Watch for sex-starved guy groundhogs in a field or yard near you trolling for love in all the wrong places. Chick groundhogs doze longer in their cozy burrows, so the males go from hole to hole to arouse them by nibbling at their fur. Furious at the interruption, the female kicks the intruder out, scratching and biting. If at last his passion is returned, the male leaves before the birth and never actually sees his tiny cubs.
The high-pitched budgie-like melody of the male house finch trying to lure a partner from his high perch is one of early spring's most familiar soundtracks. These small sparrow-like birds with splashes of red on their breast, back and rump (the girls are brown with dark streaks) were originally brought as caged birds from their homes in California to grace the parlours of New York City, but a crackdown on pet stores in the 40s saw the finches released into the wild. It took them 30 years to find their way here.
The robins are coming out of their winter retreats - some from the Gulf of Mexico, some from local thickets and ravines. The guys return before the girl robins and are frantic in the pre-dawn hours, singing their hearts out to mark the boundaries of their territory. Ojibway legend has it that robins warble to cheer up humans; they descend from a boy who became a bird to escape a too-difficult vision quest set up by his father.
Ladybugs emerge from their winter dormitories in bark crevices and under fallen leaves soon after the snow melts and start pigging out on dandelion pollen in April and May. Their stubby little antennae allow them to pick up pheromones from potential lovers. After mating, they lay batches of yellow and orange eggs on leaves, and their grubs hatch a few days later in small batches. Known as Our Lady, after the Virgin Mary, these creepy-crawlies have been revered by the human species because they munch on crop-destroying insects. In many cultures they're named after saints and deities.
Mate-obsessed toads dig themselves out from metre-deep bedrooms in the spring and retrace their steps back to the very ponds where they were born. The males court via slow, cricket-like trills that speed up with their metabolism as the weather warms. Sounds peak in late April and May. Females lay eggs that hatch days later into tiny black schools of tadpoles in sun-warmed water. When summer dries up the water, the creatures become land-based toadlets and fan out on rainy nights to meadows and backyard gardens.
Ahh, the spring thaw. With all traces of snow long melted, we can sit back, wait for the grass to grow and watch a winter's worth of garbage surface. But don't let chronic littering get you down - roll up your sleeves and join a community cleanup op near you!
Friends of the Don East Spring Fling at Todmorden Mills (Pottery Road). Cleanup 10 to 11:15 am, walk and BBQ to noon, Saturday, April 17, rain or shine. 416-657-2800 or www.web.ca/~fode/
Knob Hill Public Planting And Cleanup Cleanup, planting and prizes, at Scarborough's Knob Hill Park, 10 am-noon, Saturday, April 17. www.trca.on.ca/events/calendar/
Twenty-Minute Toronto Make-over Stop what you're doing at 2 pm Friday, April 23, and do a 20-minute cleanup blitz outside your office, school or neighbourhood - mayor's orders. www.toronto.ca/litter/clean-up/20minute.htm
Mayor Miller's Community Cleanup Day Join one of over 200 groups, or start your own and tidy up your local alley or park on Saturday, April 24. www.toronto.ca/litter/clean-up/signup.htm
Earthly Delights Celebrate Earth Day and give back to dear Gaia with some much-needed tree planting at Downsview Park. Sunday, April 25, from noon to 4 pm. 416-599-1991 ext 114, www.earthday.ca
Activists in action
Spirit Of Tibet The Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader, comes to town for the World Peace Ceremony (April 25 to May 5) and will be blessing us with the Kalachakra initiation. National Trade Centre, Exhibition Place. He gives a talk at Skydome April 25. www.kalachakra2004.com/
Mayworks A MUST The festival of working people and the arts gets funky around health and safety themes from May 1 to May 9 at 15 venues across T.O. 416-599-9096, www.mayworks.ca
Cycle Power Toronto Bike Week celebrates pedal power with morning pancakes, group commutes, a lunchtime cycling fair and more. May 24 to June 6. 416-392-7592, www.toronto.ca/cycling/bikeweek.
Pot Boiler Cannabis lovers take to the streets for the Million Marijuana March on May 1. Local bands and DJs entertain from noon, and a parade starts at 2 pm. A hemp garment show runs from noon to 7 pm. Queen's Park. 416-915-1881, www.cannabisclub.ca