When December and January registered temperatures that were considerably above normal, it looked like, with only one month to go, the meteorological winter (December, January and February) would continue to be warmer than the norm — a bit of a mild winter.
It was hard for any of us weather watchers to predict a rapid change that we experienced. (The first few days of February showed this mild pattern — even some 30-degree days). And then we got the “arctic week." Beginning Feb. 6, the winter statistics changed.
It seems like the pattern of recent months is to have quite a difference in weather in the first half to the second half. We may be seeing that again now in this month. Thanks to the recent frigid air, the first half of these 28 days, was almost 2 degrees below zero, far under the usual of 14 degrees. We frequently have negative temperatures during this month, but usually not this long.
Getting in the positive numbers after nearly 90 hours of below-zero temperatures, we returned for more than 100 hours of subzero. Such cold certainly impacted us. What did it do to the local wildlife?
I continued my walks at dawn; nearly every day at 20-30 degrees below zero. Skies were consistently clear, bright sunlight and most days with a wind. Only a few ravens and crows were company as I wandered along the road. One day, I saw a bald eagle and another time, a barred owl called.
Fewer tracks told of many critters remaining sheltered in the cold. Most tracks I saw belonged to deer, squirrels and white-footed mice. As the days passed, foxes, coyotes and weasels ventured out. While most of the local wildlife waited out the cold, I’m glad that the bird feeders gave plenty to see.
I kept the feeders well-fortified with sunflower seeds and suet. And the feathered neighbors responded. I have not seen the variety of birds at the feeders this winter as usual — none of the several kinds of finches that often find meals here. Turkeys that started the season with us have gone back into the woods, apparently finding shelter and acorns. This has left us with visits from the “same seven."
- Northland Nature: Counting birds in Carlton County
- Northland Nature: Arrival of a rusty blackbird flock
- Northland Nature: Warblers begin migration
Seven kinds of birds were here for the whole winter. On mild days, some would not be present at all. But once the recent cold moved in, so did the regulars. Each day, with the sunrises continuing to get earlier — now about 7 a.m. — they begin to arrive. Consistently, it is the black-capped chickadees that are first to come to breakfast.
These little bundles of energy are followed by the two kinds of nuthatches: white-breasted and red-breasted. Later, three species of woodpeckers make their entry. Usually, it is the hairy woodpecker first; then its smaller look-alike, the downy woodpecker; and finally, a pair of red-bellied woodpeckers. (The woodpeckers and nuthatches seem to be in pairs.) Last of the seven are several blue jays — some days a half-dozen.
Though they gobble sunflower seeds that I replenish each day, it is the suet that is most in demand now. This animal fat hanging from nearby trees holds much energy to help the birds deal with the cold. Such foods and their behavior of fluffing-up feathers to provide for more insulation allows the birds to cope with subzero.
These "same seven" have been consistent through the cold and though it may appear as we are helping them, their arrival each day helps us, too.