Thursday, February 26, 2009


Thunderstorms tonight, with lightning and thunder that rattles the windows. Fog and a lot of rain, too.

Raccoons fighting (?) in yard last night.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Mud and a tirade

One nice day -- it's hit 50 deg F -- and every bit of snow that's not in a pile from a plow has melted -- in the space of 2 hours. This means mud and puddles, to be compounded by predicted rainfall all day tomorrow!

This afternoon I received an email asking if I had seen any red-winged black birds yet (no) and stating that other people had claimed it was weird to care about that, but surely I would understand. Of course I understand, and I think it's quite a shame that others find this to be odd. Phenology -- the oldest science -- humanity's means of survival, of finding food and necessities since the dawn of man -- is now weird. We are so disconnected with the cycles that sustain life on earth -- including our lives -- that it is considered abnormal to pay attention to them. We don't know what goes on on our own backyards... Let me tell you, I will take my place alongside Also Leopold and Sigurd Olson, alongside Thomas Jefferson, who kept meticulous notebooks of plant life cycle events at Monticello. If those of us who care when the first RWBB comes to town, the last snowfall occurrs, or the prairie colver blooms are strange, I will wear the label proudly!

ps -- Is my coming down with my third cold this year a sign of spring?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


For more information on phenology, go to The National Phenology Network, or go to Project Budburst to post observations on a national phenology network

Bird brained

The house finches are looking especially red this morning. Big groups of them sit in the trees all over, and for some reason I could see their color from far away today.

Crazy story. A student comes up to me before school this morning and wants to show me their van. right on the sunroof window are the remains of some owl's midnight meal -- some rabbit fur, intestines spread out all over... Since it was on the roof, it must have been a bird's kill; since it happened over night I am assuming great-horned owl.

And to prove nature does, indeed, have a sense of humor... they had gotten a car wash yesterday afternoon.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Update on update

90 minutes later, about 12 fresh goose tracks led away from the spot the goose was sitting (which has melted the snow) and then ended where the goose presumably flew away unharmed.

Weekend update

Friday night and all day Saturday, snow fell over northern Illinois, reminding us once again that winter still had at least a month of calendar time. In all, 4-5 inches of snow fell, although some of it melted away on Sunday. Although it's still February, this is the time of year when it becomes frustrating to deal with snow. In my mind, I think, March begins next week... spring technically starts in March... it's almost spring! Shoveling doesn't seem like invogorating exercise as it did in December. But last year, we had a foot of snow the day before spring break started, which was several days post-equinox. So the month drags on and on...

This morning is bright and deceptively frigid. Where tall grasses grow in the prairie, the wind has blown the snow, creating mounds on the leeward side of every clump, parallel snow drifts like mini drumlins of snow. In turf grass fields, the snow is flat and white and blindingly sparkly in the low morning sun. Chickadees darted about in the trees, chirping, unbothered by the cold.

The return of snow means that animal tracks once again tell the stories of all that happened while humans were away. The small amount of snow and subsequent melting means that vole tunnels are visible as small mounds running throughout the landscape. All their twists and turns are discernable, a maze and a mystery. Their air vents and exit holes pepper the prairie, and sometimes I get the treat of seeing their tiny footprints, tail dragging along, where they left the protection of the subnivean world for some reason and crossed on top of the snow.

Squirrels have darted here and there, shredding Osage Oranges to access the seeds. Their tracks disappear as they leap into trees and reappear in other places. Coyotes trotted purposefully across the field. And the strangest sight of the morning... a goose, sitting in the middle of the soccer field. Her tracks are there, in the snow, but look as though the wind has blown snow across them, which means this goose has been sitting for a while. She's active -- as I walked by she honked at me and rearranged herself several times. But she's alone and doesn't appear to be in any great hurry to move.

In the world of plants, alders are filled with catkins, brown and hanging well over an inch down. They are still closed, but I see some yellow spaces in between the scales, and in my mind, if not in reality, they seem ready to swell and burst open as soon as the right day presents itself.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


After a drizzly day yesterday, the temperatures dropped for a heckuva snowstorm last night. Accumulation-wise, there is only about an inch of snow... but it was/is very windy and was blowing all over. Plus, there is a nice layer of ice under a lot of things, including on many roads. And, it's currently 8 degrees with a windchill way below 0. We're grounded.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Today, while doing an orienteering course, a group of 3 students found a deer antler. Not a chew mark on it yet. 4 points. A little hair and blood at the base. Really nice.

Things are slowly starting to happen...

The weather has been sufficiently wintry, but each day seems to top out above freezing, and usually above 40 degrees. It definitely feels as though winter's grasp is tenuous.

