Listen for great horned owls hooting in February. These large owls are getting ready to nest no matter if it is snowing or fair weather. During this owl’s courtship, you may hear some strange calls and the bird acts in a foolish manner to impress his chosen one. Sometimes he flaps his wings, bows his head and ‘sings’ his love song. The female often has to sit on the nest incubating the eggs under a blanket of snow.
Redpolls, too, are birds to look for this month. They are not very big and yet they have a subtle beauty that makes a day special as they feed at your window feeder. They may come to this area from October until mid–April. Some years they may appear in large numbers. Other years you may not see any. They seem to move about always in unison as if they are one bird. It is fun to see them dangling from a branch as they feed; their reddish cap attracts your attention. If you disturb them, they will fly off together and then circle around and come back. They are actually quite tame. As spring advances, they take off for the forest farther north where they will nest. Enjoy seeing them while they are here.
Even in the snow–covered woods and fields now you can find plants that are still green. Of course, here in Maine, many of our evergreen trees are green all year (as their name implies) but there are many plants such as bearberry, checkerberry, partridge berry, laurels, pipsissewa, many mosses and a few other plants that are very green. Watch, also, as you walk in the woods for bracken fungi in browns, green and red on old stumps.
It is also easier at this time of year to see insect galls. I always like finding witches brooms in hackberry. It reminds me of a ‘bad hair day.‘ You may also find leaf-wrapped cocoons where insect life is sheltered until days and nights warm up. On a warm February morning, you may be surprised when you see a mourning cloak butterfly flitting about in the sunshine. The adults hibernate in a convenient place in the winter but will wake up and fly about at times when the weather is warmer. When the warm spell ends, they retreat to a favorite hiding place until it warms up again. The red berries of the barberry are eagerly sought after by soft billed birds.
Skunks mate this month. They really are great mammals to know and I have learned to love them as interesting personalities though the years. I’ve raised many babies who were orphaned on the highways where mothers were killed by cars. They do have a ‘hidden weapon,‘ but they are usually slow to use it unless you’re a dog trying to kill it or harass it. If you visit the Kisma Preserve in Trenton, you can get to know one if you take a tour. I know you would have an unforgettable and good experience. Just keep your dog away from any skunk anywhere and always be gentle and polite if you meet one on the sidewalk or on a walk in the woods. Always keep your garbage out of the reach of raccoons and skunks.
Don’t be surprised some sunny day when you are out skiing on the snow and you notice a patch of what looks like pepper hopping about in the sunshine. These are snow fleas and part of the springtail family of insects. They do have the unusual characteristic of being active all winter, and they are especially noticed on warmer days when they show up on the snow. Without the snow, you’d never know they were there.
If you see what looks like a huge mosquito at the edge of a stream, you’re probably looking at a stone fly.
Don’t forget to look for the stories in the snow left by animal and bird tracks when you are wandering about this month.
Send any questions, photos or observations to [email protected].