We have been experiencing an early spring. In the seven-county metro area, the maple syrup season, which was excellent, started with the first sap run Feb. 23. The season concluded the first couple of days of April. In 2019 the first sap flow began March 17 and the season lasted until April 15.

Some other markers of an early spring:

• Last year the first migrating male redwinged blackbirds arrived March 19; this year, March 9.

• The first wood ducks arrived March 21 last year; this year, March 8.

• Some Canada geese have been incubating eggs for a week or more, and some bald eagle pairs are feeding young nestlings.

It's egg laying time for wood ducks and house finches. The first great egrets and tree swallows have returned. The sharp-lobed hepatica is blooming in woodlands. In central and northern Minnesota, as open water appears, common loons have arrived with their wild laughing calls and echoing yodels. Also, ruffed grouse are heard drumming in the forests.

Always interesting and much talked about is the ice-out time for lakes. As soon as the last ice sheets are pushed ashore, boats of all types appear, docks go in, and we are off and running into warmer days. Remember, however, the water is cold. Be cautious and wear flotation gear. We consider ice-out to have occurred when at least 90 % of the lake is free of ice.

Here are a few examples of ice-outs this year, or last, and lake averages through the years.

• Lake Pepin, March 20, 2020 (on average March 30)

• Budd Lake at Fairmont, March 22, 2020 (March 29)

• Lake Minnetonka, April 2, 2020 (April 13)

• Lake Mille Lacs, April 28, 2019 (April 25)

• Leech Lake, May 2, 2019 (April 28)

• Lake of the Woods, May 14, 2019 (May 3)

Share what you've seen. Pete Boulay of the Minnesota State Climatology Office is interested in receiving 2020 ice-out dates for state lakes.

Record the date when at least 90 % of a lake is ice-free and return this date, plus the name of the lake, county and nearest city to him at peter.boulay@state.mn.us.

Jim Gilbert's observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.