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.
- Member for
- 3 years 9 months
For many of us, ice-out this spring was about 10 days before normal. This time usually coincides with late April, but is only one of the many vernal happenings that take place in the latter half of this month. Late April is also the time in which migrant songbirds that arrived earlier — robins, red-winged blackbirds, juncos, song sparrows and many water birds — give way to the next avian movement. Fox sparrows scratch in the forest floor while swamp sparrows move among the cattails. Loons appear at the open lakes while geese proceed with nesting nearby.
As we move into the second half of April, the pace of spring becomes much more rapid. Longer days bring on more warmth. It's not uncommon that the Northland will record 70 degrees during this time. Ice out, the anticipated event of our lakes, usually happens during these weeks. This year, a bit earlier than normal, the date of this dramatic change in my area was April 11. After nearly five months under the ice cover, the lake waters now mix with the prevailing winds. Such conditions invite more migrant water birds.
During the first week of April, the lengthening daylight reached 13 hours. Sunrise is about 6:40 a.m. and sunset nearly 7:40 p.m. Mornings are still chilly. Snow, rain, thundershowers, warmth and winds all can happen in this hard-to-predict month. These springing days bring on migrants that return from a southern winter to seek meals and nesting sites in the Northland. Despite the cool temperatures in the morning, I hear the "cheer-up" songs of robins in the yard. As I continue walking past the swamp, I stop to watch the resident red-winged blackbird proclaiming its "conk-a-ree" ownership.
Unlike the springs of 2013 and 2014, we enter April with no snow on the ground this year. This month can be a hard one to predict and things could change, but for the time being, we have a wide open woods with only last year's leaves covering the ground. A walk in the woods now is delightful. It is too early and cool for some of the lesser-loved critters to annoy us. The early morning chill recently has kept the ground frozen.
This is the first time in a couple of years that we have a landscape devoid, or nearly devoid, of snow during the second half of March. The last two springs were slow to arrive, but this year the season seems to be in a hurry. The woods is wide open now and walking here is a delight. Without a snowpack I can wander anywhere; a little frost in the ground and the dryness of the last few months aid these present walks.
Looking back at the last five springs in the Northland, we see an interesting fluctuation. Two springs, 2010 and 2012, can be considered very early. Two, in 2013 and 2014, have been late, maybe said to be very late. Only the spring of 2011 emerged as normal. Indeed, it is hard to determine what "normal" means now. After we changed to daylight saving time on March 8, the pace of our new season quickly picked up.
Like many Northlanders, I keep bird feeders going all winter. I find interesting and entertaining the antics of the birds and squirrels that come to visit throughout the cold season. Looking out to watch each day has been a regular routine all winter. They desire food and meals from us, but the companionship they give in return is much appreciated. I have noticed many of these same songbirds feeding on seeds in other parts of the woods and fields. I'm sure that they don't need our handouts to survive the north country winter. We, however, may need them.
As we exited the month of February and advanced into March, we may not have felt spring upon us, but the longer days were proceeding. February began with less than 10 hours of daylight and ended with more than 11. This extra amount of sunlight did little for warming this month. During the second half of February, we averaged a temperature of only 1 degree above zero. Nearly every day revealed a temperature below zero. Indeed, this February was slightly colder than this same month during the amazing winter of a year ago. But despite this slow start, spring is still going to happen.
It's been a few years since we had a February that was colder than the preceding January. The second month of 2015 outdid the first with a lower temperature by several degrees. Continuing this trend was the fact that even the highest reading during these 28 days was still below freezing. While both December and January gave us temperatures beyond the usual, February tended to follow the pattern of November, far below the normal. And the snowfall received during this time was more than January.
With both December and January being warmer than normal, but with less-than-average snowfall, it may be hard to remember that November 2014 was far colder than usual and had more snow than we usually get. Even the freeze-up was early. The snow that we received Nov. 10-11 varied, but many Northland sites got at least 8 inches. Cold that followed kept the snowpack from melting. And it lasted. Even with the mild days and rain that we experienced in the subsequent two months, there was always some snow on the ground at some sites.