By the time we get to late January, the amount of daylight is noticeably getting longer. We have about nine and a half hours of light, quite expanded from the eight and a half at the solstice of a little over a month ago.

As we end this month and enter February, the light will rapidly continue to lengthen. This does not necessarily translate into warmer temperatures yet; that will be later.

Late January can have some of our coldest days of the whole winter. Thanks to the substantial snowfall of early December, we also have a deep snowpack at this time.

Besides watching birds that usually come to the bird feeders, I take walks regularly in this season. Feeder watching is done mostly without going outside, but though I won’t see as many birds at feeders while walking along trails and roads, these sites provide for other seasonal happenings.

This winter has been a marvel for seeing tracks in the snow. They began with the movements of wildlife active in the snows of November. Snow not so deep and not so cold, critters were very active, leaving a plethora of tracks.

After the heavier snowfalls, their movements changed, but with some looking, I was able to see them. This was followed by warming that made for wet snow; subsequent freezing provided a crusted surface.

In this setting, animals that were struggling in the deep snow now could go over it. Many walkers and hoppers were able to stay above the crust. But there is plenty more to see in the winter landscape besides active birds and abundant tracks.

Sticking up through the snowpack of mid-winter are stalks of wildflowers that bloomed last summer. It is not unusual to find goldenrods, asters, thistles, tansies, fireweeds and milkweeds above the snow. Though plants have mostly died above ground, two parts remain alive in winter: one below, one above.

Below, the roots are still alive of these mostly perennial flowers. And out above the snow many plants hold living seeds that could grow in the coming warmer days. Looking more closely, I see goldenrods and asters with fluffy seeds that disperse in winter winds. Those of fireweeds, milkweeds and thistles are mostly gone by now.

In swamps, cattails are also open for wind travel. The ubiquitous and not always appreciated tansies do well by just dropping their seeds. Another flower here in the snow is evening primrose.

An evening primrose as it looks in the snowpack on a January day. Note the open seed pods. (Photo by Larry Weber)
An evening primrose as it looks in the snowpack on a January day. Note the open seed pods. (Photo by Larry Weber)

They were part of the roadside bouquet of last July with milkweeds and fireweeds. Unlike these that had purple flowers, evening primroses opened four large yellow petals that bloomed at night, hence the name. (Instead of trying to attract diurnal insects, primroses entice nocturnal moths.)

Differing from many flowers of the summer days, seeds of evening primroses are not fluffy to be spread by the breeze. Seeds are borne in pods that develop from the large flowers and mature to be tiny ball-like structures.

Last summer was long ago, but primroses with seeds are still here. After the pods developed and formed seeds within, they opened in the arid air of fall and winter. Now in the cold season, they stand with open pods and though not having seeds blowing in the wind, they are still being helped by breezes that shake the plants, dislodging seeds, falling onto the surface of the snow.

Yes, last summer was long ago and next July is far away, but the evening primroses stand out here in January preparing for the coming warmth, whenever it may come.

Larry Weber
Larry Weber