Entering the new month of January, we continue the cold and snow, but the new year gives us other happenings. After months of sunrises regularly getting later, nearly 8 a.m., during the first week of January, they begin to get earlier — a pattern that goes on for the next six months.
We are also at the time of perihelion, when we are closest to the sun in our annual trip around the sun. We will notice longer days soon, but mostly January is a month of cold and snow.
We deal with these winter conditions in many ways. For some, it is keeping bird feeders. Like many Northlanders, I regularly maintain these feeders that I usually start in October and keep filled until spring. Sunflower seeds and suet make up most of the feeding. If winter finches move in, I add thistle seeds.
Local avians will breakfast here each day. Chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers, along with blue jays, are regular attendees with sporadic visits from turkeys and pileated woodpeckers. (Later in the winter, perhaps some finches.) Their antics and energy in coping with the cold are a delight to watch each day.
Subzero mornings bring in many birds while milder times have only a few. This lets me know that they really don’t need the feeders to survive. We need them. With late sunrises, early sunsets and cold nights, they will spend much of the daylight hours feeding. They are gone to roost by dusk.
Sunsets in winter are early, often by 5 p.m. We may have nine hours of daylight followed by 15 hours of darkness. Snow cover is an excellent place to record the tracks and movements of those critters active during the night even though we do not see them. But some are seen.
I go out at dusk to fill a platform on a nearby tree each in anticipation of the night feeders. Illuminated by an outdoor light, I can look onto this feeding site and watch the arrival and activities of the local nocturnal flying squirrels. Usually at about 6 p.m. I’m able to see them move about as they feed.
They are a type of tree squirrels, a little smaller than red squirrels and much less than grays. Like many other nocturnal mammals, they have large eyes, helping in this scene.
As tree squirrels, they spend the night among branches. Using a large fold of skin going from front legs to hind legs allows them to glide through the growths of trees. A flat tail acts as a rudder and they steer and maneuver around the forest at night. The typical behavior for flying squirrels is to glide in from a neighboring tree to the one that holds the food. Landing on the trunk above the platform, they descend to it. Soon they are joined by others.
Being gregarious, they seem to tolerate each other and the site may hold nearly a dozen. Time is spent gobbling seeds or running off to cache them, quickly returning for more. (When a boot was left outdoors recently, it was found the next day with many cached seeds inside.)
Ranges of southern flying squirrels and northern flying squirrels commonly coincide in the Northland. Southerns are common in deciduous trees and the larger northern ones mostly live in conifers. We have both kinds at the feeder.
While birds bring delightful watching to winter days, so do the flying squirrels add to the long cold winter nights.