Timing – An Important Effect of Climate Change

When we speak of Climate Change, we often think only of temperature change but another powerful effect is changes in timing of natural events.


Consider spring in our area. Spring melt came earlier last year and the wetlands of the Kennebec Wetland Complex filled, taking the peak off the potential spring flood. But then, the filled wetlands could not capture any more runoff from periodic heavy rains. Those rains ran off as soon as they fell, raising creeks and lakes. That process was repeated four or five times, sometimes raising lake levels by more than a half metre.


Loons trying to find a site to build a nest were repeatedly frustrated by water levels that would flood any nest they could build. Many pairs gave up and went fishing.


Bitterns often nest in heavily vegetated marshes after the water level drops to where their nest can be built on the hummocks of marsh vegetation. Last spring the fluctuating water levels prevented the unusual drop in marsh water levels and prevented nesting by the Bitterns.


Breeding choruses of frogs, set off by rising air and water temperatures found themselves in a tidal sea rather than a wet jungle of emergent marsh vegetation. More bad timing.


On land, a peak irruption of caterpillars devastated many trees. We have few cuckoos that do eat those caterpillars. We had good numbers of Phoebes and other flycatchers but they apparently don’t relish those hairy caterpillars. However, later in the season when the caterpillars matured into moths, the Phoebes went after them. Eating the adult moths is an effective control of next year’s caterpillar population size. Controlling the adult reproductive stage is an efficient population control. But the timing means that the trees get defoliated before the moths get managed. Timing again.


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