While shoveling out of last week’s fierce Nor’easter I was amused to see a flock of red-winged blackbirds hovering overhead, patiently waiting for me to clear the back yard feeding station so they could gorge on the free snacks I provide. In the mix was a pair of bluebirds looking none too pleased with the knee-deep snow that blanketed the ground. A red-tailed hawk that’s been hanging around for two weeks seemed confused by all of the bird activity. He took up surveillance positions at several different locations and then, when the crows, blue jays and mourning doves began to pile in, he flew off to find a better place to ambush a meal. He certainly wasn’t going to sneak up on his prey with all the clatter that was going on.
Most folks have had enough of winter and, just a day away from “spring,” dealing with more deep, drifting snow hardly tops their list of entertainment choices. I was not overly distressed by this latest storm because I had spent the previous few days getting the last of my 2017 firewood under cover. I literally carried and stacked wood right up until the storm’s first few flakes began to fall. I was raking up the splinters and had just folded and stowed the tarp when it started to snow with vigor. Three times this winter I had dodged the bullet while working on wood, and now I’m good to go through 2019. There’s no better feeling than having a shed full of choice hardwood that’s cut, split and piled, all ready for next winter.
So, I was not terribly concerned when I had to get the roof rake and snow shovel out again. I pick away at snow removal “as the spirit moves,” shoveling the bird feeders out first, then tackling the back deck and side porch. I’ll work in a cup of tea and a Word Search or two in between projects, and in most cases I’m done and barely winded. In my younger days I’d shovel non-stop till the job was done but all that got me was sore shoulders and an aching back. Now I take on the chore in small pieces. I’ve even learned to use the roof rake first so I don’t have to do the same job twice. It makes for a bigger pile to move, of course, but nowadays I just skim the snow from the top and take lots of breaks. Rome wasn’t built in a day, as the saying goes, and the same concept applies to putting up firewood or shoveling snow. Little by little the job gets done.
With nothing else demanding my time I did the only sensible thing and strapped on my snowshoes for a hike in the woods. It’s well known that a fresh snow puts an entirely new perspective on the landscape, and when there’s more than a foot of fresh powder the entire world looks new, clean and inviting. Most of the old snow was gone when the latest storm hit, so it was back to making new trails through the woods. My snowshoes are of the old wooden variety, 5 feet tall, long and slim in the pickerel-style, perfect for trekking over deep, fresh snow. I find the new, aluminum models to be too short for woodland hiking, but they are good for stroking along on established trails. When I want to go out for a walk after a big storm I usually opt for the wooden shoes because they support my weight better and give me more balance.
Snow storms in mid-March can provide some interesting new discoveries. Suddenly there are more skunk and raccoon tracks, and on this trip I found bobcat, fisher and otter sign as well. Despite short spells of cold and stormy weather it’s generally getting warmer, as it should in March, and the critters have taken notice. Spring maters will be busy seeking partners while winter hibernators will be waking up and looking for food. All of this requires overland travel and most of these species utilize the same trails and travel routes. I’ve mentioned before that it’s almost a sure bet that you’ll find the most animal tracks in the low, wetland areas simply because the cover is thicker there and forage species (rabbits, squirrels and birds) are more abundant. Early spring is a desperate time for wildlife and most of the activity centers around feeding and survival.
In fact, during my snowshoe foray I came upon a wild turkey carcass. All around the hapless bird were the tracks of predators large and small including foxes, a bobcat, weasels, a mink, crows and blue jays. All had been picking away at the dead bird, which must have expired within the last few days because it was not covered with snow and there were no tell-tale turkey tracks around it. The cover was mostly brush and small saplings, not a place where a turkey might have roosted. Comparatively little of the carcass had been eaten, with most of the damage being feathers scattered by the wind. Just another woodland mystery to ponder. I left the scene as I had found it. Some fortunate critters will likely survive thanks to the presence of the dead turkey, whose flock mates were likely feeding on sunflower seeds and cracked corn in my back yard. Not exactly the natural cycle of life but close enough.
Heading for home the scenery was wintery enough, with deep snow, bare trees and a stiff, cold wind blowing, but as I exited the woods and shuffled closer to the home fires I again caught sight of the redwings and bluebirds, while in the distance the frustrated hawk circled high overhead, no longer a threat to the seed eaters.
From the looks of things winter is still the winner but more than halfway through March it’s obvious that time is running out. I keep one eye on the subtle signs of nature but when the local home stores start putting gardening supplies on sale, that’s proof enough for me!