Saw mallard ducks over the weekend. Also juncos.

Also, maple buds are beginning to swell. Close inspections shows that nothing at all is popping out of them, but the clusters of red flower buds are now visible from afar. I wonder whether it is the noticably lengthening days or the first sixty-degree temperatures that prompted them to prepare for their March debut.

While I was out observing them, several chickadees (3?) gathered above my head and sang their characteristic song. I love them; they are spirited and smart.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


About 2 inches of snow fell overnight, making it beautifully white when I awoke this morning. By mid-morning, it was already melting and I suspect by tonight you won't even be able to tell it snowed at all.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Rain, rain...

Thy fate is the common fate of all;
Into each life some rain must fall. -- H.W. Longfellow

Some rain is OK. We are getting a LOT of rain.
And the temperature is falling.
Winter returns as quickly as she left.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Signs of "spring"

Here are the signs of "spring" that I have seen in the last 24 hours:
  • High today of over 60 degrees. It was 50 before the sun rose. (Also extremely windy).
  • Dead skunk on the side of the road. Notable because it means the skunk was up and about. If I were a dormant animal, this is the week I would choose to wake up and look around, too!
  • Found a beetle outside, nowhere near a building. I think it is in for a sorry surprise.
  • Geese flying north. of course, geese over-winter here now, so this doesn't actually mean what it did when Aldo Leopold wrote ...."A chipmunk, emerging for a sunbath but finding a blizzard, has only to go back to bed. But a migrating goose, staking 200 miles of black night on the chance of finding a hole in the lake, has no easy chance for retreat. His arrival carries the conviction of a prophet who has burned his bridges." and "One swallow does not make a summer, but one skein of geese, cleaving the murk of a March thaw, is the spring."
  • Goldfinches, still in their winter wardrobe, are more active this morning than I have seen them in a while. A lot of birds are out and about, actually, but I'm not a good enough birder to determine many of their identities. I know I haven't seen a robin yet...
  • Kids are out and about without jackets, and it is sloppy-muddy outside.
Everyone is acting a bit twitterpated, but I fear we're in for a shocking blow when the mercury falls.

Monday, February 9, 2009


Fog obscures my view of a changed world. Temperatures nearing 60 degrees on Saturday melted all the snow except for the huge piles and that in deep shade. For a brief while this weekend, it felt like spring. The smell of mud was in the air, the green of next year's columbines was visible in the garden. We opened windows and got out fall jackets. Excitement was in the air.

Sunday was still warm, but a bit cooler. Enough cooler that, in addition to the warmth, you started to notice the brown-ness. The piles of sand and black grime at the edge of the roads, the litter that has all been covered by snow for so long. And I find myself longing for the snow back. After all, we're not even half way through February; this is just a tease, anyhow.

This morning's frost on goldenrod (photo by Chris); forming what looks like spiderwebs of snow on sweet clover, and across the prairie.

Friday, February 6, 2009


A lovely hoar frost this morning, but delicate and fast disappearing. I fear I won't have time to take a picture of it.

Also, something walked right across my yard, onto my porch, and up to my patio door last night. I didn't spend a lot of time studying the tracks (I didn't actually go outside) but from what I could tell, it was medium-to-large, didn't drag anything (tail, feel or belly) in the snow, and it direct registered. We don't see a lot of foxes in my neighborhood... if the snow hasn't melted after school today, I will go out and look at the actual prints, count toes and things like that. (High today is supposed to be 38 deg and it's clear, so I imagine we'll see some melting today)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

And Again...

Today the ice was 12.5 inches. This data was collected from a hole just a few inches away from Monday's hole, so it seems as though it has gotten 1.5 inches thicker in the past few days of below-freezing weather. The weekend is supposed to be quite warm, however, so this trend may soon be reversed!

Monday, February 2, 2009


The ice on Lake Leopold is 11 inches thick this morning. According to my records, this is similar to the ice measurements in 2007, when is was 11 inches thick in mid-February. (I did not measure ice last year.)

Here I am getting ready to drill the ice with an auger.

Drip Drop

This weekend brought two sunny and warm days. On Sunday it reached 40 F. Of course, this means we had a lot of snow melt. Throughout the day, I'd hear thuds -- big chinks of snow falling from the roof! Still, with all the dripping and slushiness, there is a good 4 inches or so of snow left on the ground, and the temperature is back below freezing for a while.

Saw 2 redtailed hawks sitting on a wire near my house this weekend, looking down for food below. I often see one, and have even seen her catch a vole... but rarely see two together.