Meteorologists in the Upper Midwest say Dec. 1 is the first day of winter and March 1 is the first day of spring. That means as of Friday, we are starting the second half of meteorological winter.
It's also fun to know that as of Friday, 22 minutes of daylight has been gained since the solstice Dec. 21, the shortest daylight day of the year. Each of our seasons is special and has its own natural beauty, so I'm not trying to wish winter away. It's just interesting to me to observe how one season slides slowly into the next.
Watching nuthatches, northern cardinals and woodpeckers at a feeding station doesn't warm the day, but their actions warm the heart. The bird feeder birds — and to that I add mammals such as gray squirrels, flying squirrels and eastern cottontail rabbits — are around day after day, a reminder that life outlasts every winter.
We have friends living on the edge of Northfield who keep a wildlife feeding station going year-round. Ray and Marlene Simon have done fed wildlife for 40 years and have become skilled birders and ardent nature observers. They have been sharing their knowledge and outdoor observations with me weekly for close to 12 years.
During a telephone conversation around New Year's, Marlene told me a Carolina wren sang in their yard many times this winter. Ray said that two rooster ring-necked pheasants have been coming to feed. They also had counted more that 60 northern cardinals at one time picking up a mixture of cracked corn, millet, sunflower seeds and chips during late afternoons. Yes, northern cardinals like to eat on ground level, so just scatter the seeds.
On their acre homesite the Simons offer water from a heated birdbath. It needs refilling each morning. There are 20 seed feeders and eight for suet, plus plenty of trees, shrubs and other plants for food and shelter. This winter, as usual, about 20 bird species arrive daily, among them an average of 20 mourning doves and 10 blue jays at one time. Also, Ray and Marlene see dozens of house finches, American tree sparrows, dark-eyed juncos, and black-capped chickadees, and five species of woodpeckers including a pair of pileated woodpeckers. Mammals stopping by include red and gray squirrels, cottontails, short-tailed shrews, whitetail deer, and an occasional opossum.
Jim Gilbert is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.