“Nothing endures but change.” Heraclitus – Greek philosopher – 500 BC
So it is that January – a so much gentler friend this year compared to many Januaries of the past – wandered away and the child month, February, danced onto the scene with its ever-brightening face. When January first blinked its bleary eyes at the New Year we were experiencing a scant eight hours and 11 minutes of sunshine, but by Feb. 1 this had increased by more than an hour.
A walk along the river in the crisp, early morning of Ground Hog Day revealed the usual goldeneye ducks bobbing in the near freezing water. But there were eight pairs consisting of males and females separated from the raft of others that floated through the mist. In late January and February, some ducks’ fancies turn to thoughts of love, or at least to an interest in the opposite sex. Male golden eyes, prompted by surging hormones, go through some comical ritual behaviour. They stretch their necks forward, then straight up, pointing their beaks to the sky. Then they move their heads backwards until they rest on their back feathers. This position is held only for a few seconds before returning to normal. Apparently this ritual suitably impresses female goldeneyes because each year there are always lots of little goldeneyes.
It is in this month also that chickadees vary their calls from the familiar chickadee-dee-dee to prettier mating calls that include a few introductory notes similar to the first few notes of the white-throated sparrow. Most great horned owls will have mated and be incubating before the month is over and raven watchers will be thrilled with the amorous aerial acrobatics of this huge black corvid. Ravens produce some of the best flying shows, and during the months of February and March the sky is punctuated with their pre-nuptial flights. Local ravens usually begin nesting in February or early March.
February is the birth month of the black bear. You won’t see them for a few months, but in the secret dens of the females, the cubs are born. They are so tiny that they are little larger than a red squirrel. Mom and dad mated last June or July and while conception took place at this time, the implanting of the embryos in the uterus is delayed until 10 weeks before birth. Until warm weather comes, mom will nurse her new family in the den ingesting their wastes and thereby recycling the moisture content and keeping the den clean in the process.
Our winter birds, limited as they are this year, but the few attending our feeders are still active and providing entertainment (and hope for warmer weather). You may catch sight of flocks of Bohemian waxwings dining on frozen crab apples and other fruits of wild and domestic trees and shrubs. They are extremely close cousins of the cedar waxwings, our usual warmer weather residents, and will retreat north as the snow leaves. The Bohemian waxwing is the official bird of the Yukon and some have been known to remain there throughout the year. If you see a crested, black-masked brown bird with distinctive black, white and yellow wing markings, it will be a Bohemian waxwing. The cedar waxwing is very similar but doesn’t have the yellow and white wing pattern.
The snow is still insulating the ground so the cold doesn’t reach too deeply. This is all the better for us because when the white stuff finally disappears, the soil can warm all the faster and plants will begin growing in earnest. Temperature-wise, the winter has been good to us, compared to some years.
However, February can be a very fickle month. Groundhog Day in 1996 boasted a low of -41.7 C. Less than a week later that year we were basking in a temperature of +2.7 C. We don’t really need any of the nasty, cold stuff. Though the world is warming, February presents a difficult period for survival primarily because available food supplies are being exhausted. This is no time to pull in the feeders.
But spring is coming and as an added February bonus, on the last day of this shortest of months we can expect to see 10 hours and 54 minutes of Sol’s beautiful, warm, golden face!