Nature Notes – There’s something special about February

By Jim Gilbert

February is often the most pleasant month of winter, mainly due to the 80 minutes of added daylight we receive as the month proceeds. Lakes are now covered by at least 18 to 30 inches of ice, but always respect changing conditions and be careful. After a fresh snowfall it’s fun to get out and see who goes where, to note the activities of neighborhood gray squirrels, cottontail rabbits and tunneling shrews, all recorded in the snow.
Here in southern Minnesota, wintering mourning doves are fairly common at feeding stations where they prefer to eat cracked corn and other seeds scattered on the ground. Up north, pine grosbeaks and evening grosbeaks may visit sunflower feeders. Just before and during snowfalls it’s interesting to watch the birds at feeding stations in their “feeding frenzy” mode.
Between now and the end of March is a good time to prune grape vines and to continue pruning apple trees and oaks. It’s time for colorful displays of garden vegetable and flower seed packets to appear in grocery stores. Begonia and geranium seeds should be started indoors by the second week of February.
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, and also for red foxes. Watch for horned larks, considered to be our first of the returning migrants, along country roads in southern and western Minnesota; in the north newborn black bear cubs nestle close to their slumbering mothers and common ravens start nest building.
Those of us who are close to nature during the length of a Minnesota winter can sincerely appreciate even the subtle spring signs and take joy in each happening.
The wonderful whistled songs of the northern cardinal and black-capped chickadee make us take note. Our minds think of warmer days. Near the end of the month listen for mourning doves to begin cooing, and male courting ring-necked pheasants to start crowing their loud double squawks.

What’s happening outdoors now?
At our latitude, Feb. 11 in a very noteworthy day. That’s because from this date on it will be hot and humid in greenhouses on sunny days and plants begin to come out of dormancy and start growing.
Also, from this day on, even on cold days, the interiors of our cars and trucks warm up when parked in the sunlight. Through automobile windows the sun’s rays heat up the dashboard and seats which in turn warm the interior air.
All this happens because the sun has reached a higher position in the sky and focuses more radiation on each square foot.

On Feb. 13 a year ago
We had a fiery sunrise, mostly cloudy skies, a high of 39 degrees, and one inch of new snow making for a total snow cover of seven inches.
There was much melting on roads, black-capped chickadees sang their “fee-bee” (“spring-soon”) song over and over, and an opossum spent part of the afternoon eating cracked corn I spread out on the ground in our wildlife feeding area.