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The mild temperatures and sunny days we’ve enjoyed of late have been astounding to most humans and all of the wildlife that shares the woods, fields and waters around us. That it can snow one day and then be 50 degrees the next is confounding enough, but when it happens again and again the talk always turns to “global warming.” I don’t know how global these mild temperatures have been but I know that locally they are the topic of conversation everywhere I go.
In my own yard most of the snow is gone and the frost is quickly leaving the ground. As I dug out the last of my rutabagas using a long-tined fork I was amazed to see that the soil was soft and pliable but also that the dirt was full of garden worms – lively ones, at that. We’re still a month away from brook fishing (at least as compared to normal years) yet the angleworms are ready to go now.
I had experimented with leaving my rutabagas in the garden, covered with a thick layer of hay, just to see if they’d survive the winter and was happy to see that all but a few made it without rot or insect damage. A few specimens that were poorly insulated or had not grown deep enough into the soil were ruined, but I ended up with two 5-gallon buckets full of nice, fat, solid roots. Overall, my July planting scheme worked perfectly and I plan to do it again this year.
With the snow gone in most of the wooded areas and fields the deer have been showing up again earlier in the day and in good numbers. In fact, they recently attacked the rotted rutabaga pile with a vengeance, nipping bits and pieces of every root I had tossed into the compost pile.
I figured that this would happen and don’t begrudge the local whitetails their share of the crop but I did spread some Milorgonite around the fruit trees because I don’t want them to get the idea that all nipping is allowed. My trees are just now branching out and maturing to the point that deer damage will be minimal in any case, but I’d rather not have them get started.
Because the snow pack has dwindled significantly in many areas the deer and other critters are having an easy time of it during the latter days of winter. I did find a stand of beech trees where the buds and twigs had been nipped right back to the main stems, and hoof prints in the mud below clearly identify the culprits. I’m all for the deer filling up on natural browse – just leave my little orchard alone.
The warming trend has brought the birds and animals out in droves, or so it seems. My nighttime cameras have revealed a noticeable uptick in visits by raccoons, gray and red foxes, opossums, porcupines and, during the daytime, turkeys and squirrels. I keep my cameras out all winter not only around feeding stations but also near common crossings where wild animals and birds travel back and forth in search of food.
Also noted this week was the hollow rattle of woodpeckers working on dead trees. Some mornings there will be a dozen different species pecking away, some looking for insects but others drumming for a mate. I love the sound of woodpeckers hammering on dried wood but it can be annoying when they decide to focus on the eaves of the house. It sounds great, I’ll admit, deep and resonant, but after several hours of incessant drumming I know I’ve had enough. I scare the birds away but they always return and begin again. I appreciate the sound of good music and can understand their desire to sound their very best for a potential mate, but there’s a point where enough is enough.
Already this month my local flock of bluebirds have begun investigating the houses that have sat empty all winter. There is definite nesting activity going on – I see both males and females going inside with bits of grass and twigs in their beaks. I’ve noticed the same behavior in nuthatches and wrens, and again, this all seems so early to me. The groundhog said there’d be another six weeks of winter. Haven’t the birds gotten the word?
Even the world of plants seems to be awakening a tad earlier than usual. The oaks and maples have shown signs of budding, as have my precious fruit trees. I check them daily just to monitor their progress and noticed that their buds are swelling and turning ever so slightly green. My lilac bush has bursting buds as well, which seems very early to me.
I’ve mentioned before that my daffodils, irises and crocuses have pushed their way up through the bark mulch. I suspect that I’ll have crocus blossoms in the next few days. The others will take a bit longer to flower but the fun has definitely begun.
With all this natural excitement going on I thought it might be a good idea to try ice-fishing one last time but was turned away by a sheriff’s deputy who said the ice was no longer safe. I could see open water along shore and the nearby culvert pool was completely open. There were places on the pond where puddles of water suggested a weakening of the ice well away from shore. There have been several through-the-ice events among ice-anglers and snowmobilers already this month, and if that’s not a sign of an early thaw I don’t know what it would be. It is good to see that local anglers have begun taking their shacks off the ice already – the landings are crowded with sheds that are ready to be moved. I would much rather see the winter fishing season come to an end this way than have to read another report of an accident or drowning due to rotten ice. Have fun but, please, be safe out there!

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