Despite winter's toll, signs of spring are starting to pop up all over the county

OUTDOORS

March 06, 1994|By GARY DIAMOND

It must be spring. Or at least, on the surface it appears that way, mainly because winter has hampered us for more than five months.

A few days ago, a robin mistakenly landed in my front yard, obviously hoping to find something edible among the blades of grass protruding through a thin layer of solid ice. It walked along, pausing frequently, tilting its head and pecking at the frozen ground.

A puzzled expression appeared on its face, especially when its beak bounced back as if it slammed into a brick wall. After a few minutes of unsuccessful worming, it left, flying in a southerly direction.

This harbinger of spring wasn't the only sign of what we can expect during the next few weeks. Although the water temperature in most Harford County streams still hovers just above freezing, large numbers of white suckers are beginning to congregate in deep holes situated beneath bridges.

When the water temperature rises to 43 degrees, these fish will begin a weeklong spawning ritual, then go on a feeding binge that could last an additional three weeks.

Certain types of trees also are showing signs of awakening after a long winter of hibernation. Unfortunately, the 1993-94 winter proved disastrous to some types of trees, especially white pines.

According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources' Forestry Division, Maryland is the northernmost range for certain species of pines, thus accounting for much of the damage recently incurred by both eastern white and loblolly pines. Wet snow, ice and bitter cold temperatures devastated mature trees throughout the area, with some damaged to the point where they resemble totem poles.

The loss of trees, whether by natural attrition or commercial development of forested areas, produces a ripple effect that's -- damaging to other valuable natural resources.

Currently, moderating temperatures, coupled with heavy rains, produced flooding, especially in the lower reaches of Winters Run and the Gunpowder Valley. In forested areas, intricate root systems of trees and forest understory plants act like a massive sponge, absorbing huge volumes of water. The moisture then is slowly released, passes through several layers of fractured rock and eventually enters the water table.

Obviously, forests, trees and plants are not only essential for the survival of wildlife, but they ultimately play an important role in our own survival. It's in our best interest to safeguard existing woodlands and wherever possible, plant trees.

"This coming week, while supplies last, we'll be giving away white pine seedings at the Home and Flower Show in Timonium," said Eric Schwab, director of DNR's Forestry Division.

"We sell trees raised at state forest nurseries, at our cost. Most of the trees are seedings that can be used for erosion control, wind-breaks and wildlife cover. Now's the time to order them and have a wide variety of trees available, however, we require them to planted in quarter-acre blocks. They can be ordered by calling (800) TREES-MD.

"If you don't know the type of trees to plant or where to place them, the DNR will be more than happy to provide landowners with technical assistance from local foresters. If people want trees to plant in their yards, they should be purchased from local nurseries."

Although your back yard may not qualify for DNR-supplied trees, you still can landscape a large area of your property with trees and plants that benefit wildlife. This year's Home & Flower Show features a nature sanctuary at the entrance to the beautifully displayed gardens. Landscaping experts will be on hand to answer all your questions about how, where and when to plant specific plants to improve the environment.

The Maryland Home & Garden Show opens Wednesday and runs through next Sunday. Hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and 10 '' a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.

Admission is $7 for adults, $2 for children ages 6-12 and children under 6 are admitted free. Advance tickets can be purchased at participating First National Banks of Maryland and Giants.

For additional information, call (410) 969-8585.

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