It's amazing what a difference a few days can make as spring's influence finally asserts its dominance on the outdoors scene. Just a week ago, leafless trees, bay water temperatures of less than 40 degrees and hawkish winds still tempered outdoors enthusiasm. That seems to be changing with a little bit of green appearing along woodlot edges and water temperatures pushing up to 45 degrees. Should predictions hold for a sunny weekend, you can bet anglers, hikers, birders and paddles will all be out in force.

All it takes to get a sense of the transition underway is a look out your window, a walk in woods or a drive past some open fields or parklands. You'll notice forsythia starting to bloom and daffodils sporting bright yellow flowers. Perhaps you'll spy a gold-rimmed morning cloak butterfly if you take a woodland route and watch near puddles or swampy edges. The appearances of all three generally coincide with the arrival of bunker schools in our waters, and the first substantial catches of striped bass from local creeks, river mouths and harbor flats.

Butterflies or not, an osprey eating a bunker atop a telephone pole near James Creek on Thursday confirmed that the silver bunker have indeed arrived in Peconic Bay. Commercial fishermen working farther to the east have also begun catching spearing. Stripers and blues won't be far behind.

During a quick stop at Upper Lake in Yaphank, a second osprey carried off proof that there are still plenty of trout to be had in Long Island's stocked ponds and streams. Farther west, Tom McCoy and his buddy, Kevin Campbell, were enjoying the weather but no bites while casting dry flies for trout on the Nissequogue River. "We had some rises earlier in the week," McCoy said.

Other signs of spring I've noticed recently include a nesting pair of wood ducks on a small vernal pond, and wild turkeys strutting in a wide-open Brookhaven field.

Of course, with the onset of warmer weather comes interaction with some of nature's less lovable characters. Ticks, which never fully retreat from the local scene, are already out in force so pull your socks over pant legs, wear tick repellent clothing and/or spray outerwear with DEET before walking through the brush.

Those unwrapping boats stored in the yard or performing outdoor cleanups should also be alert for new yellow jacket nests. Poison ivy is another unwelcome spring encounter, with cases breaking out before these plants even sprout leaves as stems and roots are cleared along with backyard brush. Work gloves, long-sleeved shirts and long pants are your best friends in this regard.

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Striper season underway

Striper season opened officially on Wednesday and catches were, as expected, few and far between. Blaize Rifino from Duffy's Bait and Tackle in Glenwood Landing knew at least one angler hooked up with several schoolies in the Leeds Pond area of Manhasset Bay while casting Rapala SXR 10 minnows. A few schoolies, along with a couple of winter flounder, also were caught in Little Neck Bay.

On the South Shore, the Smiths Point Bridge area produced a few small stripers on sandworm baits intended for winter flounder. A couple of flatties also have come from Quogue Canal and the waters off Baldwin and Massapequa. Offshore, codfish remain the only option.

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