Nature enthusiasts have much to look forward to in the coming months.
Peterborough Examiner – December 22, 2023 – by Drew Monkman
All you have to do is step outside this month to get a sense of how quickly global heating is accelerating. In fact, 2023 will have been Earth’s warmest year on record. We see the same warming trend locally. In Peterborough, eight of the past 12 months registered a mean temperature higher than the 1971-2000 averages. December is on track to be over 5C warmer than usual.
Since 2010, warmer-than-average months in the Kawarthas have outnumbered cooler-than-average months by a ratio of 2:1. These months have tended to be much warmer whereas the cool-than-average months have only been slightly cooler. The only exceptions were the Polar Vortex winters of 2014 and 2015. Another trend since at least 2010 has been both a later start to winter and a delayed onset of spring with lingering snow and chill into April.
With yet another mild winter on the doorstep, here’s a sampling of what to watch for in local nature in the coming months. As long as our lakes and rivers are ice-free, waterfowl-watching should be excellent. On December 17, over 700 common mergansers were seen on Chemong Lake.
- We begin January with about 8 ¾ hours of daylight but gain a full hour by month’s end.
- There’s good planet-watching to enjoy this month. Venus dazzles as a morning “star” in the southeast. Jupiter is best seen in the early evening in the eastern sky. Saturn is also an early evening object and is visible above the southern horizon. Any telescope with 40 X magnification or more will provide detailed views of Saturn’s rings. Download a free stargazing app like Star Walk 2 to enhance your sky-gazing experience.
- Light, overnight snowfalls create ideal conditions to see the tracks of small mammals like shrews and voles. Check out the snow below your feeder where they may have fed on spilt bird seed.
- Some birds that are present in higher than average numbers this winter include American goldfinches, eastern bluebirds, great blue herons and belted kingfishers.
- A fun family outing is to visit the Miller Creek Conservation Area near Bridgenorth and have chickadees eat out of your hand. Just take along some sunflower seeds.
- The cones of white pine drop to the ground all winter long and are easy to find on woodland trails. The cone scales opened in the fall to release the seeds.
- The full Wolf Moon occurs on January 25 and rides higher in the sky than at any other season. It passes nearly overhead at midnight. Coupled with the reflective quality of snow, moonlit winter nights shine with an unforgettable brilliance.
- Common goldeneyes, mallards, common mergansers and trumpeter swans can often be found all winter on ice-free lakes and rivers. These include the Otonabee River and Lake Katchewanooka at Young’s Point.
- If you are walking through a field or along a roadside, watch for a ball-like structure known as a “gall” growing on the stems of goldenrods. Open it with a knife to see the tiny, white larva of the goldenrod gall fly – a favourite food of chickadees.
- We begin the month with about 9 ¾ hours of daylight and end with 11, a gain of about 75 minutes. The lengthening days are most notable in the afternoon.
- Groundhog Day, February 2, marks the mid-point of winter. However, our groundhogs won’t see their shadow – or light of day – until mid-March at the earliest. In case you were wondering, no animal behaviour or plant phenomenon can portend upcoming weather beyond a few hours.
- Gray squirrels are mating and can often be seen streaming by in treetop chases as a group of males pursues a female. Chasing is part of the mating ritual. Males are attracted to the scent of females in heat. You may also see a chase between two rival males.
- The Great Backyard Bird Count takes place from February 16 – 19. This citizen science event engages bird watchers of all levels of expertise to create a real-time snapshot of the whereabouts and relative abundance of birds in mid-winter. Anyone can participate. Go tohttps://www.birdcount.org/ for details.
- Common goldeneyes put on an elaborate courtship display in late winter. The male thrusts his head forward and then back towards his rump. With his bill pointing skyward, he utters a squeaky call. Just north of Lock 25 on the Otonabee River can be a good spot to see these displays.
- Bird activity at feeders and at sources of wild food often increases markedly on snowy days. It seems that birds are wired to eat as much as they can in these conditions, maybe sensing that finding food after a heavy snowfall will be difficult.
- Although tentative at first, bird song returns in late February as pair bonds are established or renewed. Black-capped chickadees, northern cardinals, and white-breasted nuthatches usually start singing this month. Use the sound identification feature of the free Merlin Bird ID app to instantly see the names of the birds singing or calling around you.
- The pattern in which the buds are arranged on the twigs of deciduous trees and shrubs is a useful tool for winter identification. Honeysuckles, ashes, maples, lilacs, viburnums, elderberries, and dogwoods all have opposite buds. To remember them, use the mnemonic HAM LIVED (LI = lilac). The buds of nearly all other tree species are alternate.
- Chipmunks make their first appearance above ground since late fall. They are somewhat active all winter, however, making repeated trips to their underground storehouses for food.
- By mid-March, the first northbound turkey vultures are usually seen. Other new arrivals include red-winged blackbirds, grackles, and song sparrows. Robin numbers also increase markedly.
- Open sections of local lakes and rivers are host to thousands of ducks of up to a dozen species. Some good locations to observe them include Little Lake, Lakefield Park and Campground, Pengelly Landing on Rice Lake and the field just north of Mather’s Corners on County Road 2.
- Tuesday, March 19, marks the spring equinox. At 11:06 p.m. EDT the sun will cross directly over the Earth’s equator. For the next six months, we can enjoy days that are longer than nights. On this date, both the moon and sun rise due east and set due west.
- No other season offers as many bright stars and constellations as spring. There are no less than 11 first magnitude stars visible. Ruling over the southeastern sky, the season’s signature constellation is Leo.
CLIMATE CHAOS UPDATE
Hope: At COP 28, nearly 200 countries agreed for the first time to a deal that calls for a transition away from fossil fuels. The agreement also urged for “tripling renewable energy capacity globally and doubling the global average annual rate of energy efficiency improvements by 2030.” There was no commitment, however, to actually phase-out and eliminate the use of fossil fuels. Many saw this as a major disappointment. See https://tinyurl.com/2tbkh28z
Events: On January 8 from 7:00 to 8:00 pm, For Our Grandchildren will present a talk by Julie Segal from Environmental Defense. She will discuss Bill S-243 – the Climate-Aligned Finance Act, which has been introduced by Senator Rosa Galvez. The goal of the bill is to bring Canada’s financial sector in line with climate science. Register for this Zoom event at https://rb.gy/6zg1br
Carbon dioxide: The atmospheric CO2 reading for the week ending December 16, 2023 was 422.20 parts per million (ppm), compared to 418.81 ppm a year ago. According to a new study published in the journal Science, the last time the air contained 420 ppm of CO2 was between 14-16 million years ago. At this time there was no ice in Greenland and the ancestors of humans were just transitioning from forests to grasslands. See https://tinyurl.com/3hxssa6n