THIS WEEK at HILTON POND 15-21 March 2002


According to astronomers, spring arrived this year at exactly 2:17 p.m. EST when the position of the Earth shifted in relation to the sun for perhaps the 15 billionth time. We suspect that, just as the sun entered the constellation Aries and passed over the equator, folks with cabin fever shouted joyously across the Northern Hemisphere to denote that spring had officially arrived. In fact, here at Hilton Pond Center we vigorously rang a cowbell to indicate our pleasure at making it through one more winter.

Forsythia blooming at Hilton Pond

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

For parts of the U.S.--Arizona and south Florida, for example--it's nearly spring-like even in winter, but for those of us in the Carolina Piedmont where it sometimes gets 'way down into the 20s for one or two days each January, we're glad to herald the arrival of the spring solstice. Lest we get too smug, however, we're fully aware that March in the Piedmont often comes with meteorological surprises such as ice storms and blasts from a wayward "Alberta Clipper" that can't seem to read the calendar right.

At Hilton Pond Center, spring for several weeks has been sending advance hints of its imminent arrival. Carolina Anole, Anolis carolinensisHormonally charged Spring Peepers and Upland Chorus Frogs have been been calling since early February, and the Jonquils practically shot out of the ground even before that. American Redbuds and the big Forsythia bush near Hilton Pond (above) burst into bloom this week in conjunction with two separate days of warm spring rains--much-needed precipitation events that actually raised the pond's all-time-low water level by 3.1 inches.

But we knew spring REALLY had arrived by 21 March when we walked past our now-depleted firewood pile (right) and noticed two male Carolina Anoles--bright green not only from warm temperatures but also because of the excitement that comes with flaunting their territorial displays at each other.

Another sign of spring is apparent in the flock of American Goldfinches vying for perches on the thistle seed feeder. All winter the males have been a drab olive-green, but now they're taking on a calico appearance. Tufts of brilliant yellow feathers appear in almost random locations on a male's back and breast (below left), and the spot on his forehead that will be jet black well before the summer breeding season is beginning to reappear. American Goldfinch male, in spring moltEven drab females are showing a little yellow here and there. We've always wondered why these goldfinches turn colors so early in the year, since they are among the last of our Piedmont songbirds to actually breed.

All these phenomena do indeed tell us it's spring at Hilton Pond Center, but perhaps our favorite first signs of the season are the blossoms beginning to show on our Trumpet Honeysuckle vines (below). These tubular red blossoms are just the right size and shape to be pollinated by Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, which we have been without--and missing badly--since early last October. Sure, it's been fun traipsing around this winter to band vagrant hummers--especially the first Buff-bellied Hummingbird ever recorded in South Carolina. To be honest, though, we're more than ready for spring hummingbird migration to begin and for ruby-throats we banded years ago to return to our feeders.

Spring has sprung at Hilton Pond Center, but we won't be satisfied it's really here until that first Ruby-throated Hummingbird hovers at the old farmhouse window and hums the phrase, "I'm back!"

Trumpet Honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens
All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

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15-21 March 2002

American Goldfinch--8
Dark-eyed Junco--4
Chipping Sparrow--2
Song Sparrow--1
Purple Finch--39
House Finch--2
White-throated Sparrow--2
Eastern Towhee--1

(with original banding dates)

This Week at Hilton Pond
is part of the

8 species
59 individuals

18 species
932 individuals

(since 28 June 1982)
123 species
40,651 individuals

All photos & text © Hilton Pond Center

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Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History is a non-profit research & education organization in York, South Carolina USA; phone (803) 684-5852. Directed by Bill Hilton Jr., aka "The Piedmont Naturalist," it is the parent organization for Operation RubyThroat. Contents of this website--including articles and photos--may NOT be duplicated, modified, or used in any way except with the express written permission of Hilton Pond Center. All rights reserved worldwide. To obtain permission for use or for further assistance on accessing this website, contact: WEBMASTER.