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Jim Gilbert's Nature Notes: Winter or spring?

  • Article by: Jim Gilbert
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • March 6, 2014 - 3:33 PM

Winter is still here, but spring is on its way. Area lakes are covered with about 30 inches of ice, and the snow blanket is about 2 feet deep. In northeast Minnesota, snow depths of 3 feet plus are common, while Lake Superior has a good ice cover. On the other hand, migrating American robins and red-winged blackbirds are bunched up in Missouri and will soon be here, a few eastern chipmunks are out and about, we have smelled skunks and seen fresh raccoon tracks in the snow, our roads are wet from melting snow and ice on sunny days, our cars warm up when parked in the sunlight, American crows are returning to northern Minnesota and American goldfinches show more yellow each day.

Dec. 1 to Feb. 28 is the winter season for meteorologists. As a student of nature, I agree with this reading of the seasons, and so our spring is a week old. The first signs appeared in January as the days lengthened. By now the list of signs is long enough to declare the presence of spring. Outside our back doors, northern cardinals are singing loud and long, woodpeckers are drumming to attract mates and declare territories, black-capped chickadees whistle “fee-bee,” sometimes interpreted as “spring-soon,” and the beaks of European starlings are changing from black to yellow as the nesting season approaches. Yes, one season slides slowly into another. The season of frozen beauty and survival is giving way to spring, the season of hope and renewal.

Jim Gilbert’s Nature Notes are heard on WCCO Radio at 7:15 a.m. Sundays. His observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977, and he is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.

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