''Where are you going on spring break?'' I hated that question when I was in school. It was always asked by the kids who were going to Myrtle Beach or Florida. It's not that I wanted to go to Myrtle Beach or Florida. I'm not a big fan of hot temperatures, sun or sunburn. And I'm much more comfortable dressed in hiking boots, jeans and a sweater than a bathing suit. I just hated the question because it implied that during spring break you are expected to go somewhere.
One year, I went (2 miles) south to my friend Lynn's house where we tramped around in the south part of her parents' property. We did this intentionally so that when school resumed we could brag that we ''went south'' during spring break. We actually had a great time in the fresh air exploring the woods as spring slowly converted mud to green.
It is a great time of year to explore the woods. If you don't mind mud and are very attentive, you will make great discoveries. You might stumble upon the shed antler of a deer, or find the nesting location of a pair of red-bellied woodpeckers. You might notice a pair of chickadees excavating a nest cavity, or find a patch of blooming hepatica. Early butterflies like the mourning cloak or the West Virginia white may flutter before your eyes. A garter snake, or a whole bunch of garter snakes, may rustle through dry leaves as they exit their hibernacula. At dawn or dusk you may hear the voices of spring peepers or wood frogs seeking mates in puddles and ponds, or if you happen upon one of these ponds at midday, you may be dazzled by the beauty of amphibian eggs. A low quiet thrumming - almost like a distant engine revving gently then returning to idle - lets you know that grouse are nearby. A nasal ''Pnnt! Pnnt! Pnnt!'' preceded by a whistling and whirring sound means a woodcock has just flown in and is declaring his territory. If you happen to step on a certain clump of fresh green leaves, the aroma of leeks fills the air.
Mourning Cloak butterflies spend the winter as adults under the bark of trees and emerge on sunny spring days.
Photos by Jennifer Schlick
Garter snakes emerge after spending the winter in hibernation.
It is a remarkable time of year jam-packed with activity and something new to see or hear or smell - or even taste - every day. Why anyone would leave for Myrtle Beach or Florida and miss this incredible transformation of winter into spring baffles me! To each his own, I guess.
Where can you see these marvels if you are not fortunate enough to live or work near the woods? Oh, so many places. Audubon's trails are open from dawn until dusk and we have two sanctuaries - one at 1600 Riverside Road, and another on Bentley Avenue off Fluvanna Avenue in Jamestown.
My favorite places to explore include the trails at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute at 311 Curtis St. in Jamestown, or cross over Curtis and wander the trails at Jamestown Community College's ''100-acre lot'' - officially known as College Park.
Pull in to the first parking lot at Long Point State Park on Route 430 between Bemus Point and Dewittville and stop in that first right corner. From there you can hike forest trails that go off the parking lot to your right.
Allegany State Park has two entrances on I-86 between Steamburg and Salamanca. Stop at one of the ranger stations to pick up maps of the numerous trails inside this park. Black Snake Mountain Trail is one of my favorites at this time of year for the wildflowers!
I'm also rather fond of the Fred Cusimano Westside Overland Trail, which has several access points. You can request a map from the Chautauqua County Parks Department - or find one via Internet search.
Check out the Chautauqua County Rails to Trails website at www.chaurtt.org/ to learn of several hiking opportunities - most of which also afford great birding.
There are plenty more places in our region where you can explore the forests. These are a few of my favorites. For most of the places I like to hike, shoes that can get wet and dirty are recommended. The wildflower and wildlife discoveries along the way will make it worth your while. It's all close by. It's all free. Where are you going on spring break?
Audubon is located at 1600 Riverside Road, one-quarter mile east of Route 62 between Jamestown, N.Y., and Warren, Pa. Trails are open from dawn until dusk daily. The building is open from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday when members and children are admitted free of charge and non-member adults pay $5. Sunday hours are limited to 1 through 4 p.m., and admission is free for all. The building will be closed on Easter Sunday, April 8.
Jennifer Schlick is program director at Audubon and can probably be found tramping around in the woods during spring break.