Comes another foot of snow and suddenly winter is back again. The most recent string of storms, however, had an interesting “warm” feel to them that was neither threatening nor debilitating. The snow on my roof began to melt during the heaviest storm and the dripping continued unabated till the shingles were clear and dry once more. Shoveling was simple and surprisingly easy, and the warm earth below was easy to find. It was as if the soil had had enough of winter and was not interested in dealing with more snow. I was surprised at how quickly the sun, ground and trees disposed of over a foot of snow. Enough already!
It appears that the wild things were none too impressed with the recent blizzard. During and after the storm I heard robins and bluebirds singing, red-winged blackbirds cackling, turkeys gobbling and chickadees and titmice singing away as if it were a sunny day in May.
At night I’ve had pairs of raccoons, foxes and deer coming in to feed. The turkeys were especially annoyed at the snow and quickly scratched their way down to the cracked corn and sunflower seed. No more sitting and waiting for balmier times – they want food and they want it now!
While shoveling around the house and wood shed I found dozens of freshly-dug tunnels in the snow at ground level, some going from tree to tree while others came out from under the shed or one of the porches. I was thinking that red or gray squirrels were the primary excavators, but then I began finding scattered piles of blue jay feathers everywhere, which suggests that one of the tunnel makers might be a weasel or even a mink. I have seen no other evidence of anything hunting blue jays during the day but the feathers are distinct, abundant and left in neat little piles. Weasels don’t always eat their entire victim, in fact they often just take a single bite out of it, but these birds were gone save for their colorful feathers. I’m not sure how long this carnage has been going on but from the looks of things it’s been most of the winter. I have not seen any other evidence of weasels or mink but that’s my best guess so far. Either predator could easily pop out of a hole in the snow, grab a blue jay and head back through the tunnel to the shed or porch, never to be seen again.
I do have raccoons and foxes lurking around the place, mostly at night, but they would leave more sign and are certainly too big to fit into one of those snow tunnels. Plus, the larger scavengers are most interested in the suet feeders or the pile of sunflower seeds I put out just before dark. When they venture out to feed the blue jays are safely in their roosts. It may be time to put a trail camera out there and see what’s going on when I’m not looking.
I may have been a little hasty in covering my emerging daffodils and irises with mulch but I got that job done last week between storms. Heck, it was 50 degrees and sunny – who would expect another foot of snow to arrive? Most of my bulbs are on the warmer South side of the house and up against the foundation, so they’ve been popping up on their own despite the cold and snow we’ve endured of late. The mulch will keep them warm and protect them from any late-winter precipitation. In fact, I noticed that they grew a couple of inches after I mulched them, which is certainly a good sign.
Prior to the storm I noticed that deer have started to wander and a few of them decided to take a stroll through my apple orchard. They didn’t nip on any of the budding branches but I did not want them to even get started. I filled several nylon knee-highs with Milorgonite (a type of fertilizer) and hung one sock from each tree. I did the same thing the last two years and have not had any issues with deer eating my trees. In summer I’ll scatter some Milorgonite around the orchard just as added insurance. The stuff works because I’ll hear the deer out there snorting and stomping around the orchard, unwilling to go in and probably annoyed at being denied the chance to “prune” my trees. Deer can do a great deal of damage to fruit trees, especially young saplings. Once the trees mature and grow out of the reach of the pesky whitetails only the very lowest limbs will be bothered, but at sapling stage a deer can eat a tree right down to nothing. At anywhere from $25 to $50 per tree it makes sense to try to protect them from critter damage.
I made an attempt to get out on snowshoes to cruise the woods but the snow was at once mushy, hard packed underneath and in some places gone entirely, which makes for some tough walking even on established trails. I ended up taking the short route, which winds around the farm and a couple of small, vernal pools, but apparently I was too early. I found a few turkey tracks and a lone deer track but little else. The birds were quiet and the squirrels were inactive, giving me little more than a refreshing hike for my efforts. I know that things will be much more active in a few days when the weather stabilizes and things begin to warm up in earnest. Right now it appears that all things great and small are hunkering down and waiting for brighter, warmer days to come.
I’ll know when winter is officially over when my seed company ships my supply of strawberry plants. The sets will need to be put into the soil just a few days after delivery and so far my supplier has never been wrong. It’s hard to imagine that spring officially arrives via the mailbox, but that’s the way it is here in the North Country!