Left Justified: Spring has sprung, where’s da flowers?

By Stanley Campbell

Nothing like the first snow of spring to prove Rockford weather. And we might need a blizzard to make us aware of global weather change. (A friend of mine says, “If this be global warming, bring it on!”)

Don’t spread harmful chemicals for making lawns greener. One church once handed out little lawn signs mimicking chemical warnings. These signs proclaimed “independence from fertilizers and chemicals that could be harmful to pets, children and the environment.”

Warmer weather brings out the best in us. It also brings out chemical fertilizing and use of pesticides on our lawns. As bad as concrete is, Kentucky bluegrass is worse, keeping water from replenishing the groundwater. Less prairie or gardens and more lawn makes more floods.

And chemicals poured on lawns make our groundwater taste funny (not “funny ha-ha” but “funny hmmm…”).

The reason for putting up with northern Illinois winter is to enjoy May as it “springs” forth on the prairies. Please enjoy it responsibly (chemical-free).

In honor of spring, let me reprint “Let’s make some spring color” by Rod Myers, former columnist for The Rock River Times, comedian, naturalist, troublemaker and mobility advocate. Rod died a few years back. This is from a May 2004 issue of The Rock River Times:

Why is the spring foliage on most deciduous plants fluorescent green of one shade or another, and how does it affect human psyche and the rest of the animal kingdom?

It’s possible that every deciduous plant within a given species has its own unique spring green, though its difference may be ever so slight. Fifty box elder trees, each one having a spring green slightly different than the others, though the difference may be imperceptible to us.

Could birds that have excellent color vision, even sharper in the green of the color spectrum, perceive this difference?

Migrating birds could be master preceptors of spring green foliage, enough to discern their select habitat niche from the air.

Much research has gone into bird migration. It’s believed that migrating birds use earth’s magnetic poles and the stars to navigate. Night migrants use the combination of the two.

However, most birds are notorious for showing up in spring only when habitats allow. That is, only when the plantscape has developed insect life, which feeds on the developing plants.

Birds arrive in waves of millions as spring expands along a timeline from south to north. Bird migrants appear first in southern Illinois, a week later in central Illinois. Their arrival is contingent on the progression of leaf development stages in the plantscape, which is contingent on warm weather.

Arriving too early would be fatal. But spring sometimes arrives late. What keeps the birds from fatally over-migrating before the plantscape is ready?

Day migrants would hit the brakes when the appropriate spring greens stop, but what would night migrants do? Could night-migrating birds using the stars and the magnetic poles find their exact breeding location at a precise window of time without using the spring color codes of vegetation?

Spring greens might be visible at night, perceived in another end of the spectrum called infrared. All living things give off heat and infrared light in some degree. Birds that are brave enough to migrate at night must have some night vision. If these same species are flushed from their nests at night, they usually return shortly, and that takes honest-to-goodness vision.

Owl eyes are designed to work with very little light, so diurnal birds may depend somewhat on infrared sight.

There’s no evidence that birds use infrared vision or that spring greens are color codes, but you have to admit theory construction is fun.

(Yes Rod, and so were you—Stanley’s aside.)

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

From the May 4-10, 2011 issue

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