Spring's Ecological Milestones - Columbia Land Trust
A mid-season guide to springtime in the Pacific Northwest

Each year, we look forward to spring’s rejuvenation. Spring in the Pacific Northwest is a remarkable experience whether it’s your first year in the region, or you’ve spent a lifetime here. The trees and foliage are fuller and greener, birds are singing, and colorful wildflowers are blooming. We’re a little bit past the half-way point in our unique Northwest spring—a perfect time to appreciate landscapes teeming with life and nature’s lively processes in action.

Whether you’re exploring new outdoor areas close to home, returning to your favorite local trails or parks, or even just looking out your window, spring is happening right in front of you! Here’s what to look for:

As you make your way through nature, notice the trees. Conifers may catch your eye. You can see the brighter colored new growth that extends off of the branch tips. If you look close enough, you may see the buds of needles bursting. In addition, deciduous trees are going through a wonderful transformation this time of year. The branches are no longer bare and luscious new leaves are starting to grow. 

Starting in late April, flowers like balsamroot, lomatium, and lupine—just to name a few—start to bloom. The Pacific Northwest is blanketed in colors ranging from bright yellow and a watercolor of green to vibrant red and white. Bees, butterflies, and other insects dance from flower to flower as pollination begins. The east side of the Columbia Gorge is famous for its colorful wildflower explosion during this time of year. 

Listen to the sounds of nature—the trees blowing in the wind, the birds chirping and singing their songs, the buzzing of new life. Birds are an amazing sign of spring and starting in March many make their way up the Great Basin Flyway. As the days get warmer, you’ll start to notice more birds in your backyard or at your favorite sites throughout the Columbia River region. Some of these temporary visitors include warblers and sandhill cranes. Sandhill cranes are fall and spring migrators and don’t stick around our area for the summer. Our Cranes’ Landing site in Vancouver, Washington provides a vital pit stop for the migrators while they forage and rest.

Western tanagers have also started making their way to the Pacific Northwest. These birds have bright orange around their eyes and beak and yellow and black plumage. They like to hang out in the treetops of conifers and forage for food. This time of year is their breeding season, so you may hear a male’s song before seeing these bright-colored vocalists. 

Your environment will tell you a lot about what kinds of birds you might observe. Wet, grassy meadows will be filled with common yellowthroats and song sparrows, while thick brush riparian areas will be full of MacGillivray’s warblers, orange-crowned warblers, and Rufous hummingbirds. Cottonwood and ash trees will be filled with Swainson’s thrushes, black-headed grosbeaks, Pacific-sloped flycatchers, and pileated woodpeckers. As you lift up out of the riparian areas and into Douglas-fir forests, you’ll hear golden-crowned kinglets, red crossbills, Stellar’s jays.

Flycatchers, thrushes, hummingbirds, swallows, and grosbeaks are also moving through our region this time of year.  However, many of these birds are hard to see because they are shy or because they spend most of their time in thick brush or high in the trees. Now is the perfect time to treat yourself to some birding and use your ears to listen to the birds around you.

If you’re on the Oregon Coast, look for shorebirds like sandpipers and black-bellied plovers. Many of these birds are just passing through as they migrate to their breeding grounds. You can find them on beaches and mudflats in Willapa Bay, feeding on clams, shrimp, and worms. To maximize sightings, be sure to head to these areas after high tide. Once the tide makes its way out, the birds are able to scavenge for food on the shores and you will be able to watch the feeding frenzy!

Deer and their fawns can be seen lounging in fields and tall grasses. Boats by the dozen are out on the Columbia River during the spring run of Chinook salmon. In the evening, pacific tree frogs will call as they come out of hibernation and leap into spring breeding. The sights, sounds, and smells of spring in the Pacific Northwest are what make it one of the liveliest seasons in the region.

Spring’s milestones and ecological processes teach us lessons of resilience and growth as we go through the seasons of our own lives. A trillium growing through English ivy shows us that we can overcome challenges and find a way to thrive. The deciduous trees growing new, full leaves teach us that even after the coldest of winters, we still grow and flourish. When we spend time outside this spring, we reconnect with ourselves and the new nature that is growing in our backyards, on our favorite trails, and in other natural areas around us.

Spring is a time to bloom, to reflect, and to start anew.

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If you find yourself inspired by spring’s systems, use #FearlessNature on your social media shots so we can see the outdoor places you love during the springtime.