What’s special about winter in February?

February is still winter, but change is in the air. Literally in the air, if you listen to black-capped chickadees whistling their “fee-bee” or “spring-soon” song over and over, or hear downy woodpeckers drumming on resonant tree trunks and limbs or other “signal posts.”

They do this to announce territories and establish pair bonds. The “wicker” spring call of the red-bellied woodpecker is another spring sound we have been hearing lately. Also, the wonderful whistled songs of the northern cardinal make us take note. Our minds think of warmer days.

Red foxes are normally solitary but can now be observed in pairs as their mating season approaches. Raccoons and skunks come out during warm spells, searching for food and companionship. By mid-month the mating season has started for flying, fox, gray, and red squirrels.

Great horned owls are on nests incubating eggs. They are Minnesota’s earliest nesting bird. Bald eagle nesting season begins in February. It is thought that they mate for life and return to the same nest each year, adding more sticks. A large nest could weigh 1,000 pounds and is usually in a tall tree. That’s a big nest for only two 2 ½ inch-long eggs. I know of three old bald eagle nests where pairs have returned in the last two weeks.

February is often the most pleasant month of winter, mainly due to the nearly 80 minutes of added daylight we receive as the month proceeds. Along with that, on or close to February 11 each year, as the Sun moves higher in the sky, plants in greenhouses come out of dormancy and start growing. On sunny days after that date, greenhouses become hot and humid, and even on cold days, the interiors of our cars now warm up when parked in the sunlight. This fact is very reassuring.

What’s happening outdoors now?
Close to 20 inches of ice covers Lake Waconia, but always be careful and aware of springs and changing conditions. Check at the In Towne Marina, located on the south side of the lake, for the latest in ice conditions, plus fishing information. This winter, sunfish have been biting during the day, and crappies just before sunset and into the evening. Northern pike have been biting during the day, and walleyes late at night. Between now and the end of March is a good time to prune grape vines, and to continue pruning apple trees and oaks.

On Feb. 14 a year ago
Valentine’s Day in 2012 was cloudy but bright. We had a low temperature of 22 and a high of 34 degrees F. The .2 inch snow that fell the day before was melting and leaving our landscape brown and nearly snow-free. Pressure ridges were seen on Lake Waconia, and much damage to the shoreline was noticed; the result of expanding ice. A few American goldfinches were showing more yellow coloration as the nesting season approached. A flock of about 50 American robins was wintering in the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.

Jim Gilbert’s Nature Notes is a regular feature of The Norwood Young America Times.