April is my favorite month, the best one all year-long. It is a month of sensations, a month when the Earth reawakens and fills the air with scents of wet mud and wildflowers, a month when you can sit in a quiet backyard and hear the worms emerge just after dark. It starts cold, this month of April, and sometimes ends with a snowy surprise, but for the most part, April trends warmer by the day, as days grow longer and even the last hidden slips of ice finally succumb to the breath of spring. The sun marches northward through April and brings the hope of life anew with it.
Salamanders and Other Amphibians in April
In April, nature emerges to hurl itself against the future. Generations are made or lost in April, and the fates of future populations of wild things are on the line. In Brecksville Reservation, on warm rainy nights, salamanders of several species crawl from their subterranean lairs, drawn by the need to reproduce and secure the future for salamanders to come. They are short, these slippery amphibians, standing all of three-eighths of an inch high on tiptoes, and the world looms large when seen through salamander eyes. As they pass by, even leaves on the ground are as tall as houses might be for us, and yet they move on. Salamanders can neither see ancestral ponds hundreds or thousands of feet away nor hear the sounds of spring peepers already arrived. How do they know? Nothing learned from parents, no roadmaps mark the way, but year after year, they venture out, braving hungry raccoons and skunks, automobile tires and curious humans, and the threat of a dried out pond on their arrival. Each year these salamanders and their relatives the various frogs, toads and other salamanders make the arduous journey hoping against hope that all the many perils nature holds along the way will allow enough, just enough to succeed and survive to breed in the shallow vernal pools. Their journey home is no less perilous.
Bird Migrations in April
April is the month of the great migrations, journeys far longer than blue speckled salamanders can imagine. Far in the southland, hundreds of species of neotropical songbirds arise one evening or another, shake their feathers and launch themselves into the night with dozens, hundreds or thousands of their fellows to head north to ancestral breeding grounds in North America. The journey of hundreds, often a thousand miles or more takes a surprisingly short time, but against seemingly impossible odds. Birds are fragile things, with thin, hollow bones and high metabolisms. Each day is a struggle to find enough food, and each starry night along the way means another launch into the unknown. Hawks, falcons and other predators await throughout the journey. Sudden storms and high winds claim thousands. Microbursts, those unexpected hurricane force winds plummeting to earth under certain weather conditions, hurl thousands to their deaths. Lights on tall buildings and radio, cell and television towers confuse migratory birds, especially in foggy conditions, and hundreds hit the towers and guy lines in each location throughout the migration and are lost. The journey is too long for some, others are swept out over the ocean never to return, and even the short distance across Lake Erie is fatal for many, exhausted from a long journey north with no place to land. American woodcocks, now peenting and performing their spring sky dances in the meadows of Cleveland Metroparks, make an equally difficult journey from the southern states to here. A bird so ill-constructed should barely fly, and yet it does, ever northward, until the timber doodles' springtime haunts are achieved.
This is the month of the radar watch, when nighttime Doppler displays from Florida, Texas and the mid-Atlantic states actually show clouds of migratory birds rising off their day roosts after dark and moving northward. It is chilling to imagine that the entire breeding population of an entire species might be moving in that radar-enhanced blue trace shown on the Weather Channel. And yet this month they come. Salamanders crawl to and from vernal pools aided by forces of navigation still unexplained to us. Migratory bats return, and wintering birds come back from the tropics, hope against hope against astronomical losses, until they reach their northern homes to ensure the next generation, only to leave again a few short months later.