These Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) plants have come up consistently in mid-April for almost ten years but this year the ground hasn’t even thawed.
For almost twelve years I have kept records, sometimes very faithfully, and sometimes sporadically, of the weather and the appearance of different animal and plant species with the changes in the seasons. Record keeping of this type is also known as “phenology” which is defined as:
1) The scientific study of periodic biological phenomena, such as flowering, breeding, and migration, in relation to climatic conditions.
2) The relationship between a periodic biological phenomenon and climatic conditions. (http://www.answers.com/topic/phenology).
This year I am keeping records again noting the weather, clouds and cloud cover, the first appearances of certain bird species and how long they stay, if and when they first nest, when the spring peepers and other frogs begin to sing and for how many days, when they lay eggs, and when those eggs hatch. Also, I will be noting when the first flowers and leaves of native and non-native plants appear. So far this April there has been little to write down other than temperatures and snow depth. And that is unusual because April here is a time of sudden and rapid awaking of many kinds of plants and animals. But this year it is very quiet except for a few geese and the two sandhill cranes that show up every spring at this time.
What should be happening, what has been happening very regularly since 2001, is warming weather with daytime temperatures between 30 and 60 degrees and rain and a little snow, not a foot of new snow, which should be gone in all the open areas. The river should be flooding and almost completely free of ice.
Species of native shrubs such as hazel, tag alder, and tea-leaf should be blooming or at the verge of blooming. Dutchman’s breeches, spring beauty, and bloodroot should be emerging from dormancy. But all remain asleep.
White-throated sparrows, song sparrows, purple finches, grackles, mourning doves, and many other migratory songbirds should be arriving. But so far only a few juncos and robins and a mourning dove. The timberdoodle should be flying high every night making his crazy call to find a mate.
Mourning cloak butterflies and tortoise shell butterflies, which over winter as adults under flakes of bark and in hollow trees normally come out in April.
And the woodland ponds are still frozen so no evening choruses of frogs which usually start with the wood frog around April 18.
I’m not sure what this will mean for the many species that normally begin their life cycles in April. Certainly they will be set back a month but will that be detrimental to local populations? I am sure that cold springs like this have happened here before over the ages and that life continues in spite of the set backs.
For my gardening it means that I can do no tilling or planting. The ground is snow-covered and frozen. Garlic and shallots I planted last fall stay dormant under the icy blanket. Usually, they are poking through the mulch by April 10. I also cannot plant any trees or potatoes.
My animals, who have been eating hay and grain all winter, probably would like to out in their pastures but this is not possible now. It is not healthy for them either to be stuck in a small area for weeks on end but there is nothing that can be done. So I keep piling old hay in their pens and sheds to keep the ground dry and clean. To break up the monotonous diet for the sheep I cut branches of willow and poplar which they relish.
More snow is forecast again. It started last night at about 7 PM CDT and will continue until Friday morning. Or maybe longer. This weekend I’d like to do a little canoeing on the river. I’ll probably need to put on waders as I will be doing a lot of portaging over ice dams. And bundle up warmly, too. If I can get downstream far enough I will trek to my west woods for a look around.