Winter is slowly slipping away, despite the recent cold snap. The forecast is for warmer weather, perhaps for much of the rest of the month. We are already 2/3rds through what we consider biological winter (December thru February), and there are more and more signs that spring is already stirring.
Warm snaps cause some woody plants to begin the process of bud-swelling. If you have lilacs or a silver maple in your yard, you probably have noticed that they’ve already begun the process of preparing for spring leaf-out. Lilacs in particular, because the buds swell early and are at eye level, look like they want to pop very soon. Sometimes people are a bit alarmed at this precociousness, but lilacs have been around a long time and know when it’s time to really leaf out.
It’s interesting how wildlife settles into seasonal daily patterns. I wouldn’t be very aware of them except that in my yard one can watch bird feeders and who visits them. Bald eagles are active very early in the morning, before light, and head toward the Lake to fish or hunt. Cardinals start coming very early, when they can barely be seen, sometimes before I’ve put any seed out. As soon as its light the usual suspects arrive, chickadees, nuthatches, juncos, house finches, tree sparrows, and woodpeckers. A friend gave me an enormous slab of suet which has been out on the feeder for more than a month- I’m sure every woodpecker in the neighborhood knows its there. Fortunately suet, that fat around a cow’s kidneys, doesn’t really spoil, and a large piece feeds many birds, including those chickadees and nuthatches.
In February, it begins to sound different outside. Instead of their harsh “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” call, those birds begin, on nice days, to sing their sweet “cheeseburger” call, meaning, I think, that its nearing time to think about nesting. Of course the most optimistic birds begin their romantic calls around Christmas, but cease when the weather is cold. By February, though, they sing the spring song frequently, and cardinals also begin to sing rather than just utter their loud “chip” call. More than anything, hearing these birds brightens the day and reminds me that spring will be soon.
The birds know about what time I fill feeders, and some land on the feeders as they are being filled. Some of the local deer must hang out and watch, because no sooner have I walked the few feet back to the garage they are there licking up seed that I’ve scattered on the ground for the juncos. And after the deer my brother’s great danes visit to do the same, followed by the squirrels- I don’t really know if there’s much left for the juncos! It’s interesting to watch animals of any kind, however. And interesting to think about how they are watching me.
One meteorologist stated that we might be more likely to see thunderstorms than snowstorms the rest of February- I still hope that’s not true. If that’s the case, its going to be tricky to know when maple sap will run this year- it seems like one should be ready this month just in case. And I’m never ready in February, it seems, so I hope March is moderate in temperature, and there’s still some snow left in the season. Regardless, the slow, inevitable march to spring is already on us, and it feels, and sounds, very good to me.
photo- by Nancy Nabak