I think the shrewd rodent hedges his bet a bit. I mean if you think about it, the difference between Feb. 2 and March 20, first day of spring, is about six weeks. So to say there will be six more weeks of winter is a pretty safe bet. But what will those six weeks entail?
To say we’ve had a mild winter in Western North Carolina is a bit of an understatement. And it seems most of the Southeast is in the same boat this year. I recently saw a photo on my Louisiana friend Burg Ransom’s Facebook page of a big ole gator cruising Black Bayou National Wildlife Refuge in Monroe, La.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about northern pintails after seeing one at Lake Junaluska. The week after I saw the one there were five on the lake. Pintails are early migrants and early nesters, reaching nesting grounds in Arizona in late March and early April and in Alaska by early May. But north-bound at the end of January seems a tad early.
Another Facebook friend, Waynesville’s own photographer/artist/musician extraordinaire, Ed Kelley, posted a photo on Feb. 2 of one of Punxsutawney Phil’s southern cousins up a tree. Seems Ed’s dog encouraged Waynesville Willie to seek higher ground, but most groundhogs — at least the ones that aren’t celebrities — are still snoozing in early February. And I saw another sleepy-time rodent last Sunday. I was driving to the mudflats that used to be Lake Junaluska when a chipmunk, tail at attention, scurried across the road in front of me.
And early northern pintails aren’t the only avian anomaly. Wayne Forsythe of Hendersonville recently posted on the Carolina Birds listserv that he and fellow birder Ron Selvey recorded two palm warblers in Henderson County on Feb. 3. That is the earliest record I’ve ever heard of for Western North Carolina.
There are a few forsythia blooms here and there and I, like everyone else, have jonquil/daffodil leaves between ankle and knee high already. I’m sure orchard owners are beginning to get a little nervous. Buds are pretty cold-hardy, but if these balmy temps keep up and coax those blossoms to open early — then we get one of those hard spring frosts — it could be bad news.
Now, I like winter. Having lived only in Louisiana and on Hilton Head Island before I got to Highlands in 1986, I never experienced what could actually be termed winter — some cold snaps now and again but no winter season. But after moving to Western North Carolina, I have learned to revel in the progression of seasons and winter is the perfect end to the cycle.
With that said, it being so near spring now and heating oil still between $3 and $4 a gallon, I could pass on this winter. But don’t try and tell the folks from Clayton Lake, Maine, where it was –24 degrees Fahrenheit yesterday, or those out in Denver and Nebraska where white-out blizzard conditions dumped feet of snow and shutdown interstates and airports last week that we’re having a mild winter.