Anticipation: Another Mild Winter?

Is it really possible we’re going to have another mild winter here in Michigan? Last winter was barely even recognizable, with sunshine and warm breezes in January and February. Something I enjoyed immensely, by the way. I got in lots of winter birding early in the year, giving me a much-needed boost in learning to identify more duck species. Not to mention that it was a great reprieve from the usual seasonal depression I’ve dealt with in past winters.

This year, even though we had a half foot of snow dumped on us on December 26, the temperature hit 59°F yesterday and 55ºF today. Almost all of the snow has been melted by the plentiful rain, and I’ve taken advantage of it to get as much fresh air as possible. I sure hope I’m not jinxing us by writing about it (yeah, I’m a little bit superstitious).

Predictor of a mild winter?

Predictor of a mild winter?

The other day I found this cute Woolly Bear caterpillar in the yard. Not knowing much about them, I went searching for something to explain why such a vulnerable creature would be out crawling around in January. I found that this fuzzy critter apparently survives the winter by freezing solid, and then thawing out in the spring to get busy turning into an Isabella Tiger Moth. Fascinating. The warm temps we’ve had this past week convinced this little guy that it was time to come out and play. (He’s lucky I saw him before I stepped on him on my way to refill the bird feeders — he easily could have been a squished woolly bear.)

And I found out another little tidbit that makes my superstitious parts happy: Some people believe you can tell how severe the winter will be by the width of the brown part in the middle of this caterpillar. A small brown section means you’d better hunker down for a long, hard winter. A wider brown section between the black ends means milder weather. So…..this guy is telling me that we’re in for an easy winter this year. And I choose to believe him. So there.

Today, while Eric tried to sleep off a bad cold, I decided to do some yard work. No, I’m not kidding. Yard work in January. In Michigan. Ha! But this was actually work in the woods, not the yard. For the past couple of years I’ve been wanting to create some better paths through our woods to make it easier to chase the birds. Up till now we’ve just used the deer paths to get through the woods, but the many fallen branches and leaves make too much noise crunching underfoot. The birds usually take off before we can find them.

Mud means Spring, right?

Mud means Spring, right? (You can see some of our woods up on the hill)

So I started raking some more-defined paths that loop around our two acres, using some of the deer paths as a foundation, and marking the edges with branches. We’ve left the woods as natural as possible during the six years we’ve lived here, trying to make the property as wildlife-friendly as we can. Occasionally I clear out some of the fallen branches, but those branches came in very handy for this project.

I caught this Prothonotary Warbler singing last May at Magee Marsh in Ohio.

I caught this Prothonotary Warbler singing last May at Magee Marsh in Ohio.

If feels so good to finally DO this, after talking about it for so long. All I need are a few more days of mild weather over the next couple of months (please please) and I’ll get this finished. Then we’ll be ready for the warblers when migration starts in April. Our “Yard List” is too thin on warblers, but I expect to remedy that this year. It’s fun to dream about which warbler will be the first we’ll find in our woods: Will it be a Prothonotary? Or a Black and White Warbler? Or maybe a Palm Warbler?

Don’t you love anticipating an exciting event? Whether it’s a long-awaited family gathering, the publication of a new book by your favorite author, or the birth of a baby, I think looking forward to something fun is one of the best parts of life. What are you looking forward to right now?

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5 Responses to Anticipation: Another Mild Winter?

  1. Pingback: What’s Going on Around Here…Yard Update | Nature is My Therapy

  2. That’s fascinating about the Woolly Bears. I had no clue! I wonder what happens to them if it gets really cold again and they have already thawed out.

    And I can’t believe it is that warm where you live. Well, I would believe it if you were in California or Hawaii, but Michigan? You are going to get soft if these mild winters keep happening. 🙂

    • Kim says:

      I’m guessing they can refreeze and thaw out again? But I’m sure that takes a toll on them…wonder how many times they can survive that sort of weather change? I guess we’ll find out if we have a shortage of Tiger Moths this spring.

      As for getting soft, I think I’m already too soft to deal with what you’ve got up in Kamloops right now. I hope you don’t lose little Fergus in those mountains of snow!

  3. littlesundog says:

    Kim, I found your information on the Woolly Bear very interesting! I’ve seen those before. We are having a mild winter here too – yesterday was 70°! This is not good… we’ll have another year of pestilence likely, and the fruit trees will not acquire enough chill hours, so it’ll be a scant fruit year.

    I do some clearing in our woods, mostly just what is on the ground unless it’s a big timber, which we leave. I also make brush piles for wildlife, and we always leave the dead trees standing (snags). Mostly, I like to clean the pathways and clear some of the soft grassy areas where the deer like to bed down. We also mow down some grasses, but leave other prairie grasses to grow, and we’ve planted a nice food plot for the deer. We try to make the woodlands a critter-friendly place!

    • Kim says:

      I think we manage our woods very similarly to the way you do it, except for the deer feeding part. That’s illegal here because the deer are such a problem. (There were 139 car-vehicle crashes in our city in 2011 — that’s almost three per week!) It’s such a shame.

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