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Spring Surprises After a Long Cold Winter

What can we expect from the birds and the bees this spring? Be prepared for an unusual flock of visitors, a riot of colors and some creepy experiences.

Bird-watchers in Central Park received a rare treat

The Red Necked Grebe, an aquatic bird that normally winters in Canada and the Great Lakes, was last seen in Central Park in 2003, and before that in 1987. The colder than usual weather this past winter froze the bird’s natural habitat and they were forced to move further south in search of food. Deborah Allen, who conducts bird walks in Central Park says, “This year the bird was spotted on the reservoir in New York’s Central Park. I saw one with dull winter plumage in March this year, but last week I saw another in its more advanced-breeding plumage.”

Some insect species die and others thrive

Prof. Chang Lu Wa, of the Entomology Department at Rutgers University specializes in urban insects. He says “cold weather will reduce insect populations that live in open environments, but not destroy them.” We should expect to see fewer lady bugs and brown mamorated stink bugs this spring. These insects live in dark spaces — under tree barks, on the siding of walls or under windowsill — and are unlikely to have survived the past winter in large numbers. For similar reasons, New York is less likely to lose its ash trees to invasive species like the ash borers that eat away at the base of these trees and gradually destroy them. Insects that live in shallow soil, like caterpillars, are less hardy but those that burrow into the soil to make nests such as termites and ants would not have been affected by the cold weather.

Gardeners take note, shrubs may have been adversely affected by the cold

The buds on some trees prefer warmer winters, like the Japanese Apricot and Crape-Myrtle. Both were damaged by the cold winter, according to Deanna Curtis, Curator of Woody Plants at the New York Botanical Gardens. But, in general the trees commonly planted on New York City streets and parks have fared much better as they are accustomed to colder winter temperatures. Some common backyard plantings, like holly and rhododendron, however, are likely to have suffered winter burn over this past season. Curtis suggests a wait and see approach on broad-leaved evergreens that have lost their leaves before any aggressive pruning of these shrubs, as they may push out new growth. Other commonly planted shrubs, like hydrangea, have seen more damaged this year and can be cut back hard by removing any dead stems. Her general advice, expect most species to be two weeks to a month later in blooming this year than a more typical year. On the bright side, Curtis says, “despite the long, cold winter we endured; this slow, cool spring has allowed us to enjoy a prolonged period of bloom for many species, like cherries and daffodils, this spring.”

Produce may be late in coming to the market this year

There shouldn’t be any change in what produce is available, though when it is available might differ due to the harsh winter as some farms were forced to put off planting this season because of the unusually protracted cold weather. Laura McDonald of GreenMaket, a non-profit organization that supports local farmers and organizes farmers markets around New York, says, “Ramps, usually the first sign of Spring at the market, were a couple of weeks behind this year. However, today we saw our first asparagus at the market, which is about on time. We don’t expect any particular crops will necessarily have a bad season. Although, that really is up to Mother Nature as we learned this winter!”


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