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Northland Nature: Some blessings of the April blizzard

Those of us who have seen many an April in the Northland are used to seeing her fickleness. Yes, April will bring showers, but April can also be dry enough to provide ample conditions for grass fires after the snow melts. April will give us 70 de...

Those of us who have seen many an April in the Northland are used to seeing her fickleness. Yes, April will bring showers, but April can also be dry enough to provide ample conditions for grass fires after the snow melts. April will give us 70 degrees, but chilly nights in the teens. Days with a strong east wind are just as likely. Who will forget the major ice storm of 2001? And April can give us snow!

I have never seen an April in northeast Minnesota that did not provide us without a white wet coating at least sometime during these 30 days. Such snow usually doesn't last long in falling, and is just as short in its duration on the ground. Even if the snow comes in the form of a blizzard, the days following are clear and warming.

Many of us do not appreciate such a late-season snowfall as we got recently. Just when we thought it was over for the year, Mother Nature says otherwise. Road traffic and even walking is hard. We need to bring out the snow shovel and blower for another session of opening up our access.

But there's another side to these spring snowstorms.

The winter sports enthusiasts get another use of their skis, snowboards and snowmobiles. Wet snows are also ideal for more lawn sculptures. But the nature observers find it a delight as well.

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Not only does the sticky snow hang onto branches, giving trees unique scenes, there's also plenty to see at our bird feeders. Some of the best feeder watching happens after such a snow. The usual wintering chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers and redpolls are joined by newly arrived spring migrants: juncos, purple finches, goldfinches and even a couple of fox and song sparrows. It isn't often that we can see this diversity at our feeders (perhaps a dozen kinds). Even a yellow-bellied sapsucker, brown creeper and a kinglet may be nearby too.

A similar situation is seen among the tracks in the snow. Wintering movements of deer, squirrels, rabbits and porcupines are joined by the large tracks of recently awakened bears and those of smaller sleepers: raccoons, skunks and chipmunks. Indeed, the wet snow of spring provides for clear footprints and may be some of the best tracking of any time.

An often overlooked result of an April snowstorm is that is will soon melt and help to fill the lowland ponds with needed water to allow for a successful breeding season for our local amphibians. I visited several ponds in early April and was disappointed at the outlook. They appeared to be low with not much snowmelt to add to their volume. Now, however, the moisture in this recent snowfall will go a long way toward raising the water level.

Spring frogs soon to wake from hibernation will have enough water to breed successfully. Soon we'll hear songs of these spring critters and say "thank you" to Mother Nature for such a marvelous snowstorm.

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