Saturday, February 27, 2010

Signs of Spring

We’ve all got certain ones that send the message.

Whether you live in the sunny climes of the south and west, or the frigid cold of the north and east; we all have our “seasons.” And with those changing seasons certain cues which herald them in. Some are quite obvious, yet most are subtle and quite personal. Think about what ushers the changes for you. Is it earlier/later sunrises, warmer/colder temperatures, or is it simply the TV program line-up? Perhaps you” know” it’s fall when football season begins, or spring when the talk is of March Madness. Since our seasons are truly climatologically anchored, it makes sense that the natural world often provides the many of these cues. For the purposes of this entry; let’s focus on spring. (…hey, it’s MY blog and I have a memory to share)

What is a “season” anyway? I found this very informative website HERE, if you want more a comprehensive study. However suffice it to say that the season of winter = slightly less than 89 days, and spring is about 92+3/4 days. Now that’s all relative to your geographical location, and mindset. If you are trapped in a basement office with no windows, for your work day (like I am) the comings and goings of Daylight Saving time compounding the effects of SAD; you scarcely see the sun anyway. So any chance you get to interact with the natural (outdoor) world is sacred – any sign of spring a blessed occasion. Come on Punxsutawney Phil…you can DO it!

To put you (dear reader) into the proper mindset, allow me to regale you with a collection of wintry regional, meteorological data. Wisconsin climate is typically continental with some modification by Lakes Michigan and Superior. The average annual temperature varies from 39 F in the north to about 50 F in the south. The lowest temperature on record was minus 55 F, reported from Couderay on both February 2 and February 4, 1996. During more than one-half of the winters, temperatures fall to minus 40 F or lower, and almost every winter temperatures of minus 30 or colder are reported from northern counties. The greatest August to July snowfall total for northern Wisconsin from the years 1908-2006, belongs to Lac Vieux Desert at 161.5 inches. Between March 4-5, 1976 – Wisconsin was hit with a devastating ice storm - One of the worst natural disasters to hit Wisconsin in history. This incredible ice storm completely snapped hundreds of utility poles, downed thousands of power and telephone lines and totally destroyed many trees. Some ice accumulations ranged up to a phenomenal five inches in diameter on wires and limbs of trees. The excessive ice accumulations were in part caused by thunderstorms that rapidly built up the ice. High winds gusting to 60 mph made a horrible situation even worse. Up to 600,000 residences were directly affected by the ice storm and up to 100,000 people were without power during the height of the storm. Some rural areas were without power for over 10 days. The following counties were declared federal disaster areas due to the ice storm: Calumet, Columbia, Crawford, Dane, Dodge, Fond du Lac, Grant, Green, Iowa, Jefferson, Lafayette, Manitowoc, Ozaukee, Richland, Rock, Sauk, Sheboygan, Vernon, Walworth, Washington and Waukesha.

In my immediate neck of the woods on March 2-4, 1881 there was a blizzard which dropped between 2 to 4 feet of snow. Drifts piled to 20 feet. Milwaukee reported 28.5 inches. Between February 24 and March 20, 1881, Milwaukee received 63.7 inches of snow! On February 4-5, 1924 another Blizzard gifted some 20.3 inches at Milwaukee / 10 foot drifts. This event still ranks as Milwaukee's heaviest snowfall in 24 hours. Between January 3-4, 1982, a blizzard of 8 to 16 inches pounded the northwest suburbs of Milwaukee had 16 inches. Madison reported 8 inches. December 14-15, 1987 a blizzard (gusts to 73 mph) - Madison and Milwaukee had 13 inches of snow….had enough? Let me tell you, by March 21st I have, and am eagerly looking for my own personal signs of spring…groundhog or no groundhog!

My mother and I shared a common sign of spring. When the robins could be seen and heard singing their “spring songs” it was very close - even if the calendar said otherwise. When I was in her zip code many years ago as a younger person, the first one to see and hear that wonderful harbinger would immediately alert the other. When I had later relocated some 225 miles southward, the same sure sign was relayed via telephone. Since my proximity to the equator was just that much more of an advantage; I would usually be the one to make that call. This always seemed to brighten her spirits and give her hope. For me, among other positive things, I could finally take the rope down from the garage rafters. (just kidding…but it surely felt like that)

Little did I know that in the spring of 2007, my phone call northward, cheerily announcing, “We’ve got robins Mom!” would have been my last opportunity; for on Groundhog Day 2008 (what irony) Mom passed away…taking any chance of spring with her for that year.

