Late November has three important seasonal events happening in the region as we move toward winter. I expect the ground to freeze during these chilly days.

Also responding to the colder temperatures, we get the freeze-up of bodies of water. This usually starts in October with ice coating shallow ponds and swamps. As we progress through November, the shorter days and sub-freezing temperatures cause ice to form on lakes, beginning at the edge, extending into bays and finally encompassing the entire lake.

Several of the smaller lakes freeze in November, but the larger ones, maybe not until December. (With moving waters, rivers freeze later in winter — usually December.)

It is interesting to note that with temperatures fluctuating between early morning and afternoons, many form ice only to have it melt later, refreezing the next night. With ample ice on ponds and swamps, along with frozen ground, the stage is set for the next of the seasonal happenings: lasting snow.

As we have seen this year, snow often comes before the ground and water are frozen, and these early snows are not usually going to remain. But eventually, frozen substrates hold this cold precipitation and we get a lasting snow cover.

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New snows on ponds and swamps are delightful settings for seeing animal tracks. Every day there is plenty of news out here. And though I usually do not see the critters themselves, tracks tell of their presence. Such wetlands are wandered by minks, weasels, deer, foxes, coyotes, mice, raccoons, shrews and sometimes muskrats and otters. But more is happening here as well.

There is a period of time each year between the new ice forming and before it gets snow covered. This is the time of clear (and often slippery) ice, lasting a few days to maybe a week. No snow on the ice at this time, but it is worth looking at anyway.

Pausing during my walks and looking through this clear ice can give a view of what is going on under this cold cover. In the shallows, we can see to the bottom. Recently as I looked, I noted movements that morphed into a couple wintering turtles.

I was a bit surprised to see them initially, but once I got used to it, I found that it was not that unusual to find turtles under this newly formed ice. I have several times watched the wanderings of both the snapping and painted turtles.

We have only two common species of turtles in the Northland. Both are readily seen in the warmer months. Though each will bask in sunlight, painted turtles are most likely seen. With the coming of autumn, they seem to disappear.

Winter is spent in a dormant phase on the bottom of the lake, often in groups. Their metabolism slows down and they are able to survive on dermal and rectal respiration. (Turtles do not have gills.)

However, as I watch these turtles on this late November day, I realize that this dormancy does not happen immediately after freeze-up. Sunlight coming in through the clear ice may invite the turtles to search in these shallows for food. And maybe they find air here, too.

The freeze-up has occurred as a regular part of our annual cycle. And as often occurs, it means much to see. Turtles swimming under ice may be a bit unusual, but is just one of these happenings as cold moves in.

Larry Weber
Larry Weber

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