Weather jump-starts wildlife

Last updated: April 04. 2014 6:11PM - 619 Views

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Between April 1 and mid-morning on April 3, my electronic gauge collected 4.1 inches of rain. After converting the year’s snow and ice into its liquid equivalent, that’s almost exactly three times as much precipitation as fell during the first three months of 2014 combined.

The southern boundary of the farm my family called “the home place” was a river and a creek ran through the middle of the land my great great grandfather homesteaded, so trust me when I say that dropping that much water on winter-hard, oftentimes bare ground in less than 48 hours has a serious downside for anyone who lives in or farms bottomland.

On the other hand, the ditty, “April showers bring May flowers,” originated in the fact that early April rain storms do a lot more to usher in the spring season than does a date on a calendar, even if that date is based on solar science. As I lay snug in bed, listening to the thunder, several things crossed my mind that are just as important as May flowers.

Floods are temporary events, but the first one in April sparks a number of beneficial environmental changes. First of all, the surging water washes away winter’s algae and replaces semistagnant water with an oxygen and nutrient rich fluid that’s an elixir to every aquatic plant and animal whether it be of microscopic or gargantuan proportions.

Fresh water sparks increased foraging in almost every species of fish. Increased water flows into major reservoirs also trigger upstream migrations in paddlefish, walleye and white bass.

Channel cats won’t spawn until the water warms several degrees, but individuals often make such long runs up streams that they need to begin their trek after the year’s first flood.

Blue cats and flatheads that spend most of their lives in reservoirs or large rivers don’t feel as an immediate urge to spawn as some of the other species I’ve mentioned–flatheads won’t spawn until late June or July–but fish are both species’ primary prey, so they’re going to be where getting a meal will be easiest.

This past week’s rain would have done pond fishing more good if the weather had been warmer, but it will still help. I spent a few spare minutes tossing a spinnerbait into a friend’s pond the evening before the rain started. The pond was lower than I’d ever seen it at this time of the year, and the water was dingy. Those conditions didn’t keep me from catching enough fish for a hearty meal, but I can’t wait to go back and see how much the water level has come up.

Early April rains also wake up the land and everything that lives on it. Tree buds begin to swell, early-blooming wildflowers brighten the landscape and nutrient-rich grasses and forbs begin turning both fields and forest floors endless shades of green.

Turkeys are on a lot of people’s minds these days, and the first storms of calendar spring are better news to them than they might think. Turkeys eat a wide variety of plant material, and they also relish insects, voles and other similar-sized mammals, and the eggs and newly hatched chicks of ground-nesting birds. Rain increases the availability of many of those potential food sources in open fields and, thus, encourages turkeys to spend more where they’re much easier for preseason scouts to locate.

All other things being equal gobblers tend to establish fairly stable territories at this time of the year, centered around a readily visible strutting area that will attract hens. As is the case with another species I won’t name, the promise of a good meal often goes a long way toward sealing the deal, so it’s no wonder so many mature gobblers choose to strut in or close to food sources.

Before anybody gets too excited about his or her prospects based on what I just said, there are no hard and fast rules in turkey hunting. My first turkey hunting mentor told me, “Most turkeys have no idea what they’re going to do after they fly down from their roost.” He was talking specifically about fall turkeys, but his theory has more than a little validity any time of the year.

It’s unlikely the recent rain sprouted any morel mushrooms; both the air and water temperatures were too cool for that. Getting the ground thoroughly soaked set the stage. A day or so after the first rain, a week of above-normal temperatures should be a great time to search for everyone’s favorite fungi.

As the saying goes, “Into every life, a little rain must fall.” Hooray for that!

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