I zipped my jacket up closer to my throat. The sunshine was blinding, but Old Sol certainly wasn’t tempering the winter chill. Chickadees and goldfinches twittered and tweeted as they gobbled seeds, scratching and pecking for the best and biggest around the bird feeder. In the distance, from the top of a tree in the wood lot, I heard the unmistakable spring song of a cardinal.
The warm glow of joy filled my heart. I blurted, “Oh my gosh Tammie, did you hear that?”
My daughter had been reaching to open her car door. She straightened up, looked over the top of the car at me and asked, “No. What did you hear?”
Excitedly, I explained, “Do you remember me telling you that cardinals begin to sing their mating songs in the middle of February? Well, guess what? Today is the 16th of February, and I’ve just heard my first cardinal love song for the year!”
In the moment of silence following my announcement, we were blessed with an encore. The clear, pleading notes of a cardinal floated down to us from a nearby tree top. It sounded as it was asking, “Pretty-birdie? Pretty-birdie?”
Farther back in the wood-lot we heard a faint answering call. We were listening to a pair of cardinals having a conversation! Were they planning where to nest for the summer? Maybe they were discussing the best and safest food source in the area. After a few minutes, smiling broadly, my daughter and I got into the car. Although it was cold that day, we knew winter would soon come to an end.
Frequent snow storms and minus double-digit degree temperatures in February made me feel as if winter had come to stay. To reassure myself it isn’t so, I watch for the small signs that Mother Nature gives to show hint spring is coming.
The first sign of spring’s approach comes in early February. Even on artic cold days, when the sun shines, snow on a metal roof or black-top roads begins to melt. This never happens during December or January.
In the middle of February, after four months of hearing cardinals only making short, metallic clicks when they come to my bird feeder, I begin hearing them calling for a pretty-birdie nest mate. It’s a magical moment each year when their songs return.
I don’t believe the old saying that when March comes in like a lion, it goes out like a lamb. March, fickle and unpredictable, is not that orderly. Gray snow clouds and blue, weepy thunderheads often share the same afternoon sky. The lion and the lamb are always present during March, but no one knows when one or the other will poke its head up.
In the middle of March robins return to Wisconsin. Why, I have no idea. What is there for them to eat? Many years I’m afraid the snow will be too deep for them to find worms or bugs. Robins are adaptive. When one food source is under snow, they find rotten fruit. One year I saw a flock of robins gathered around a seedling apple tree. It wasn’t clear to me if they were eating the brown fruit, or the frozen worms each apple probably contained.
Blizzards can frost our Wisconsin world in white right through April and May, but eventually spring triumphs. The nice weather between snow storms becomes more frequent, warmer and lasts longer.
Even after the snow melts in warmer weather, Mother Nature’s struggle continues. May through July is when the most tornadoes churn and hop through Wisconsin. If you are searching for a reason to love Wisconsin’s late winter, you need to know the only month of the year with no record of tornadoes is February.
As I write this, another winter storm is raging. The snow is white, but it clearly isn’t the fleece of a lamb. I’ve heard of wolves wearing sheep’s clothing, so I guess a lion might do the same thing. The beast is roaring through the yard, forming large drifts in front of the garage and scalloped snow banks around the house and garden.