Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Tick, Tick, Tick

I was probably the only person in the greater New York City area who was not happy to have May in March. I look all around me and see more evidence of a world out of ecological balance, and I wonder what will be coming.

While all the dry heat has kept the grass short, it went brown. That didn’t stop the lawn services from getting in, blowing out the debris and filling the air with their gas fumes. My crocuses bloomed and busted in what seemed like a day and a half, and now my daffodils have opened at once, weeks early for some, instead of at the more usual, gradual pace.

Forsythia was one of the many shrubs flowering early.
The trees and shrubs have started to flower, leaving my husband and me with watery, itchy eyes from the pollen. Allergists are saying this will be a long, bad allergy season and I feel sorry for those who have even worse problems than MH and I have.

What is this obsession people of all ages seem to have with endless summer? Why do they want to wear tank tops, shorts and flip-flops at any slight rise in temperature?

While they are lying on the grass working on their tans the water table beneath is going down. Without a significant rain, and soon, there will be drought restrictions before summer. I’ve been to several marshes recently that are bone dry, and that has a profound effect on the flora and fauna.

What a relief it wasn’t like last winter, someone told me recently. Well, all that snow, while a pain in the back to shovel, was providing a nice blanket for the lawn and, more important, was melting and keeping it watered. We had no water restrictions last year and many of my neighbors took advantage to run their sprinklers at all times of the day - including in the midday sun - in their lust for a green lawn that they encouraged to grow so they could have it cut every week, then water again to keep it green.

What are they going to do this year?

Even I got caught up in it. When the daffodils started coming up I had to fight through the netting and remove the winter debris I’d left when we had the Halloween snowstorm. After a winter of indolence suddenly I had the urge to put seeds into pots. Now I have five lettuce seedlings I have to put someplace outside behind netting. Luckily, lettuce likes cold weather. Not so the tomato and pepper seedlings slowly coming up that I can‘t put outside yet so they are crowding the window sill. The potted annuals I brought in to keep growing over the winter are now overgrowing. My canna started growing in its pot during the winter - when it should have been resting - despite not getting a bit of water from me. My rosemary is practically begging me to put it outside.

I’m not ready for this yet!

Delicate magnolia blossoms are already falling on the lawns.
Here’s another problem I have with this unnatural warming: By the time the tropical migrants get up here from Central and South America, all the trees will have leafed out and it will be nearly impossible to see the birds. Worse, how will the early summer affect their ability to find food? Many of the flowers and fruits may already be gone when they come north.

And some of the migrants coming from the U.S. south are already passing into this area even as the winter birds - the juncos and white-throated sparrows - continue to hang around the feeders.

I was at Great Swamp the other day, looking for early migrants. I was lucky enough to find some of them: pine warbler, field sparrow, phoebe. I also, despite my best efforts to prevent this, found a tick as I was getting ready to shower that night. (If I was a better journalist I’d have taken a picture to show you but the impulse to throw it in the sink and wash it down the drain was more immediate. So this picture will have to do.)

A birder I met at the Swamp said with all the warmth and dryness this will be a long, bad year for ticks, and he has already gone places elsewhere in New Jersey where he’s found 30 on his leg after hiking on a trail (rather than crashing into the woods as, unfortunately, a lot of birders do). Ticks are one of the many reasons I get the deer off my property as quickly as possible. But now I must worry that I could get one or more from any of the places where I go birding thanks to the mild winter and warm spring.


Well, to paraphrase Mark Twain, if you don’t like the weather in New Jersey, wait a few minutes.

Instead of coming in like a lion and going out like a lamb, March came in like May and is, according to the forecast, going out like February - windy and cold.

In the long run it may not mean much, but for now I can’t wait.

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