February Brings Spring Inklings

Byron Weber, from his published natural history calendars, provides a posthumous look at what harbingers of spring we can discover during this winter month. “This is a good time to dust off the field guides and spend an evening or two identifying plants and birds as spring migration begins to gather momentum. A month from now, the outdoors will be swarming with new arrivals. The time spent now in preparation will be appreciated.” Below is an abbreviated chronology of February’s commotion that Byron discovered, and you can too.

Week 1: Groundhog Day is a cross-quarter day, which falls approximately halfway between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox. Daylight is increasing. •Olive Midge hatch, Rattlesnake Creek. •The male Townsend’s Solitaire sings in winter. Find some juniper and hear his song. •Honeybees are out on the first warm day. •American Dippers are warbling along the Bitterroot River. •Start sniffing for a skunk.

Week 2: Black-capped Chickadees practice their two-note spring song. •Dark Brown Stonefly hatch. •Red-winged Blackbirds “sing” from cattails. •Pocket gopher mounds found under the melted snow. •First robin, 1986. •Great Horned Owl lays her first egg.

Week 3: Look for Snow Geese. •More robins. •Plan to prune those fruit trees. •Starlings arrive in nesting areas. •Mound-building ants are active on sunny days. •Adult beaver at 3rd St. and Orange, 1984. •Build some bird houses this weekend. Be ready this year.

Week 4: Pine siskins to House Finches: 13-1. •Waterfowl begins to arrive, Lee Metcalf Natl. Wildlife Refuge. •Milbert’s Tortoiseshell Butterfly, Florence and Stevensville. •Bitteroot River normally rises now. •First bloom of the buttercup. •Rough-legged Hawk flies north. •Large flocks of Robins. •Meadowlark singing. •Succulent leaves of the Bitterroot flower appear. •Song Sparrow leaves February singing.

Compiled from Natural History Calendars: 1985 The Field Trip, U of M, 1900; 1986 A Description of the Bitter Root and Missoula Valleys; 1987, The Legacy of K.D. Swan, Photographer, US Forest Service.

by Poody McLaughlin (this article first appeared in the February 2011 Birding Observer)

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