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Botanists have an advantage this time of year because they can sense spring coming. True, with the solstice just behind us, most of the official winter is yet ahead of us. Yet buds on the leafless trees and shrubs are swelling, increasing in size easily noticed from week to week. The woodland herbs are emerging from the ground, splashes of bright green.

Those who only watch birds don’t have it as good. It is indeed a treat to watch the shovelers and buffleheads cruise around the Delta Ponds displaying their tidy swimming style. They will leave when spring arrives, but there’s no way to tell when that might occur just by watching the birds. I’m sure the birds, like the botanists, watch the buds swell and the herbs proliferate. We all wait for the days’ lengthening.

Our climate is so mild that few animals hibernate. The animals that remain active often work hard to find food this time of the year. Elk move into lowland forests and eat lichens. River otters can be seen in urban ponds. Birds forage in flocks that include pine siskins from the mountains.

A surprise to a botanist is how long the snowberries hang on to their fruit. They are aptly named, practically glowing white at the tips of slender dark branches. It is one of the few decorations in the valley woodlands this time of year. They must be distasteful to birds, to remain so long. Maybe they are starvation food, last to be eaten?


David Wagner is a botanist who has worked in Eugene for more than 30 years. He studies mosses, liverworts and hornworts and teaches moss classes. He may be reached at fernzenmosses@me.com.