Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him c/o firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The woods are shady and spring wildflowers that were so dominant a few weeks ago now are faded, leaving only the shade-tolerant clintonia, starflower and wild lily-of-the valley still in bloom. But as I look at this floral display along the road, I see something else as well. Upon approach, I see that I have come across a large snapping turtle laying its eggs.
> We have a trio: chorus frogs, wood frogs and spring peepers that wake from their winter sleep and quickly move to the water to begin courting and mating. I'm always amazed at their activity in the chilly waters of these pools, which frequently freeze over at night. But this year, the tiny chorus frogs were even more amazing. We received about a foot of snow April 15. Temperatures were in the 20s; all the ponds were solidly frozen. Slowly in the next few days, the temperatures rose to the 30s, 40s and 50s by April 20. On April 21, as I passed a small shallow vernal pond, I stopped when I heard the creaking call of a chorus frog. Even more impressive was a few days later, when I found one calling from a vernal pond that was about 80 percent covered with ice. Chorus frogs are only about 1 inch long with brown or greenish-brown stripes.
We look for many happenings in early spring and with some searching, maybe more than normal, I have seen a few: crocuses blooming, dandelions with blossoms, alder catkins forming pollen and silver maple buds starting to open, female or male. Not as obvious as in some years, but all of these are taking place now. And also a bit slow, the migrant birds are moving into the Northland as well.
Thanks to the daylight that we get at this time, I always look for some things to happen at the start of March.
Foxes and coyotes are common neighbors throughout the winter, and it was not the recent thaw that brought them out. They were responding to other changes. These January days are their breeding season. Since we are cold and a long way from spring, it seems a bit weird that this month and the start of the next would be the breeding time of coyotes.
About the size of a blue jay, the shrike is light on the undersides, gray on the back with wings and tail black. Adults also wear a black "mask" over the eyes. Taking a closer look, we see also that shrikes have a hooked beak as seen in raptors. And like raptors, they are winter predators of birds and small mammals. Since their feet lack talons, they are classified as songbirds not raptors. Shrikes will go after smaller birds and if catching them, they need help to feed on them. Prey is impaled on tree branches or other convenient sites so that they can use the hooked beak to feed. Due to this behavior, they have called "butcher birds." <
Back at the house, word spread among local birds that food was available here. The seven species that regularly came here — chickadees, jays, nuthatches and downy, hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers — were joined by others, and the number of kinds almost doubled. Wild turkeys have been here each day as well as pine grosbeak, goldfinch, redpoll, pileated woodpecker and a junco that came back after an absence of three weeks. <
Like many others who spend the entire cold season in the Northland, I put out food for birds. Unlike some of the local avian feeders, I do not keep the feeding sites stocked with grain throughout the year. I began the feeding and watching of birds this year about the middle of October.
Deer, fox, coyote, squirrel, mouse, vole and shrew tracks are present nearly every time I winter walk and so were not a surprise. But others were here, too. In the forest, a porcupine waddled through. In the field, I noted where a weasel leapt through the crusty snow. In the woods, its cousin, the fisher movement was discovered. And in a few secluded sites, I saw where the snowshoe hare, probably turning from brown to white, had hopped about. <
These big dragonflies are of several colors, but mostly blue-green with various spots. Also here are the small red meadowhawks. Plenty of variety is seen also with these little dragonflies, but mostly, the males are red, the females are yellowish. Among the darners, a common one — the green darners — are restless now as they are taking flight on a south-bound migration.