First of Year sightings

When I lived and worked in the wilds of southwest Florida, one of the hallmarks of early spring was the return of the swallow-tailed kites from their winter trek to South America. There was an unspoken (OK – it was pretty well-spoken) contest among my friends and colleagues to be the first person to see and document the first swallow-tailed kite sighting of the year sometime around mid-February. They are such magnificent birds, with their long forked tails, and such a joy to see flying above the cypress trees of southwest Florida.

Swallow-tailed kite at CREW in 2004 (photo by Deb Hanson)

This year in North Carolina, my small group of naturalist-minded friends have begun announcing to each other our first-of-year (FOY) sightings, particularly of migrating birds, but also other critters that show up this time of year. Our friend, Mike, wrote about FOY sightings recently in this article in Walter magazine. Here at Pokeberry Pines we’ve been delighted to see and hear a number of firsts – Louisiana waterthrushes down by the creek, ruby-throated hummingbirds, green lacewings in the garden, crab spiders on the deck, green tree frogs on a watering can, purple spiderwort blooms, and, yes, even my first tick (crawling across my cheek).

Green treefrog
Green lacewing
Spiderwort flowers

In addition to seeing all the first critters and blooms, we’ve also been watching the permanent residents start building nests and laying eggs in and around our front porch – bluebirds, phoebes, house finches, Carolina wrens.

Bluebird eggs in our box out front

Yesterday, as I was sitting on the deck eating my lunch, I saw a magical first. I thought it was another tiger swallowtail flitting through the butterfly garden, but then I saw it land on the butterflyweed and then the common milkweed and then back on the butterflyweed. I grabbed my binoculars and realized it was the first female monarch of the season, laying eggs – on EVERY milkweed plant in the garden! She landed and deposited a delicate egg on each plant, then began flitting around looking for more milkweeds.

I’m glad our milkweeds are coming up in good numbers this year, but they will have to do some fast growing to keep up with the munching of so many young caterpillars! It is clear we will need to plant more milkweed to support the monarchs this year and in the future. Still, it was such a delight to watch her so meticulously deposit eggs on each host plant, doing her job to keep the species going.

In a seasons full of firsts, we are grateful to wake up each day, walk through the yarden, see wonders at each turn, and find peace and joy in sharing this space with so many amazing and magical plants and critters. We’re still waiting for the summer tanagers and ghost fireflies to show up, but I’m sure it won’t be long now.

What firsts have you experienced in nature this spring?


    • For sure, Joe. Just a couple of days ago I stopped and pondered the unfolding season and thought, no matter what else is going on in the world or my life, I can always count on the sun coming up each day, the moon cycling through its phases, and the birds and blooms and bugs to show up in their own time in their own ways. It’s a comfort to me.

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