Out back last evening, it looked, felt and smelled like late April. The lilacs and honeysuckle were in bloom, dandelions and violets speckled the lawn and the trees were nearly leafed out; even the late-leafing sycamores and black walnuts had a modest canopy of green. Toads were trilling, honey bees buzzed across the flower beds and a band of thunderstorms loomed to the west.
Yet, there were missing pieces to this late April scene. While our permanent avian residents moved about the yard, they were still joined by wintering juncos and white-throated sparrows. Many other birds, usually present in mid spring, were conspicuous by their absence; there were no chimney swifts in the evening sky, no house wrens singing in the twilight and no gray catbirds scouring the shrub line. Colorful warblers were not flitting about the shade trees and no northern orioles or indigo buntings had arrived to compete for attention with our resident cardinals and blue jays.
While plants, amphibians, reptiles and hibernating mammals have responded to the exceptionally warm spring and are well ahead of their usual spring schedule, migrant songbirds are attuned to the light cycle and will leave their winter haunts at the same time each year, regardless of the weather up north. After all, awaiting their departure from Mexico or the Gulf Coast, they have no clue that the Midwest landscape is well ahead of schedule, a product of summer-like warmth. They will arrive when they usually do and our winter residents will depart in concert; whether either group will take heed of the altered landscape is something we'll never know.