Tag Archives: February

Plant Porn, Owl Wars and Other Signs

Birds are already getting a bit weird. And these guys have been getting a bit odd lately, too. Visitor to my deck today.

Birds are already getting a bit weird. And these guys have been getting a bit odd lately, too. Visitor to my deck today.

Spring is here! Well, not really. It’s only Feb. 8.

But unlike last year, when February was a bitter month followed by a second bitter month, this year’s February seems a bit more normal. Still winter, to be sure, but not as deep in winter as January—it’s not that odd to see some first signs that spring is coming as the weather turns lighter and the sun gains altitude.

Now, I will concede before I go further that February definitely means winter in Iowa. Frankly, March is usually more a winter than a spring month, in this climate. But things change in February.


The war of the eagles and owls. The Gazette today reported, although I could not find a link on their site, a story about this topic, the war between the famous Decorah eagles and a pair of great horned owls, who are trying to horn in on the eagle’s nest. Owls, it seems, are very mean beasts, and even though the eagles are much larger, the owls can put up quite a fight. It appears the nest will go to the mom that lays the first egg. Lots of people want to cheer for the eagles: “Push it out, push it out, waaaay out!” Me, I do like mom and dad eagle, but recognize I’m showing some anthropomorphism. The biologists are right. Let nature takes its course. It’s a tough life out there for dinosaurs.

The way in which 10 inches of snow is finally receding. Streams are running with water now. We had temperatures in the upper 30s or even, gasp, low 40s in recent days, and the snow pack is looking tired. We’re still socked in with snow—which honestly is a good thing because without it the ground could warm up too early. We don’t want little green things trying to sprout now. But even though there will still be bone chilling cold this season, and more snow, we’re at the point where cold snaps should be a bit shorter and sunny days in the 40s a bit more common. A normal February feels long just because it’s at the end of our cold, dead season—it’s not usually another January, and it feels a bit more normal this year.

How the urge to plant is taking hold. Several seed and plant catalogs, what I call “plant porn,” have arrived. I’m seeing tempting seeds packages in stores and thinking of starting flowers for spring gardens, but trying to hold myself back (I have a terrible track record with starting flowers indoors, it’s just not a good idea for me). My desires this year are pretty typical—I want toad lilies and irises, but don’t have much luck with those plants. Anyway, I’m hoping some monarch butterfly flowers, aka milkweed, put in an appearance in my gardens. I’m been planting free seeds gleaned from wild plants, but we’ll see. Maybe my wife will let me order a few plants. She’s almost as crazy for gardens as I am.

I had some trouble photographing a woodpecker drawn to a new suet feeder I put up--but then, a few minutes later, this guy showed up on a pear tree outside my home office window. "Hey pinky," he seems to be saying, "you looking for me?"

I had some trouble photographing a woodpecker drawn to a new suet feeder I put up–but then, a few minutes later, this guy showed up on a pear tree outside my home office window. “Hey pinky,” he seems to be saying, “you looking for me?”

And the birds are getting craaaaazy. Squawking, fighting, carrying on—on a warmish sunny day you hear them a lot more now. They know in their little dinosaur brains another season is coming and they want to marry, make eggs and raise babies. It’s not just the eagles and owls getting a bit nuts—it seems like the birds that visit my feeders these days are in a hurry, distracted, thinking about something.

Spring. Has to be.


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And so February slowly comes to its end

A magnolia bud next to snow snow melting on a bush behind Warde Hall at Mount Mercy University.

A magnolia bud next to snow snow melting on a bush behind Warde Hall at Mount Mercy University.

Winter is a dish best served cold. It has not been all that cold this winter in Iowa—in December and January, we wondered where winter was and whether we were headed to a snowless season, which would be bad news since we’re still in a severe drought.

Snow falls at MMU campus Wednesday, Feb. 27.

Snow falls at MMU campus Wednesday, Feb. 27.

Then came February, the frosty month of freaky flakes in the air. Freaky, because snow doesn’t require a big amount of moisture, so meteorologists are prone to more guesswork and often can be wrong.
And so the bit of snow we expected late Tuesday turned into more than it should have. We were lucky—Des Moines and Ames got much more of it. We received around 5 inches, all said and done, and it took a long time the saying and doing were over. Originally, the forecast called for a bit of snow late Tuesday into Wednesday—and it would all be over before noon Wednesday.

But, when Audrey and were shoveling the heavy wet stuff early Wednesday evening, snow was still coming down, and the sidewalks and drive that we cleared last night had close to an inch of new white this morning.
Well, at least it looks pretty. And it won’t be around that long—with highs in the 30s, this new wet slushy ground cover will slowly recede.

According to a recent story in The Gazette, Iowa is in the odd predicament now of being stricken by a drought at the same time that there is a risk of spring floods. That’s because the snow rests on a layer of frost, which is a barrier keeping the dry subsoil from benefiting from all the white water resting at the surface. When this snow melts, it will simply trickle into the streams and rivers—and it too much of it melts too quickly, there could be a flood, even as the ground overall is arid and in need of more precipitation.

The flood risk is not that great, and more water in the rivers and lakes is not bad news at all, as long as it’s not too much too fast.

So, thanks for the snow. March is tomorrow. Let’s start warming stuff up slowly, please, and also, if Mother Nature is taking requests, some rain on the newly thawed ground—after it has thawed—would be a very good thing.

