March phenology (the awakening season)

Holy Wisdom Monastery Care for the Earth, Friends of Wisdom Prairie, Phenology 1 Comment

By Sylvia Marek

American frog

American toad in Lost Lake at Holy Wisdom Monastery


Phenology is a science focused on observing and recording biological events from year to year and their relationships to the change of seasons and climate.

These are the “normal” phenology events we expect to see here and in the Madison area this month. We would love to hear about what you are seeing on the grounds of Holy Wisdom Monastery. Please comment on this post with what you are observing, where at Holy Wisdom and the date you observed the event.

No month ends or begins overnight. Events can be a few weeks early or late.


  • Sun is higher and warmer
  • Vernal Equinox (daylight is equal to darkness)
  • Ice out on ponds and lakes
  • Spring thaw (frost out of the ground)
  • Mud
  • First thunderstorms, spring rains and floods


  • More bird songs can be heard: cardinals, mourning doves, chickadees, tufted titmice, robins, finches, white-breasted nuthatches and woodpeckers drum.
  • Bird activity increases
  • Male and female cardinals sing all day, set up territories, males feed females
  • Chickadees pair up and excavate cavities in rotten wood
  • Goldfinches start turning yellow due to a partial molt
  • Blue jays continue to chase females
  • Starlings’ bills turn yellow and feather tips wear off revealing glossy black plumage
  • Some pine siskins nest and later go north
  • Crows carry nesting material
  • Great horned owls feed young
  • Barred owls lay eggs in cavities
  • Screech owls call
  • Red-tailed hawks continue aerial activities and build nests
  • Eagles build or add to nests

Spring bird migration begins

  • Winter visitors migrate to northern Wisconsin, juncos and tree sparrows flock, chase and sing before leaving
  • Birds arrive from the south: robins, bluebirds, red-winged blackbirds, brown-headed cowbirds, common grackles, more starlings, meadowlarks, killdeer, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, phoebes, winter wrens, Eastern towhees, Northern flickers, great blue herons, sandhill cranes and field, fox, song and swamp sparrows
  • Wood cock “peent” and perform aerial courtship sky dances
  • Wilson’s snipe winnow in wetlands
  • Raptors arrive: turkey vulture, kestrel, broad-wing hawk and Northern harrier
  • Most waterfowl species can be found on open water: Canada Geese, tundra swans, coot, loon, lesser scaup, wood duck, Northern shoveler, ruddy duck, pied-billed grebe, blue-winged teal, canvas back, hooded and red-breasted merganser


  • Chipmunks, woodchucks and striped ground squirrels emerge
  • Gray squirrels have young
  • Cottontail rabbits have their first litter of the year
  • Red fox have pups
  • Flying squirrels, striped skunk, raccoon, coyote, gray fox and opossum mate

Insects and spiders are active on warm days

  • Look for overwintering adult butterflies such as mourning cloak, angel wings and red admiral
  • Some overwintering moth species are active
  • Look for the cocoons of cecropia and promethean moths
  • Snow fleas or springtails can be found on remaining snow or on top of puddles
  • Midges form aerial swarms
  • Mayfly and stonefly larvae move over rocks
  • Look for whirligig beetles and water striders on open ponds or calm streams
  • Honey bees make cleansing flights
  • Bumble bee queens search for nesting sites


  • Sap begins to flow when days are around 45° and nights around 25°
  • Sapcicles hang from broken twigs and branches
  • Red osier dogwood stems glow red
  • Willow twigs and branches have an amber hue
  • Buds swell
  • Silvery catkins of pussy willows expand
  • Red and yellow flowers of the silver maple open
  • Hazelnut male catkins expand. Look for the tiny star-like red female flowers
  • Skunk cabbage blooms in wetlands
  • Pasque flowers bloom on dry prairies
  • Look for draba on bended knee
  • Some years hepatica, bloodroot, toothwort and Dutchman’s breeches bloom

Other events

  • Wood frogs, spring peepers and chorus frogs begin calling
  • Salamanders leave woodlands and migrate to ponds on warm rainy nights
  • Turtles bask in the sun
  • Garter snakes come out of their hibernacula
  • Little brown bats fly at night


Sylvia Marek is a highly trained and experienced naturalist. She works for the University of Wisconsin Arboretum and is a first rate birder.

Please share the biological events you notice while at Holy Wisdom Monastery below (remember to include what you see, where and when).

Comments 1

  1. I have many great memories of various biological events which I witnessed on the monastery grounds. My favorite ducks are Buffleheads and I have seen them every spring, usually in March on Lost Lake. One midsummer night a few years ago I went for a night walk just after dark and took my binoculars. I was so glad I did because there were millions of fireflies that night and looking at them through the binoculars was like looking up at the Milky Way. It was a bit disorienting; like there were stars on ground level. While I was watching the fireflies, a coyote fairly near to me started calling to another one. It was one of the most magical walks I have ever taken.

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