Who was it that decided that robins are the harbinger of spring? Don't know about other parts of the planet, but here in Reno, Nevada we have robins pretty much all the time. They must be reasonably hearty creatures, because our winters are cold and snowy.
They are also smart...my husband has a small vineyard growing in the side yard, just for fun. In a cold winter climate like ours, where late-spring freezes are common, it is a real challenge to keep the vines alive. So finally last year he got a pretty nice crop of grapes. Very excited, he laboriously covered them with netting before they started to ripen. But robins aren't that stupid or that easily deterred. They quickly figured out how to get under his netting from the ground and had a jolly time decimating the harvest. But I digress...
Given that robins are readily found the year round, I would like to propose an alternative harbinger...the snake. Not any particular sort of snake, they are all poikilothermic (cold-blooded), so will emerge from wherever it is they go only when it is warm outside.
In the past week, having not seen a snake since last summer, I have encountered several, including two fairly large ones. One was a gopher snake, which is a common variety around here. He was stretched out across the trail where I was jogging, maybe about three feet long, which qualifies him as medium-sized. Gopher snakes can grow to upwards of six feet, much larger than our local rattlers. I stopped and checked him out for a moment, then decided to proceed by jumping over him since there was no easy way to go around. One more step closer, and he sucked back into a coil and gave me the evil eye. Gopher snakes are very cool; when they feel threatened, they do a quite convincing rattlesnake imitation, flattening out their heads, shaking their tails, and coiling as if to strike. As I hung there in midair, it occurred to me that, even though I was quite sure he wasn't poisonous, I was pretty sure I didn't want him to bite me. So I stopped again, and eventually he slithered off into the brush alongside the path.
My second encounter was on my bike. I had ridden to the very top of Arrowcreek Parkway, a booger of a climb especially this time of year when I am out of shape. I was enjoying the fruits of my efforts, a nice long decent, but keeping an eye on the cart paths (which cross the road) for those other harbingers of spring, the golfers. After one such look, I returned my gaze to the road to discover a snake sunning himself on the asphalt. Nothing I could do, I rode right over him. I must say I felt really badly about that, but I glanced back and he was hauling ass off the road in typical, squiggly-snake fashion, apparently none the worse for wear.
Besides these two larger guys, I have seen a few cute little garter snakes, the black ones with the yellow stripes down their sides. Coincidence? You decide. But I think I know who the true harbinger of spring is!
Photo Credits: Robin red breast22 by BobMacInnes, Gopher Snake by jkirkhart35, Garter Snake in My Hand by Dano. All from Flickr via Creative Commons License