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Snow And Sun In Late February

Took this in the woods behind the back fence--it looks like a cow or the devil, I think.

Took this in the woods behind the back fence–it looks like a cow or the devil, I think.

You know, we have not had that much snow this year, so the white stuff that fell Thursday into Friday was kind of nice to see.

Some winters, I’m pretty sick of snow by the end of February. This year, with Iowa in such a severe drought, I’ll take whatever falls from the sky in better spirits, even if my snow blower is still broken and I had to shovel manually.

Anyway, I took some snow photos in the sunshine this morning—it’s a beautiful, late winter, fairly warm day. Grandkids are coming over, and I hope we’ll play in this white stuff later!

More snow photos.


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Bugs, Birds, Poop and Other Signs of a Winter Thaw


Cardinal on the deck

The thaw cleared away all the snow on our deck, and a cardinal enjoyed an afternoon snack of the revealed spilled seeds under a bird feeder. Yes, the dog is on the deck. No, the cardinal, which is very wary of us, does not care. Shows some intelligence on the part of the cardinal.

I think it ‘s a thaw, and not an early spring. We’ve had a run of warm days lately, and it’s misting outside—wet stuff, not white stuff, is falling from the sky.

But, average temperatures and lows are pretty low, still. The National Weather Service web site lists 34 as today’s normal high and 17 as the normal low. The calendar says “February,” and it’s useful to remember that snow is not unusual in early May at this northern latitude.

Still, even if it’s a thaw, a mere foreshadowing of weather to come, it’s a nice foreshadowing. Spring-like things can be seen outside on these odd, warm February days. Signs of the next season that is a few short weeks away? Here are a few:

  • In the sunshine Monday, I noticed some insect activity outside Warde Hall at Mount Mercy University—some flies and box elder bugs.  I can understand the flies–all of the accumulated dog poop of winter walks is also revealing itself, luckily that is more in the woods behind my house and not at MMU.
  • A few flower bulbs in my back garden, right by the house, are just starting to poke tentative green points above the decaying, wet leaf cover. Well, the flowers in that garden, where the snow melts first and bricks warm the soil, are always the first to appear, and some of them, tulips in particular, may rue the day.
  • I rode my bike Tuesday. Didn’t today—foggy and icy this morning—and it’s looking too wet tomorrow. In fact, slightly colder weather, which usually feature dry air that would bring bare pavement, would be better for biking right now.
  • Audrey and I want for a late afternoon walk today. A foreshadow of a time not long off when such walks will be our regular daily routine.
  • I picked up some sticks on my lawn and set out the “yardy cart” for pickup tomorrow. It’s been some time.

Spring! You’re on your way, aren’t you? March, at least early March, is part of the winter season in this part of Iowa, but I think we can enjoy a mid-February thaw.

Just don’t poke up too far yet, little flowers. Your time will come.

Basile Hall stairs.

RANDOM PHOTO TWO: Why? Why not? Random abstract image while I was waiting to ride home with Audrey, at least you can see the sunshine more clearly.


Stairs in Basile Hall

RANDOM PHOTO ONE--What? Abstract view of Basile Hall stairway, for no particular reason. Sun shines a bit in the background.

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Fog Frost on a February Morning

Last year's leaves, just a few of which cling to a WTF? tree in my backyard. Based on ISU site, I think the trees are either service berry or chokeberry, don't know which (or something else?). Definitely not golden raintree. Arbor Day Foundation, what mystery tree pair did you send by accident? Leave a comment if you have a theory.

Are we having fun yet? NPR last night speculated there may be snow in all 50 states, but the Gazette this morning said it’s only 49—they’ve looked, but have not found snow high on any Hawaiian mountain.

Snow is slowly piling up outside. We have 5-foot walls of it beside our driveway, and the next measurable snow (snow is in the forecast, light this weekend maybe more later this week) will involve more lifting and throwing than mere shoveling.

Am I tired of winter? Well, I’m in Iowa and should be used to it, and I’m not one of the Iowans who complains about winter as if it were an annual surprise.

But, yes, spring can come any day now. The good news is, it will. Days are definitely growing longer. In another month, it will be mid-March, the stream being the house will be swollen with water and we’ll be looking for the first flowers.

The young Sargent crab apple trunk, covered in fog frost.

But, even if it’s getting a bit tiresome, let’s give winter its due. Today, it put on a show, which late risers might miss as the wind blows the ice crystals off the limbs and the cool light changes.

When it’s cold and foggy, the night fog sometimes freezes onto tree limbs and bushes. It looks a bit like some sort of odd growing moss, except it’s white. If the sky is slightly cloudy and there is fairly fresh snow on the ground and the early morning light is diffused through the white clouds and reflects off the snow…. Well. The whole world glows. It’s frigging cold, so you need a hat and gloves, but it’s beautiful.

I am planning to try to photograph my gardens a bit more this year—this blog is all about gardening, right?—so consider this installment one. The fog frost was not easy to photograph, because the cheap digital camera I’m using doesn’t let me control focus or other settings easily, but I think these sample images give you some idea of the charm of the gardens this frosty morning.

So, come on spring. You can arrive any day you want to. But it was nice to have a pretty February fog frost morning.

The crab apple again

Another view of the young crab apple. Tagged tree in background is one of two apples we planted last year. Not much color in this image, but sometimes a lack of color gives a scene a spooky beauty--that's the impact of fog frost on a snowy morning.


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