2009 was an interesting year in the weather department. Summer was a bit harsh and characterized by a prolonged heat wave that smashed many temperature records. Fall on the other hand was unusually gentle, lacking the severe windstorms we’ve seen in past years. The days got shorter and we prepared for winter in the usual way. Some animals migrated to warmer climates while others went into hibernation or put on fat and changed into their winter wear. Deciduous trees and shrubs shed their leaves and became dormant while herbaceous plants died back. Winter arrived on queue with a few frosty mornings and a brief beautiful snowfall at the beginning of December. But since then? Nothing! What happened to winter?
The answer is El Nino. Winter 2010 has been influenced by this periodic phenomenon that sees changes in Pacific currents that result in warm water and temperatures from the southern hemisphere pushing northward up the Pacific coast of North America. El Nino delivers very mild winter conditions to coastal BC.
In other parts of the country winter is only half over. Yesterday, February 2, was Groundhog Day. Groundhogs all over the country reportedly saw their shadows, thus forecasting another 6 weeks of winter. As we don’t have groundhogs in south coastal BC their prognostications don’t affect us and we can bypass winter and proceed directly into spring.
Hardy early plants are already taking advantage of longer days and increased sunlight. Hazelnut catkins appeared several weeks ago and are heavy with pollen. Take a close look at a hazelnut twig (a hand lens will help) and you’ll see tiny, fuchsia coloured flowers wide open and ready to accept the pollen. Indian Plum buds have opened and are about to drop their blossoms and buds are appearing on everything else from the ground up.
Listen to the birds and its obvious they think it’s spring. Chickadees are vocally declaring their territories by pronouncing “cheese burger” to all the other birds. House finches are perched in the tree tops to sing their spring songs while winter wrens are singing their exquisite spring greetings from secluded spots on the forest floor.
Other animals know its spring, too. The Eastern grey squirrels that have moved into the park are quite excited about spring. At least, the males are excited. The females appear less than impressed with the males’ overtures. Most of our reptiles will remain in hibernation for a few more months but we could expect to hear frogs soon as the males emerge from hibernation and start calling for females. Eggs will appear shortly after the frog chorus begins.
If the longer days encourage you to take a walk, consider exploring the Nature Park to look for signs of spring. There is a “Sightings” log in the Nature House where you can note your finds and share them with other visitors.
Posted by Kristine Bauder
Nature Park Coordinator