The hunt for Spring
Winter seems to never end! Where, oh where is spring green?! When it arrives, it will look like this. Tempting, isn’t it!
Here’s how to go looking for it.
The calendar marks the evening of March 19, 2020, as the start of spring. That means the 20th is the first full day.
But it sure does not look like it. This is the earliest spring equinox since sometime in the 1800’s. So here in the Northern Plains, actual conditions do not mirror the calendar or the track of the sun across the equinox.
Any day now, you can go out and look for spring green. Or you can wait a few days. Then, head to either units of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park near Medora or near Watford City.
Give it 10 days. The first week in April will be a good time to look for green.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Any other year, we’d say to first check in to the visitor center of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
However, because of the corona-virus national shutdown, the visitor centers at the North and South units are closed for now.
While they are closed, you can consult the maps and announcements on the outside bulletin boards. There you will see any notices that are posted, maps and good information for your hunt for spring. When they reopen, the rangers there can help you find just what you are looking for — even pointing out on maps the best places to see color, especially green.
First Signs of Spring Green
The first sign of spring is the buds. Look closely as they begin to emerge. You probably will not find any now in March, as spring starts, but by April 1, you should see buds.
Where’s the Wildlife?
Each spring, our number one goal is to look for babies.
If that’s your goal, too, bring binoculars and a telephoto lens so you don’t have to get too close to the newborns.
The store in Medora called “Chasing Horses” does a fantastic job of keeping track of newborns. In fact, they can be your go-to place to start. They can give you directions to good places to hike in the south unit. Have you thought of taking advantage of a tour guide from Chasing Horses?
We recommend, in the south unit –Jones Creek Trail
Last spring, we picked Jones Creek Trail to explore for spring green. You will do well to try it also. Just use the trail head as a starting point, but you don’t need to stay exactly on the trail. It was a bit later in the year. April. And it was just the right time to see new crocuses.
We prefer to hike across country, from point to point as we go. If you’re in shape and you keep an eye on your starting point, looking back frequently, you’ll have a rewarding stroll.
We hiked to high point off of Jones Creek trail, and we saw this! A cow who appeared to be in a moment of birthing. Notice her raised tail.
Sure enough, off to the side, one of the first bison calves of spring.
We stayed there at that last high spot for half an hour or so, eating our meager lunch and watching the mom and calf. She grazed leisurely, and eventually, with baby next to her, made their way west. Later we saw a herd of bison in that direction. Sure enough, that was where she was headed. And in that herd were at least two more new calves!
Curious Prairie Dogs
Our hike back to the trail head took us through a lively prairie dog town. The little critters were busy munching grass, just like the bison and horses we saw. They were a bit more curious, though, ever popping up and down out of their dens.
And That’s Not All!
We began to pack our vehicle at the trail head, and took time to relax and re-hydrate. As we did, off in the distance we saw more wild life. And lots of it!
Horses again! Out came our cameras once more.
Then we carefully picked our spots for viewing, photographing, and recording. The two of us spread out. We’ve learned that just because we think wildlife is one place, it doesn’t mean there can’t be more in an adjacent area. We double our chances for a unique photo by splitting up.
More Than We Thought!
We viewed at least two bands of horses, or perhaps it was one band, separated wide apart. We counted a minimum of seventeen horses. They moved in different directions, and we moved too, to keep our distance. We were rewarded with many photo opportunities!
Glowing in the Golden Hour
As the sun lower in the sky, the shadows grew long and the spring green landscape took on a golden glow. The Golden Hour! We left the horses as they still grazed peacefully, and made our way out of the park. The wildlife we saw didn’t end! Our day was a total success, and one of the most prolific we’d experienced for viewing wild life in the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Who knows what to expect this spring. If weather conditions are anywhere within the spread of “normal” conditions, you can head out to look for spring. Just watch the weather trends. Checking a snapshot of weather at 6 or 10 pm one evening is not enough. Watch the trends for 5 to 10 days out. See how it changes, and you will be prepared to hunt for spring.