article first appeared in the Independent on April 16, 2020.