The sugar maple tree was officially named Wisconsin’s state tree 70 years ago, even though the idea was discussed as early as 1893.
While there were other tree considerations— namely the stately oak, white pine and American elm —the schoolchildren’s vote prevailed for Acer saccharum, a hard maple.
Few trees challenge the maple as a harbinger of spring. Maple sap begins flowing, sometimes as early as Valentine’s Day. Squirrels, birds and even white-tailed deer come to lick the leaking juices or snap at morning sapcicles. A number of animals, including gray and fox squirrels, feed on the expanding flower buds since nuts are scarce and snow can sometimes be knee deep.
Even without leaves, sugar, silver, red, boxelder and hybrid maples provide easy identification as well as sweet spring treats.
Gray squirrels, somewhat lesser than fox squirrels, win possession of best licking posts, which they fight for. Black-capped chickadees and white-breasted nuthatches simulate other birds who will steal from yellow-bellied sapsuckers when the woodpeckers arrive with their own drilling tool.
Deer must have found the maple particularly attractive this year after decimating cedars, cypresses, pines and firs.
Now-open field grass, alfalfa stems and other left over vegetation interests these ruminants more than sugary fluid.
Deer are more content now that ground vegetation is accessible. Great green gobs are being ground between cheek and gum as food is brought up from the rumen, causing evident cheek bulges, even on dozing deer.
People have scrambled to the sugar bush too, carrying pails, drills, tubing and hammers to collect their own sap for kitchen syrup production. Many go beyond a few quarts of syrup and carry their spring harvest off to farmers’ markets.
Returning birds, including killdeers, red-winged blackbirds, sandhill cranes and bluebirds are often heard before seen.
Recent floodwaters put a quick damper on trout fishing, but not for as long as one might expect. An everyday angler during the January to October season, Bret Schultz, said the water in one of his daily streams (Black Earth Creek) was not as high as the summer flood, and some parts may be fished as early as midweek.
“It’s about time, at least on smaller waters, of expecting to see some early mayflies,” he said. Try a little blue-winged olive pattern, he suggests.
Natural Resources Foundation field trips are open for signing up. Check the latest issue of Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine, the one that comes with patron licenses, can be subscribed to, or purchased individually.
April 8, starting at 7 p.m. is the Annual Spring fish and wildlife public hearing meeting in every county. Proposed rule changes and advisory questions relating to fish and wildlife management highlight the sessions.
Leftover turkey hunting authorizations are now on sale online or in person any license and permit method.
Open fields have brought more than herds of whitetails. Displaying, gobbling and fighting toms are free to walk easily in most areas. As they spread to spring strutting areas, morning gobbling is more noticeable too.
Willow catkins are beginning to expand and skunk cabbage flowers are shedding pollen, signaling the plant world’s beginning of spring things.