Groundhog Day on February 2 is half way to spring

Barbara Hootman

Winter is half over. It’s an encouraging thought after Blizzard 2016 walloped the Valley with at least a foot of snow.

February’s name comes from the feast of purification in our ancestor’s time. It was the old calendar’s time of correction. Those rites are long gone because modern society no longer needs them. Still February is used to correct math. In leap years an extra day is added to the month to keep the calendar balanced with the equinoxes, and 2016 is a leap year.

By the time Groundhog Day arrived on Feb. 2 the blizzard had taken its place in the rostrum of snowstorm data. My personal thanks go to the Black Mountain Fire Department (Brad Williams and Tim Guffy) who helped me get out of my car that I had put into a ditch on the mountain top during round one of the blizzard.

Groundhog Day ushered in the month with local “whistle pigs” (groundhogs) predicting six more weeks of winter for some areas, and an early spring in other places. Regardless of what the groundhog folklore says, winter will have its way.

Groundhog Day originated from an ancient celebration marking midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. According to groundhog superstition cloudy skies indicate the arrival of warm weather and sunny skies point to a stormy and cold second half of winter.

Regardless of shadows, clouds or sun, winter is going to be around for another six weeks. However, February is the snowiest month of all. The sun’s angle gives the month quicker snow melt than January. Also, February has its own thaw, and it carries more authority than the brief one in January.

Great Horned Owls are incubating eggs and will not leave them even when a foot of snow covers the female on the nest. These birds are so well adapted to harsh weather that they have been found nesting in temperature that plummeted to -20 degrees Fahrenheit. The male hunts and feeds the female on the nest. When the weather clears, she will leave only for a brief period of exercise, and always has a sharp eye for a careless rodent or bird. Great Horned Owls meet the challenges of the worst that winter offers.

Barred Owls are beginning to nest this month and are as equipped to handle harsh winter weather as the Great Horned Owls. By the end of the month screech owls will begin to nest. Mother Nature is never idle regardless of the season.

Birds that are year round Valley residents are singing more briefly and scouting for good nesting territories by mid-February. Whistles and calls are used to establish territories and are preludes to spring songs.

A Bald Eagle was spotted locally. Mel Keiser notified the paper on January 21 that he saw a Bald Eagle about 10 feet off the ground near North Fork Road. He is sure of the identification since he has seen them in New Hampshire.

Western North Carolina (WNC) is a good place to watch for Bald Eagles thanks to a restoration project that began in the early 1980s. Before 1982 WNC did not have any breeding pairs. Now there are more than 100 nesting pairs according to the Western North Carolina Wildlife Commission.

Two juvenile Bald Eagles were spotted in 2015 close to Swannanoa in the “swamp” area. Another Bald Eagle was spotted in 2015 in Barnardsville which is also in Buncombe County. Tony Dills spotted one in the Weaverville area a couple of weeks ago.

There are numerous pairs nesting at Lake James and Lake Lure. As a territory becomes populated juvenile Bald Eagles look for new areas. Their favorite meal is fish, but they will not pass up rabbits, squirrels, and rats.

By mid-February the White Breasted Nuthatch’s “yack” call becomes more mellow with two notes. It is an assurance that winter is giving way to spring slowly.

Male chickadees and titmice are tuned up and singing more in depth songs that will become more elaborate as the season progresses into spring. Cardinals are forming pair bonds and are beginning to sing. If they have paired before, they usually choose the same mate again. They nest from April-July, with some nesting into early September. As a pair bonds and prepares for the nesting season both male and female cardinals sing.

Maple sap begins to run in February and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are busy drilling wells (holes) in the trees and sipping sap. Other birds also take advantage of the mid-winter treat.

It is mating season for raccoons, woodchucks, beavers, skunks, opossums and rabbits.

Clean out nest boxes and erect new ones now. Bluebird males will begin investigating nest sites by mid-February.

Keep out plenty of fresh water for bathing and drinking.

May you always hear the whisper of wings.