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Mild Winter Brings Early Arrivals to Easton Area

FAIRFIELD, Conn. ? Many plants and animals are making early appearances in Fairfield thanks to unseasonably warm temperatures much of this year.

Temperatures nationwide have averaged about 6 degrees above normal so far in 2012, and March set a record with an average temperature of 51.1 degrees, or 8.6 degrees above normal, according to a climate overview by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration . The study excludes Alaska and Hawaii.

“Plants obviously don’t look at a calendar,” said Regina Campfield, UConn Master Gardener Program coordinator at the Bartlett Arboretum & Gardens . Plants began sprouting in mid-March because it felt like April, she said.

Connecticut’s skies are seeing early visitors as well. Birdwatcher Paul Desjardins keeps detailed arrival dates for many migratory birds for the Connecticut Audubon Society’s Fairfield headquarters. He says 12 species have set records for earliest arrivals in the state.

“While one could never draw global conclusions about climate or bird populations and movement, it is an interesting illustration of what millions of birders have been noting on their own,” Conservationist Scott Kruitbosch wrote on the Audubon Society’s birding blog.

The Lesser Yellowleg showed up Feb. 26, more than a month before the bird's previous record of April 1. The Louisiana Waterthrush’s March 30 arrival was also surprising, Kruitbosch said. “That is a date when we could very easily have snow across Connecticut,” he said.

Horseshoe crabs are even ahead of schedule, appearing for the first time in Long Island Sound on Monday, April 16, instead of at the end of May, said Leigh Shemitz , executive director of SoundWaters . More plankton and jellyfish than are normal for this time of year are in the Sound, and even blue crabs are being seen, which is rare.

No one was sure how early warming would impact the environment going forward because of the variables involved. Campfield said it might cause certain plants to mature more quickly, though more normal temperatures — like were seen last week — might delay that.

“I don’t have a crystal ball,” she said.

Shemitz said longer periods of hypoxia, or oxygen depletion, which normally occurs for just a few days in August, is also a concern. Hypoxia can diminish populations of sea life, either by forced migration or death, which in turn will harm creatures dependent on those organisms, the Ecological Society of America’s website said.

“There are a lot of ifs, though,” Shemitz said.

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