Updated for 2018
The First Signs of Spring
March in Connecticut can still feel very much like winter. It’s not terribly unusual to get a snowfall in March and some extremely cold days, but the over-all temperature is generally above freezing on most days, with a few exceptionally warm days mixed in. However, with the beginning of March, it starts becoming undeniable that spring is finally upon us as we see the first early flowers and leaf buds on trees appear. The spring equinox is on March 20th and officially begins the season of spring.
While the forests are still mostly devoid of green plant life, and quite brown, it is in the suburbs where the early signs of spring generally first appear. It’s begins with the early Crocus flowers in the lawns and the first daffodils poking out the ground and flowering. We also begin to see early tree flowers such as Magnolia. On an exceptionally warm day we will even see the first reptiles; snakes and turtles, coming out of hibernation.
Many of the winter migrant birds are still around in March. The hooded mergansers and ring neck ducks are still often seen on the ponds. However we also start seeing some of the spring/summer birds return such as the Eastern bluebird and certain shoreline birds such as the killdeer.
There still isn’t too much to see in regards to fungi and slime molds except some of the hardy year-round polypores and jelly fungus. Mammals are limited more or less to the year-round visitors such as squirrels and deer. It’s also still a bit early for the emergence of notable insects, other than what normally lives in the houses. Most amphibians are still absent, however it’s not too uncommon to see tadpoles in a pond or a frog basking in the sun if it’s an exceptionally warm day.
Foraging in Connecticut kicks-off to a slow start in March. Unfortunately, most of the early spring flowering plants are not edible, many of which are down-right poisonous and deadly, such as the winter Aconite. We do however start seeing more dandelion flowers (edible) and the very first signs of ramps (wild onion) poking out of the ground at the very end of March, although they really are not ready for harvest until mid-to-late April.
March Species of Interest
We have picked-out a few species from each category that we think are important to look for and be aware of in the month of March. While there are many more species out there, this list should acquaint you with what you are most likely to see outside. For the sake of keeping it interesting, we generally skip-over most the year-round species such as squirrels, deer, blue jays, crows, and evergreens, but since March is often lacking in mammal diversity we may highlight some of them.
We have not found any notable amphibian species for the month of March. While it’s possible to see tadpoles in the ponds and a frog basking on an exceptionally warm day, it’s not very common.
Many of the migrant winter birds are still around and we also get a few of the spring/summer birds beginning to return.
Most of the fungi encountered in March will be the hardy polypores that remain year-round as well as a few jelly fungi.
Black witches’ butter
The only notable insects we are aware of for March are house pests such as stink bugs, spiders, centipedes, and pill bugs. We have nothing else notable to report at this time.
Lichens tend to persist all year long, but have a new growth phase in the warmer months. We don’t have any notable lichens for the month of March.
Many mammals go into hibernation during the winter months and most of what is left we tend to see year-round, such as squirrels, deer, and chipmunks. We don’t have any notable mammals to report for the month of March.
While many mosses may be able to persist through the winter, they are generally not in a growth phase. Most of the mosses encountered in the winter months will have turned brown. We only have one notable moss species to report for the month of March.
Tree ground pine
The emergence of early spring flowers is most noticeable near the suburbs. Unfortunately most of these are poisonous as well. The skunk cabbage flowers which emerge in March are capable of producing their own heat (thermogenesis) to melt any surrounding snow.
Eastern skunk cabbage
While it is typically too cold for most reptiles, we have seen a few painted turtles and garter snakes out on a warm day.
Eastern painted turtle
(Chrysemys picta picta)
Eastern garter snake
(Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis)
We have no notable sea creatures to report for the month of March.
We don’t have any notable slime molds for the month of March. While it is possible to see them during a warm spell, they are generally dormant during the colder months.
While the forests are still mostly brown in March, we begin to see emerging leaves budding on the end of branches as well as a few early tree flowers. It’s not until April that the tree leaves really begin to show.
(Magnolia × soulangeana)
American pussy willow
Foraging in Connecticut picks-up to a slow start in March. While we get a number of early spring flowers, most of them are poisonous. One good exception is dandelions, which are edible and early spring is a prime time for picking dandelion flowers and young leaves, both of which can be used fresh in salads. Dandelion flowers are also sometimes fried in a light batter or used to make dandelion wine. It is very important however to avoid consuming dandelions which may have been sprayed with pesticides, lawn fertilizers, or herbicides.
Besides dandelions, at the very end of March we will see the first ramps (wild onion) begin to poke out of the ground. While they are edible, they have not yet developed their tops and it’s best to give them a couple of weeks to mature before harvesting. Young ramp shoots tend to have milder flavor that is spicy but not to heavy with chlorophyll flavor. There is a concern that you may misidentify a young ramp with nearby poisonous plants such as swamp hellebore and Jack-in-the-pulpit, which tend to push out of the ground around the same time and bear some slight resemblance. They can be distinguised by their lack of onion smell and different shaped root structure.
While it is not in the nature of ConnecticutWilderness.com to go into detail about hunting, garter snakes and painted turtles are technically edible, as well as the common mammals such as squirrels, deer, and rabbits. Likewise, the edible dabbling ducks such as wood ducks and mallards are still abundant. If one was trying to survive by foraging and hunting alone, March is a season in which hunting and fishing is still necessary for survival.
We have chosen a few recommended hikes and places to visit during the month of March. While the forests are still mostly brown, the best places to hike in March are often near the suburbs and areas that maintain a level of landscaping, as that is where many of the early spring flowers are found.
Earthplace is a great place to break in your legs in preparation for longer hikes in the upcoming months. Earthplace has a nice mix of landscaped flower gardens, new forest, swamps, and meadows, and this diversity of habitat provides for a lot of opportunity to see early spring flowers and birds.
Cos Cob, CT
Like Earthplace, the Montgomery Pinetum also provides a diverse habitat of mixed forest, swamps, landscaped flower gardens, but is quite a bit larger with more hiking trails to explore. While the trails are not very difficult, it’s a great place to wander around for an hour or two for good exercise.
Preparing for April
It’s hard to not be excited. While there still may be some unpredictable snow-falls, April tends to be a great month. While rain is common, it also signals a great explosion of spring flowers, green forests again, and watching this part of the world come out of it’s deep sleep of winter. There is much to do in April. Foraging will pickup with lots of fresh greens to look for including wild ramps, garlic mustard, and other leafy edibles. Fungi will still be pretty limited until the mid-summer but if you’re lucky you might stumble across a few morels.
If the weather is sunny and warm, it’s a great month to test out those legs and go for a longer hike at some of the larger nature preserves and check out the forests which should be full of birds and mammals entering their mating season and putting on a great display of audacity.