Beginning in November, we were a little surprised when the freeze-up came as early as it did. I visited the lake one day to see open water and returned the following day; this same site was covered with ice.
As the month unfolded, we remained a few degrees below normal. We also got several periods of snow that did not last. The warmest temperature of the month happened Nov. 24 when we had nearly 50 degrees. This was followed by another abrupt change. On Nov. 26, I walked in a woods almost completely devoid of snow.
The next day changed our Thanksgiving plans as 7 inches of snow covered the region. But our holiday was altered again. During subsequent days, a powerful snow storm dropped almost 2 feet, impacting everything.
The nearly 30 inches of snow over Thanksgiving time gave us plenty more to talk about. Again, we saw an abrupt change — 50 degrees and no snow, and five days later, a snowpack of 2 feet and a subzero morning.
We had to cope with this, but so did the local wildlife. Their dealings with these conditions are quite varied. Though I think the small birds that remain north in winter can handle the season quite well without us, they did find the handouts on the feeders as being a help.
Before the storm subsided, I am visited by the “same seven:" Chickadees, two kinds of nuthatches, three kinds of woodpeckers and blue jays all dined on their choice of sunflower seeds or suet. With the snow cover and strong winds, these snacks were harder to find, but they persisted.
Later, the local turkeys walk through the snow to scratch for their meals. A few gray squirrels descended from their arboreal nests to join in the breakfast; hopping over the snowpack did not stop them. Their smaller cousin, the red squirrels, are just as likely to go beneath the cold cover. Flying squirrels do not even leave the trees to feed.
The day after the storm, I went out to see how others have been dealing with this new winter world. Crows and ravens seem to be doing just fine. A pileated woodpecker flies into a snow-covered crab apple tree for its meal. Deer tracks go right through snow up to their bellies.
I follow a trail and see that these hungry cervids have been digging up acorns from beneath. Near one deer route, I see where a bear has lumbered through the snow. This lingering bruin is probably seeking a bedding site to begin its belated winter sleep. Squirrels make use of buried caches.
Though I did find some white-footed mice (deer mice) tracks hopping across the snow, most small mammals — mice, voles and shrews — take advantage of the snowpack and stay below. Also making shelter under snow or branches of spruce trees are ruffed grouse, rabbits and hares. One cottontail has chosen a culvert for protection.
Rivers have not completely frozen at this time and when I visit a nearby stream, I see where an otter has left its marks as it slides into this aquatic scene. A short distance away, a smaller cousin — a weasel (ermine) — hops along the shore. This small predator is able to do well in the snow, going over or under, pursuing prey.
The local canines — foxes and coyotes — seem to be more confined. I find few of their tracks. The methods and styles vary, but Northland wildlife appear to be coping and adjusting to the new scene and ample snowpack that we now have.