chipping sparrow

Spotting a chipping sparrow is a sign of spring in northern Indiana.

Summer is here.

Mosquitoes are out, particularly at dusk, and when mosquitoes are out, it’s summer time.

There is no more sure sign of summer than mosquitoes. There are more signs of summer, of course, flies, mostly during the day, ants, beetles and butterflies, also mostly during the day.

There are plants that signify summer. Trees have leafed out and maples have scattered their seeds. Wildflowers are blooming. Some of the flowers, dandelion for one, began blooming as early as February. Grass is green and tall enough to be mowed.

Then there are the birds, my favorite indicators of the season.

There are feathered year-rounders, birds I see at my bird feeders every day the weather is not too stormy, black-capped chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches, tufted titmice, cardinals, blue jays, downy woodpeckers, goldfinches. Then there are the winter birds, birds that nest farther north and are in northern Indiana only in winter, for me those are tree sparrows, dark-eyed juncos, a red-breasted nuthatch.

But the winter birds leave, some in time with the dandelions blooming, as early as February, and summer birds begin to arrive, robins and mourning doves, as early as February.

When I was young, a beginning birder, a robin in February in Iowa where I lived then and also in northern Indiana I’m sure, was a sure sign of spring.

But now there are robins that do not migrate, that do not go south. I saw a robin now and then last December and January. I didn’t see any mosquitoes in December and January, however, nor in any other month, nor in any other month until May, late in May.

Now I see mosquitoes whenever I go out, if it isn’t raining. I also see flies and gnats and bees. I see butterflies, as sure a sign of summer as mosquitoes, orange monarch butterflies, yellow sulfur butterflies, white cabbage butterflies. There are leaves on the trees, flowers in the woods, corn and soybeans sprouting in farmers’ fields.

The two young sandhill cranes, with the adults that nested and hatched those little cranes in our pasture are a sign of summer. The barn swallows swooping in and out of our barn, going to a nest on a light fixture in the barn, feeding nestlings, are a sign of summer.

The multitude of red-winged blackbirds nesting in the marsh at the edge of our pasture are a sign of summer. There’s a house wren singing in the yard daily, undoubtedly with a nest in one of the trees or bushes in the yard.

I just looked up from my computer screen and there’s a chipping sparrow at the bird feeder outside the window behind the computer. There’s been a song sparrow at the feeder this morning. Chipping and song sparrow are summer birds here, in northern Indiana, birds that migrated, flew south for the winter and have returned.

A great blue heron, another migrant that isn’t here during the winter, flew over a little while ago, going in the direction of our marsh. I could go on listing birds that migrated south, that weren’t here, in northern Indiana, during the winter but are back now that summer is here and the mosquitoes are out.

My older daughter returned from taking our dogs for a walk along the road a few days ago and said she’d seen two bull frogs in the road, dead. There weren’t any bull frogs in the road I’m sure, dead or alive, so long as there were cold still nights when there was frost. Nor were there any turtles or snakes and I’ve seen turtles and snakes, both, in the road this month.

It’s summer time.

Neil Case may be reached at

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