Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Phenology 3.13.13

Hoarfrost on silver maple.

Early March 2013

Phenology:  The study of the timing of natural events

Signs of spring are all around us in early March, we just might have to look a little harder this year.  While driving to and from work on Highway 15 I have started noticing more and more striped skunk fatalities; I have even heard reports from friends that they have had late night visits near their homes by these inquisitive mammals.  Whether we enjoy these creatures or despise their smell, they are a sure sign of spring approaching.  After months in a state of torpor underground in a burrow or inside an abandoned woodpile the male skunks are out there eagerly looking for a mate – this was the first event noted in Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac.  With these creatures abound, if you are lucky you may even catch a glimpse of the now uncommon Eastern Spotted Skunk or civet cat.  Populations of these skunks have steadily declined due to the loss of habitat and food availability.  Brake for skunks – its just Love in the air!

Although not always a sign of spring, one might have noticed that there are more mornings recently where you look outside and notice the trees are covered in beautiful white “fuzz”.  This phenomenon is known as hoarfrost.  Hoarfrost forms whenever it cold enough outside to freeze yet there is an ample supply of water vapor in the air.  This is why we commonly see hoarfrost in late winter, when the temperatures get into the 30’s during the day and then dip below freezing at night.

Lastly, as I was sitting in my garage last Saturday night my dog, Hazel, approached me with a curious creature – A muskrat!  I thought to myself, “What is a muskrat doing out here, there is not a wetland area within a mile of our place?”  Then it occurred to me, this is the start of the mating season for them as well.  This little guy was likely a young male looking to find a new partner and expand into new territory.  When I woke up the next morning I inspected the scene further.  Apparently this muskrat had done an entire tour of the farm, looking in every nook and cranny. 

When you get a moment take a look at our native river bottom tree, the Silver Maple.  These maples are showing signs of spring preparation with their swelling buds.  Often these enlarged buds are a maroon/red color and quite striking against the backdrop of a snow-covered landscape.  Soon enough these buds will break and begin to flower, we will talk more about the fascination with trees in flower in the near future.

As we near the spring thaw, signs of new life will begin to show themselves more frequently.  If we pay closer attention to the trees, birds, and animals around us they would surely tell you spring is near.

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I am looking forward to doing phenology reports on a regular basis. I certainly do hope you enjoy them.  -John

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