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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Looking out now at the feeders, we see more than just the regulars that wintered with us. In addition to the juncos, there may also be purple finches (sort of a "red-headed sparrow") feeding on the seeds. Other finches might include goldfinches, pine siskins and there could be some north-bound tree sparrows.
Recently, as I moved about in the basement, I paused to look in a corner — something that we normally pass without a glance. This time, I observed it more closely and with the aid of some light, I discovered a complete spiderweb. It took a little more searching to find the owner, but back in a tunnel-like site, it sat still. The web shape and size gave it away as being that of a funnel-web spider.
Early March 2007 gave us a "good old-fashioned" blizzard of nearly twenty inches with wind and drifts. But a mere three years later, March 2010 came and went with no snow and the snowpack that we had melted. I paddled on the lake by the end of this early spring month. Perhaps we are more inclined to remember the extremes which are impressive, but "normal" March itself is quite impressive.
It may be too early to expect migrant songbirds in the yard, but a few others may be in the region: a couple of hawks, eagles and crows are likely early migrants. But the birds that wintered with us are responding to the longer days as well. Walks at dawn in the growing morning light are made more interesting with calls from crows, ravens, blue jays and another daily sound: the drumming of woodpeckers.
The second half of January was quite different from the first half and gave us some winter weather to remember.
The trail passes a few downed logs. Here, as I look down among the fallen wood, I note a small mammal slip by. I pause and sure enough, I see it again. Though it is only about 4 inches long and stays mostly under the snow, I detect enough to recognize what it is. The reddish fur on the back gives it away as a red-backed vole. Common residents of the spruce forests, these small rodents are not seen often.
Finches are a widely diverse group of birds that are mostly small — only about 5 inches. Though a few others could be in the region, there are usually five kinds that come to us in winter: pine grosbeak, purple finch, goldfinch, redpoll and pine siskin. Pine grosbeaks, at 9 inches, are by far the largest of this group. I had seen many earlier in this winter and though they did remain at some Northland feeders through January, not mine. Typically, they arrive early in winter and tend to depart, by March.
I don't expect to see any groundhogs (woodchucks) as I walk in the mid-winter woods. As expected, the temperature is chilly and we have an ample snowpack on the ground. Woodpeckers drill into trees for a meal; a few chickadees and nuthatches flutter about and overhead are the usual ravens and crows. Silent in early winter, I now hear barred owls calling during nights. Plenty of dear tracks and signs are on the snow.
I remember a pretty good acorn crop during the days of September. But for me, it was just a seasonal phenomenon of the red oaks. For the squirrels, it was a food supply to help in the cold times. Unlike red squirrels that cache a huge amount in just one site, grays place just a couple of acorns in shallow holes under the fallen leaves. With a memory or a sense of smell going beyond most of us, they now come back to reclaim this potential food.
It is a great time to take a closer look at the trees and see that they are not really so bare.