While many folks around these parts have been revelling in our near absence of winter this season, I have noticed (somewhat alarmingly) the paraphernalia of spring creeping back at an accelerated rate. Green leaves have formed on the otherwise dormant honeysuckle, spring frogs have been heard near the unfrozen pond edges, and a pair of carolina wrens were nosing around the peanut feeder recently. In fact, while waiting for the bus the last two mornings I have listened to the plaintive sounds of dueling chickadees, their simple fee-bee echoing back and forth, matching tones, overlapping…all very aggressive given that no one is (or perhaps better to say should be) breeding right now. A tufted titmouse has been singing a relentless peter-peter cadence outside the bird feeder garden at the Lab for nearly three weeks now in a high-stakes game of “dibs!” or “shotgun!” that won’t be resolved for several months. Is it hubris to sing so readily through the heart of winter, knowing that Winter must still come? Anxiety? Excitement? Ignorance?
Because of the temperamental nature of weather, plants and animals tend to take their cues from a less mutable source like daylength; and while we have had about 4 weeks of incremental increases in daylight, there’s still a long ways to go until Spring. Research has shown that migratory species are arriving earlier and departing sooner than they used to, and that this pattern correlates well with increases in temperature. Resident species are breeding earlier, too. But January?
The hammer had to drop sometime, and drop it did this past weekend. Two days of freezing rain and ice accumulation prepped the environment for a 1-2 inch dusting of snow, and my carolina wrens have not been seen again. And while I wouldn’t mind it taking out all of the invasive honeysuckle, somehow I think that won’t happen.
So now the honeysuckle sits, encased in ice, the frogs are back in the mud, and the temperatures are well below freezing. But the chickadees sing on, and I hope they know something I don’t.