Yellow Warbler (Karl Egressy)

Yellow Warbler (Karl Egressy)


After the brutal winter we’ve been through, most of us are awaiting the arrival of the true spring with bated breath. I think it’s fair to say that we’ve already bought and paid for the coming warmth and greening of the landscape with the cold and snow we’ve endured since November. As a reminder of what we can anticipate, I’ve provided a list of the mileposts of spring’s progression and when the events usually occur. However, should the abnormally cool weather continue, many of these happenings will no doubt be delayed. This will be especially true for flowering dates and the leaf-out of trees. You will notice that for some of the events, there is a YouTube link which will take you directly to a short video where you can see and hear the species in question.


Late April

  • On average, most local lakes are ice‑free by April 20. As to when ice-out will happen this year, however, all bets are off.
  • White‑throated Sparrows are passing through and easily attracted to feeders if you put seed on the ground. Listen, too, for the wavering whistle of their “Oh-sweet-Canada-Canada-Canada” song. YouTube link
  • The courtship flight (YouTube) of the American Woodcock provides nightly entertainment in damp field habitats with scattered trees.
  • The muffled drumming of the Ruffed Grouse (YouTube) is one of the most characteristic sounds of April. The birds drum to advertise territorial claims and to attract a female.
  • Bloodroot joins the wildflower parade about now. Eight large white petals make it stand out, as do the large, deeply cut leaves.
  • Watch for early butterflies such as the Mourning Cloak and the dainty, powder-blue Spring Azure.
  • Don’t miss the April frog song coming from your local wetland. A quartet consisting of Wood Frogs, Spring Peepers, Chorus Frogs and Northern Leopard Frogs provide the voices.
  • The first tropical migrants are arriving back from Central and South America. Among those to be expected right now is the shrubby swamp-loving and very vocal Northern Waterthrush (YouTube).
  • Northward-bound loons fly over Peterborough on late April mornings. Even in flight, they often give their yodeling call (YouTube).


Early May

  • Serviceberries (Juneberries) stand out on roadsides like white beacons against the slowly greening landscape. These small trees have masses of white, five-petal flowers.
  • The damp morning air is rich with the sweet, pungent fragrance of Balsam Poplar resin. The scent originates from the sticky sap that oozes from the buds as they open.
  • Calling both day and night in long, fluid trills, the American Toad (YouTube) provides one of the most characteristic sounds of early May.
  • The Chimney Swift (YouTube), a species at risk, should be back by now in downtown Peterborough. Watch for a bird with a flickering, almost bat-like flight and making a sharp, chippering call.
  • Make sure your nectar feeders are out and ready, because Ruby-throated Hummingbirds return in early May.
  • Butterflies aren’t the only insects that sometimes migrate. Watch, too, for Common Green Darners, our largest dragonfly.
  • It is common this month to see one or two Common Grackles chasing a nest-robbing American Crow, often over a considerable distance.


  • With the exception of ashes and oaks, most trees should have leafed out by now.
  • May 10-20 is the peak of songbird migration with the greatest numbers of migrating warblers, vireos, thrushes, orioles and flycatchers passing through.
  • Magnificent Rose-breasted Grosbeaks sometimes show up at sunflower feeders, so keep your feeders stocked up until month’s end.
  • Windows take a huge toll on migrating birds in the spring and fall. You may wish to try putting “Window Alert” decals on the outside of the pane. The Avant-Garden Shop on Sherbrooke Street sells these.
  • Midland Painted Turtles and, some areas, yellow-throated Blanding’s Turtles are a common sight on logs and hummocks in local wetlands.
  • The song of the Indigo Bunting (YouTube) once again rings out from telephone wires and treetops on the margins of shrubby fields.
  • Woodlots are blanketed by a profusion of spring ephemeral wildflowers such as White Trillium and Trout Lily.
  • Wetlands, roadside ditches, and even backyard swimming pool covers are often teeming with tadpoles at some point this month.


Late May

  • A large variety of mammals gives birth this month. These include beavers, flying squirrels, otters, porcupines, groundhogs, skunks, deer and moose.
  • High in the NE, Ursa Major appears “upside down”, with Polaris and Ursa Minor below it.
  • On warm breezy days, watch for strands of gossamer – fine filaments of spider silk – caught up in tree branches and bushes. Closer examination will often reveal a tiny spider attached to the silk. The filaments can carry a baby spider kilometres away to where it can establish its own territory.
  • Bass and sunfish begin to spawn and are a common sight near docks.
  • Watch for ridges and mounds of soil on lawns. Moles push soil up to the surface as they tunnel through the dirt in search of earthworms.
  • A lot of the birdsong you hear in cottage country at this time of year belongs to the American Redstart (YouTube) and Yellow Warbler (YouTube)

Early June

  • The mysterious yellow dust that covers cars, decks and even shorelines is wind-spread pollen from the male flowers of spruce and pine trees.
  • Male hummingbirds can be seen doing their pendulum courtship flight, almost as if suspended from a string. They fly in wide arcs above and to both sides of the female.
  • The first monarch butterflies of the year – the “grandchildren” of the monarchs that flew south last fall – are usually seen sometime during the first half of June. Numbers, however, are at record lows.
  • Watch for turtles laying their eggs in the sandy margins of roadsides and rail-trails. Remember to slow down when driving through turtle-crossing zones and, if safe, help the reptile across the road.
  • Giant silk moths take wing in June. They include the Cecropia, Polyphemus, Promethea, Luna, and the small, but spectacular, Io moth. The males have large, feather-like antennae, which are sensitive to airborne sex attractants called pheromones.
  • June is the time of the Canadian Tiger Swallowtail. It resembles both a tiger in its yellow and black colouration and a Barn Swallow’s tail in the shape of the wing extensions.
  • Female Balsam Poplars, Trembling Aspens and various willows are now releasing their airborne seeds. The “fluff” collects on lawns and looks like a June snowstorm has hit.



  • Drooping clusters of aromatic, white blossoms hang from nearly every twig of Black Locust trees for a week or so this month.
  • Starring in the roadside flower parade right now are Ox-eye Daisy, Dame’s-rocket, Goat’s-beard, Bladder Campion and Yellow Hawkweed.
  • June is the time of peak nesting activity for many bird species but especially for migrants from the tropics. Keep your cat indoors.
  • Serviceberries, also known as Juneberries, are the first shrubs to boast ripe fruit. Robins love them.
  • The melodious, bird-like trills of the Gray Treefrog (YouTube) provide the music of June nights.
  • The Green Frog’s banjo-like “poink” (YouTube) is a widespread sound in wetlands both day and night.
  • At the summer solstice on June 21, the sun rises and sets farther north than any other day of the year. It is nearly directly overhead at noon and casts the year’s shortest shadows.


Categories: Columns

Drew Monkman

I am a retired teacher, naturalist and writer with a love for all aspects of the natural world, especially as they relate to seasonal change.