While away on Spring Break we stopped at Clifty Falls State Park in Indiana for a beautiful spring afternoon. This waterfall is on Clifty Creek which flows in to the nearby Ohio River. With sun abound and temperatures reaching into the upper 60’s Fahrenheit, it was about perfect for a hike through this beautiful state park just beginning to awaken after a long winter rest.
With ample rains providing plenty of water to glide over these limestone edges, Clifty Falls provided an amazing landscape to share with family and friends. Add to that ephemeral flowers blooming all over the forest floor and redbud trees beginning to explode with little pink flowers in the warmth of the sun overhead and it becomes almost a day many dream of on a cold winters night. Unfortunately for many people, visiting this state park in early spring does not even enter their list of possible adventures leaving these wonderful sights to those who seek out its early treasures.
There are four waterfalls listed on the map for Clifty State Park however we were able to only see two of them in an afternoon providing nice incentives to return when the opportunity presents itself again. The many limestone stairs making up these waterfalls provides such a relaxing environment with their sights and sounds making the hikes to see them a worthwhile adventure.
It seems way to early but the signs of spring continue to increase with each warming day. Every day that I’m fortunate to be able to go out into nearby woods I see spring making its way more and more. By the end of February the days have gotten noticably longer and temperatures are increasing. Most of our snow is gone and the ice on lakes and rivers disappears a little each week bringing open water and a place for migrating ducks to land.
One day last week I was out hiking when little white specs caught my eye. On closer inspection it was pussy willows beginning to emerge. This is about 2 to 3 weeks earlier than last year. I keep hoping for a late season snowstorm or two but with each passing week that potential gets further and further away. I know many people are happy about the warm days and they do make every day life easier. Still a reminder of living in Minnesota in early March would be nice.
Tucked away out of sight there is the occasion sign of spring such as Silver Maple trees beginning to bloom without attracting much attention along with brightly colored mushrooms sprouting from a damp log and moss becoming a lush green almost like a soft, thick carpet covering up a decomposing log. Animals are also beginning their spring rituals as they come out of hibernation while others prepare nests or dens for another year of new creatures to enter the world.
In areas where the water is no longer covered by sheets of ice I see ducks, geese, and swans bobbing up and down as they find nourishment under the surface. This is just the beginning and March has a way of teasing spring weather and then reversing with a blast of winter stealing the motivation to venture outside until it all passes sometime in April. For now it’s fun to witness each new change as the landscape emerges from a long winter nap.
I’ve been fortunate this year to watch bald eagles as they maintained their nest and are currently raising young eaglets. I don’t visit frequently as I prefer to allow them to continue without being disturbed too frequently risking their departure earlier than they should. I’ve only been close enough to see the nest a couple of times.
The first was in March before there were any leaves on the trees making it easier to find. They could also see me easily and were not happy about me being in their territory. It was at that time that I learned exactly what bald eagles sound like and have been able to identify their calls since. There have been several times I’ve been in the area and heard their calls telling me they’re still occupying the nest and raising the young without going near the nest. Being able to recognize their calls have directed me to other nests now that I know what I’m listening and looking for.
My second visit to their nest was later in the spring after all of the trees grew leaves hiding the nest from most spots on the ground. Fortunately I found an area to observe and photograph the eagles for a short time. During that time the adults fed their eaglets and the young eagles danced around the nest before and after eating.
While photographing I didn’t realize that one of the adults was searching for the sounds my camera was making until it was looking directly at me. Once spotted the eagle began screeching and flew a short distance away while the eaglets hid inside their huge nest built from large sticks.
A little while later the young eagles began peering over the sides at me again and I decided it was time to leave them so they could continue on with life. Soon I expect they will be flying and difficult to find near the nest but it was fun and educational to watch them for a few hours.
The snow is quickly melting and warmer temperatures are moving in bringing with it an increased desire to go outside and leave our winter dens in Minnesota. People are smiling more and generally in a better mood. Geese are taking advantage of more open water and making their annual trek north in search of places for food and the perfect nesting grounds.
Ducks are following suite as there are numerous different types that we don’t usually see except for their migrations. As water becomes more accessible there are more and more flying through. Even though the ice is retreating it is very likely these ducks will be dealing with a spring snow storm or two yet.
It’s nice to be able to spend more time outdoors with lighter coats and not be cold after awhile. It won’t be long before the trees will begin showing signs of life confirming winter is in months past. This year spring seems to be a few weeks early which many people seem to agree is perfectly ok. Only a few that are passionate for winter activities are morning the loss of snow and ice.
Even though there appears to be no sign of life in the trees there is one that is taking advantage of this early part of spring – pussy willows. They are quickly extending their buds and preparing to flower. An event many miss as this happens while there may be a few spots of snow and ice still visible. Amazing to me that these plants can grow so quickly with temperatures cooling off to below freezing at night.
As these pussy willows progress you see these bright yellow pollen shedding anthers basking in the brighter sunlight inviting any insect nearby. Watching for a short time reveals a multitude of bugs stirring and consuming this abundance of food that never appeared to be alive a few moments before. Yes, spring has begun and so has the re-appearance of life after surviving in the cold, barren landscape for so many months.