Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him c/o Katie Rohman at email@example.com.
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Walking at dawn at this time of May is a very interesting adventure. Despite the recent snow and cold, many migrants have returned and in the calm conditions at daybreak, songs are numerous. As soon as I leave the house, I hear phoebes, robins and chipping sparrows in the yard. The woods are the location of the flute-like songs of hermit and wood thrushes. And an ovenbird shouts its "teacher-teacher-teacher" song from the underbrush. This bird is one of the many returning warblers now in the region.
Like many in the Northland, I maintain a bird feeder near the house. Mine is a feeder that is regularly stocked throughout the long and cold winter. During warmer weather, I take it down, clean it and put it away until next October. However, there is a period of time after the winter has waned and before the days have warmed, in the spring, that I keep the feeder filled. And sometimes, these changing days of the season have good numbers of birds present.
It's early May and the woods comes alive with many spring things happening. Migrant songbirds are arriving in such numbers that when walking here, we see new ones each day. Most active and abundant are the variety of warblers. The several species here now will swell to about two dozen kinds of many colors in a couple of weeks.
It's late April, and the pace of spring happenings has been speeding up. We now have a sunset after 8 p.m. and the days are reaching 14 hours of light. Late April can still be cold. Snow is not unheard of, but the trend is now rapidly toward warmer and milder days of spring. Greening is progressing and I see lots more green shoots among the lawn grasses as I walk by. In the woods, mosses continue their new growth at the bases of trees. Buds of elderberry have swollen and tell of opening their compound leaves as we enter May.
When it comes to weather, April is a month that can run the gamut. Temperatures early in the month may be near zero degrees, as seen in April 2018, or can rise to 70 or 80 late in the month — more typical are mild days, chilly nights. We can, and often do, get snows, some rather substantial (nearly 51 inches in April 2013) or none (April 2010). We do get the expected April showers, which can morph into thunderstorms accompanied with hail. Strong east winds can make us think that this spring month feels more like one of winter.
Walking between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. for the last couple of weeks has been a delight. Though cold and dark, the walks have been anything but disappointing. Many sounds of local critters have kept me listening as the stars overhead fade while the eastern sky brightens to tell of a new day.
Like a couple of the previous months, March showed quite a difference between the first half and the second. While the average temperature in the beginning was mid-teens, that of the latter half was mid-30s. Sub-zero readings with snowfall happened at first, but neither prevailed. The snowpack was quite impressive — up to 3 feet in some areas — and dropped to about a half-foot by the end. ("In like a lion, out like a lamb.")
As we exit the 31 days of March, we can look back on a month that gave us the vernal equinox — the first day of spring — but much of the time, it seemed more like winter. After a chilly start, the month progressed to warming and we went from subzero to 50s. The impressive snowpack due to a snowy February has shrunk considerably. We begin April with more than 12.5 hours of daylight, growing more each day. But we will probably get more cold and snow in this new month.
By the end of March, after the vernal equinox, the hours of daylight are greater than that of darkness — first time since last September, and getting longer each day. Even when the last weeks of this month may be reluctant to give up its snow, we still see some changes due to the more sunlight. Even a cold March will occasionally give us a few warm days.
As we approach the vernal equinox — the first day of spring — most of us look forward to the new season, whether we are winter weary or not. We might search for a few early migrants, be they hawks, eagles, geese or robins. Early-waking chipmunks may be in the yard along with tracks of a raccoon or the odor of a wandering skunk. Along the house, we could find the first dandelion or crocus starting to bloom. And many have a vase of willow twigs with their opening buds, a help for spring fever. But I also like to note the critters that wintered with us.