The vernal equinox March 20 marks the beginning of spring, but also, I see it as an anniversary.
During last year’s vernal equinox, we seriously took note of the pandemic. Tournaments, conferences and schools began to get canceled. And our lives changed. We started wearing masks and we learned that the safest thing to do was stay at home. I decided to do just that and watch nearby nature.
Many nature observers have wondered what it would be like to see the changes in nature while staying in one place for an entire year. Though we continue to watch nature, we often go elsewhere to see other natural news. Here was that opportunity, even though unintended, to remain at home for the whole year, observing nearby nature.
I have done some traveling in recent years, but COVID-19 changed that. From mid-March 2020 until mid-March 2021, I stayed home.
At the time of the autumnal equinox of 2020, I reflected on what it was like to watch homebound nature throughout the spring and summer. There was constant happenings with local flora and fauna. I was never bored. Now, at the vernal equinox, I can reflect on two more home seasons: autumn and winter.
Weather made much news. After a very dry September, more moisture returned.
October started off warm (80 degrees on the 9th), it morphed into a chilly ending (fifth-coldest) with the second-most snowfall for this month.
Early November, also warm, had record-setting days (75 degrees on the 6th), melting the October snows. But snow returned, starting a snowpack that lasted more than 120 days, and the lakes froze.
Early December, we saw subzero and freezing of rivers. Lake ice was devoid of a snow cover for weeks. Good for skating and seeing what is under water. Jupiter and Saturn gave quite a show in this dark month.
January followed December’s pattern, being warmer than normal and less snow. Early in the month, we enjoyed a wonderful winter crystal scene; “rime time."
The mild winter took a change for 10 days in February when the temperature never got above 2 degrees, including a record cold of 35 degrees below zero.
By the end of the month, the days had warmed and we ended the winter with melting mild March days (record setting; 55 degrees on the 9th). More snow and rain as we moved on to the vernal equinox.
In the midst of all these weather happenings, much was seen with local wildlife. During late September mornings, I searched for and photographed spiderwebs. Draped in dew, these constructions were very photogenic. When temperatures fell, I extended my web search, not just covered with dew, but frost. This marvel is seldom seen, but in the waning days of the month, I located a few such webs.
Bird migration of fall was again excellent. I did not need to go to Hawk Ridge, but saw flights right near home. Besides raptors, there were flocks of geese and various songbirds. Early October was filled with sparrows, blackbirds and the last of the warblers.
I went to a swamp in October to watch the evening flights of bats. While seeing these mammals, I noted plenty of ducks (mostly wood ducks), flying from where they spent the day to their night sites. I kept coming back for this show — nearly every dusk for a month.
The leaf color and drop was dramatic at mid-October. Not only did leaves fall, many acorns dropped in the woods. This satisfied squirrels and turkeys. While wandering here, I also saw a couple late-season mushrooms; honey (armillaria) and scaly-cap (pholiota) and the waning fall wildflowers. In the light of a lower sun of October and November, I found myriad tiny spiders ballooning (kiting) in their dispersal.
When colder weather came the flight of snow buntings and two kinds of finches not seen last year: redpolls and pine grosbeaks. A snow fall on frozen ground and ice in December provided for great tracking conditions. And I found tracks of about 20 kinds in one walk.
Settling down with feeder watching in January and the cold of February, I noted chickadees, nuthatches, jays and woodpeckers actively here each day (no finches), and flying squirrels at night.
In March, they were joined by raccoons and chipmunks. Willow and aspen buds opened and crocuses emerged in nearby soil as we returned to the vernal equinox.
My year of stay-at-home nature watching was a great experience. I continually observed happenings and whether it was hot or cold, dry or wet, day or night, the nearby nature show was continuous and never boring, with always more to see.
“There is a new story out here every day.” Will there be more stay-at-home to come?