November is known as a changing month in the Northland and this November has given plenty of weather variations. We expect to begin with a scene devoid of snow and often fairly mild temperatures.

We began without a snow cover — snows of late October quickly melted in climbing temperatures. Highs in the 40s or even 50s are not that unusual in the first half of the month, but reaching into the 70s for a couple days made us feel like a return to summer.

It is interesting to note that 75 degrees recorded Nov. 6 was not only a record temperature for that date, it was the warmest November temperature ever recorded at the Weather Service. Exactly a year ago, we had freeze-up in many lakes.

The changes continue and once the warm days passed, rains came. After virtually no precipitation in the previous two weeks, the Weather Service recorded 1.18 inches rain Nov. 9 — a record rain for that date. With cooling temperatures of the next day, snow moved in. Ending around midnight, this snowfall recorded 7.3 inches — and yes, a record snowfall for this date. In the wake of the snowfall, we may have finally settled into a “normal November."

Though not as dramatic as seen earlier, November is when we see some big changes. During the second half, I expect three very important weather happenings to take place in anticipating winter. This is often when lake freeze-up takes place (earlier in ponds and swamps). With subsequent frozen ground and ice cover, falling snow will remain, often setting the pace for the next several months.

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Critters that live here respond to winter in four ways:

  • Some lay eggs and die — especially insects.
  • Many migrate to warmer locations — mostly noted with birds.
  • Others hibernate and wake next spring, like bears, chipmunks, snakes, frogs.
  • And there are those that stay active throughout the cold. This group is of mammals and birds are the ones that we see in winter.

Keeping active in the cold means adjusting in both physical and behavioral ways. Fur and feathers can provide the physical protection. Behaviorally, they may need to vary their diet and find sufficient shelter.

One small mammal, the deer mouse, copes well. (Deer mice are very similar to white-footed mice — also local residents.)

When walking in the morning after a recent snowfall, I noted the tracks of mammals that are active in the woods. Among the deer, squirrel and weasel tracks, I found the hopping gait of deer mice. While some small mammals stay under the snow, this one travels over, leaving its hopping tracks with a tail marking. The tracks told of this rodent going among logs and stumps to seek shelter.


Northland Nature: Red-backed voles in the spruce woods

Northland Nature: Shrews make trails in the new snow

But when I located similar tracks near outbuildings and the house, I was reminded that the shelter that they may be seeking could be ours.

I have found that deer mice with light-brown backs, white undersides and big eyes are common. Among other native mice, voles have short tails, jumping mice extremely long tails and deer mice have a tail about the same length as their body. By this time in November, they spread out to find shelters and our homes could be their homes.

Indeed, the indoor movement of these mice is also a regular November happening. Eventually, with our disapproval of their influx, we take back our homes and they seek other shelters in the snow. But in late November, we see how abundant deer mice are.

Larry Weber
Larry Weber

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