Looking beyond the snow berms, there are new things to see and hear

Posted: Friday, April 01, 2005

Another day of forecasted snowfall, and it is tough to believe that some Kenai Peninsula residents are singing about spring. It may be easier to notice the potholes and rock chips, or the dirty berms of snow still lining the highway, but close your eyes and listen carefully, and you, too, might hear these spring songs, and see why they are being sung.

The black-capped chickadees flitting around the birch trees here at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge headquarters have started their spring songs. Listen a little more and you can hear the distant drumming of a hairy woodpecker. After the relative silence of our winter forest, these subtle sounds catch my attention, and make me forget, if only for a moment, the chilly wind still blowing across the parking lot.

There is another remarkable event happening right now. It is another sign that winter is coming to an end and warmer, longer days are just around the corner. A flight of over 10,000 miles is preparing for arrival on the Kenai Peninsula, and it's not landing at any regional airports. The landing location is, instead, the islands and coastlines of Alaska, and the long-distance travelers are Arctic terns. These birds migrate between the Arctic and Antarctic each year, enjoying the sun year-round while we shovel our driveways, put on studded tires and bundle up in winter parkas.

Now, while shedding our coats and taking off our ice cleats, we are preparing for the arrival of another migration. This human migration brings RVs and rental cars to town, and many visitors to the refuge.

Looking forward to their arrival, summer activities are being planned, campgrounds will soon be cleared of winter debris, and if I listen carefully, I can hear the first sounds of boats being brought out of storage.

What other signs of spring do you notice when you look a little closer? Have you seen a caribou out on the Kenai Flats yet? Have you seen grasses peeking out of the snow along the roadsides? Have you watched the icebergs along the beach shrink, little rivulets running from these gray monoliths out to Cook Inlet? Instead of seeing the muddy waters of break-up, I watch the Kenai River flowing open again and nearly ready for the summer salmon runs.

Crunching over the thin ice of melt water puddles, I look out at the pussy willow buds, the bright blue sky and after just a few minutes of looking at these changes, it is easier to believe the chickadees and join them in welcoming spring.

Leah Rigall is an environmental education intern at Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. She has worked at the refuge since May 2004.

Previous Refuge Notebook articles can be viewed on our newly remodeled Web site http://kenai.fws.gov/. Report any unusual bird sightings on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Birding Hotline at (907) 262-2300.

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