Hints that winter is near an end begin to surface

Rob Zimmer, Leader Columnist

Photo by Rob Zimmer Robins are beginning to appear in many areas locally, a sign of spring hope for those who spot them.

Photo by Rob Zimmer If you look up, the maples are in full flower bud, waiting for the first warm winds of March to open.

As we pass the peak of the winter season, Mother Nature is already showing signs and promise of the coming spring. Throughout our yards, gardens and wild places, the signs are there, some subtle, some quite obvious. Spring is on its way.

The extended January thaw we experienced helped the transition along, and now in mid-February, we see another big warmup.

Streams, creeks and rivers that normally hold their ice well into March are already running wild and free. In some areas of the state, the National Weather Service issued flood warnings for the rising waters, normally not seen until March or April.

Ice jams created problems along several state rivers as well as the warm weather and rainfall swelled rivers and streams beyond their banks.

Look closer

Our neighbors, the trees, are among the first wild creatures to show signs of the coming spring. Look closely at your maple trees. What do you see?

Most maples now boast colorful clusters of flower buds ready to burst open when the warmth of spring sunshine falls across the land.

Rising sap continues to swell the buds until they burst open into glorious bloom in March and April. Soon, maple syrup tapping will begin, the annual collection of sweet sap that has become a tradition throughout the state.

Winged wonders

Cardinals began singing their spring siren song last week across Shawano and Outagamie counties. This is their love song, and although they’re here year round, their piercing song traditionally begins to fill the air in late February through early June.

Large numbers of American robins have been spotted throughout Wisconsin in recent weeks. While this is not entirely unusual in some spots, many residents still get excited over the sighting of the first robin of the year.

Robins traditionally do overwinter in Wisconsin in moderate numbers. This is especially true in areas along waterways and locations rich in berries and crab apples.

Reports of sandhill cranes in several spots also are encouraging signs of spring. In fact, at least one pair of sandhill cranes has remained as far north as Door County the entire winter season.

Tundra swans can still be seen at locations from the Madison area to open water areas in the Fox Cities and along the shores of Lake Michigan as far north as Washington Island.

Winter nesters

Already, great horned owls and bald eagles are preparing nest locations and ready to begin raising a new generation of spectacular birds of prey.

Great horned owls throughout the states are on nest sites and the first eggs have been laid. Generally, anywhere from late January into March is peak owl egg laying time.

The eagles in many areas are repairing nests and readying them for the coming of their breeding season beginning soon.

The days are getting longer, daffodils are beginning to pop in area gardens, skunk cabbage is emerging in wetlands throughout the state and waterfowl numbers are increasing from the south as birds begin to trickle north.

The signs of spring are everywhere. Soon, the wonders of the new season will be upon us.

Find Rob Zimmer online at, or on Facebook at Listen to Outdoors with Rob Zimmer from 7-8 a.m. every Saturday on