Outside my Landenberg window, a titmouse now sings his spring song all day long. Regardless of the calendar, spring 2006 has arrived-and for me, it's the third time spring has arrived this year.
My first "first day of spring" came in mid-January, when I was standing in a crowd of birders watching sandhill cranes at Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge near Cleveland, Tenn. A bluebird serenaded us with his gurgling song, pausing occasionally while he and his lady explored a nest box right in front of the wildlife viewing platform.
My second "first day of spring" came in early February in Palestine, Texas, where not only titmice but cardinals sang incessantly in my mother's neighborhood. (They'd probably been singing since early January, but I wasn't there to hear them then).
It's been an interesting experience, hearing those familiar spring songs in three different places. The three different sets of songsters have slightly different "accents." I always notice this when I go to Texas-it's several days before I sort out the common birdsongs. Titmice there sound just a little different from titmice in Chester County; so do cardinals and blue jays.
The most interesting thing, though, is not the differences but the similarities. Although the three places are far apart (it's 675 miles from Landenberg to Hiwassee, and another 765 from there to Palestine) the birds to be seen there are mostly the same. The same tufted titmouse, the same Eastern bluebird, the same northern cardinal, the same ruby-throated hummingbird.
Looking at a road map won't explain this phenomenon. From Pennsylvania to Tennessee the road goes south quite a bit-and from Tennessee to Texas the route takes you far west of the Mississippi River. After all that distance you might expect to find very different conditions, and in some ways you do. Most noticeably, it's a heckuva lot hotter in Texas than it is in Pennsylvania.
A timber map, though, explains what's behind this seemingly strange situation. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's map of "Common Forest Types on Non-Federal Land" (available at http://forestry.about.com/library/tree/bltypdex.htm) shows a wide swathe of deep green sweeping down the Eastern seaboard from mid-New Jersey through the deep South and curving westward into Texas-forests that offer similar habitat for birds, despite big differences in winter and summer temperatures.
The oak-pine-holly forests along the New Jersey side of Delaware Bay look very much like the oak-pine-holly forests of my native Texas, even though the tree species are different. In east Texas, the holly is yaupon (pronounced yo-pon).
My early birding experience would have been very different had I grown up a few miles west of where I did. That Eastern timber belt ends at the Trinity River, the western boundary of Anderson County where my hometown is the county seat. On the other side of the Trinity the geography changes dramatically, from hills of red clay and sand cloaked with oak, pine and yaupon to flat black land dotted sparsely with mesquite. Bird species begin changing there, and by the time one gets to Austin and San Antonio there are some Western specialties to look at.
The events below are public, and free unless otherwise noted. Where trip leaders are named, please contact them to confirm arrangements, get directions and let them know you're planning to attend.
n Saturday, Feb. 25: Indian River Inlet and north, birding trip sponsored by Delaware Valley Ornithological Club. Meet at 9 a.m. at the Wawa on Delaware 1 outside Lewes, Del. Contact leader Martin Selzer at 215-233-9090 or email@example.com.
n Saturday, Feb. 25: Cape May, N.J., birding trip sponsored by West Chester Bird Club. The group will meet at 9 a.m. at the Lighthouse at Cape May Point State Park; for more information, call the leader, Jim Russell, at 610-399-1580.
n Every Wednesday: bird walk, 8:15 a.m. to 10:15 a.m., at Tyler Arboretum, 515 Painter Road, Media. Call 610-566-9134 with questions. Leader, Tom Reeves; bird walk is free with arboretum admission, $5 for adults, $3 for youngsters ages 3 to 15. No pre-registration required; take binoculars and a bird book.
u Frances Hamilton has written about birds in Chester County since 1968. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.