Yesterday, just after 6:00 AM as I was walking the snow-covered path from the grocery store near my home on a mission for a few things; it happened. My hands full of plastic bags, my step taking me back to the house, I trained my ear ahead to catch a faint and growing sound. Surely it was much too early?  I scanned the landscape for what I longed to see.  There, in the bare maple tree a bit farther up the street stood a single American Robin, singing…singing, and singing its Cheerily, cheeriup, cheerio, cheeriup song.  For some reason, hearing this magical (ordinary) sound on this cold February morning caused my heart to soar, and my eyes to weep; but it was time nonetheless. Without hesitation, I tilted my head upward and to the heavens above and emotionally whispered, “We’ve got robins Mom...we've got robins.”

I was (finally) spring.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Embracing "Tunnel" Vision

You just KNOW you want to...

Remember when you were a kid?  I do.  Hell, I'm basically still a kid at heart and unafraid to admit it.    Remember how it felt to explore new, strange, scary, ("don't go in there Joey cause you'll get hurt!") kind of places?  I do.  I still do cause I can...without the aforementioned parental warnings associated.  Is it scary?...Yes  Is it kinda' stupid?...Yes too...but what the hell?  During the latest GBBC I ventured to Havenwoods (as you know if you read this blog) and came across a semi-frozen version of the same drainage system that is usually totally thawed (or is it "UN-thawed", that sounds wrong doesn't it?  Kinda like when you say IN-flamable, when you mean the damn thing will burn like a monkey on a cupcake right? But I usual usual)  Anyway, where was I?  Oh, I was telling you fair reader about the drainage system...

Well, the tunnels at the bottom of the hill were practically screaming out, "COME HERE" to me, so I did.  It reminded me of my childhood when I went down to the "culverts" near my Madison, WI home.  I wasn't supposed to go near them because my Mom said I'd "get hurt" right...but I did anyway.  I mean c'mon some of the guys from the neighborhood were having a rock fight on the top of them near the creek and I just HAD to join them.  Geeze...when I think back about that...a freakin' ROCK fight no less!  Anyway, I went to join the fracass and...well..dodged a rock and FELL into the culvert bottom and split my knee wide open.  I remember running back full-tilt to the house for a medic. 

When my Mom came outside to meet me, I said through my tear-stained and muddy cheeks, "Mom...I know I wasn't supposed to be by the culverts cause you told me not to, and you can punish me however you want to, but please just help me!"  She did.  I even skated on the punishment because (apparently) my contrition (and misery) was authentic enough, and she laughed each time she'd tell that tale over the years before her death in 2008...thanks Mom...I love were the best.

So here were the tunnels of 2010 calling out my name.  Were there dangers?  Only if you count the thin honeycomb ice that coated the pond that drained into them.  Oh what the heck...time for some Tunnel Vision!  Plus, it was like visiting an art gallery if you like that kind of art anyway...see for yourself.

A tunnels-eye view

Drainage "Art"

Looks fun doesn't it?  Thanks for reading and dreaming along with the kid in me...B. Stud

Friday, February 19, 2010

The GBBC 2010 ~ How did YOU do?

Reporting your findings when it really counts...

No, the GBBC is certainly not the Greater Boston Business Council ( A Boston based organization to help the bisexual, gay, lesbian and transgendered business community, with more than 1,000 working professionals.  However noble that goal and organization may be, it is totally unrelated to the subject of this particular BS blog.  This little slice of Birdstudian poundcake is dedicated to satiating the hunger of those who value citizen science reporting.  You see it's one thing to perform your due dilligence and "watch" the birdie, and another to remember to "share" your observations with the entire birding world.  Whether you feel confident that you are "worthy" of posting what you "thought" you saw, you truly ought to give it a try and follow-up with your very own report. 

By the have until March 1, 2010 to do so...HERE  just as I did below...

The Devereaux Yard

This first list above was observed in the backyard of the house on Saturday over the period of 8 hours of casual (look out the window every-so-often) viewing.  I would observe a particular species and make a maximum count.  What eventually was reported to the GBBC website, was the maximum amount of that particular species I had seen over that 8-hour time period.  I decided to also sneek away for a little more than an hour to one of my favorite birding areas in the City of Milwaukee; the State forest at Havenwoods.  I pulled on the big Sorel boots and trudged through the snow.  Here's that final submitted count as well...(below)

The highlight of that little side-jaunt was the approximately 250 Starlings that decided to "electrify" me with their presence in a high-tension power tower.

I will be blogging more about this particular Havenwoods trip in a near-future blog so stay tuned...In the meantime, I also counted the next day just for kicks in the back yard once more.  The weather for the three counts was magnificent and sunny as I spent as much time outdoors as possible.  Here is that final submitted count:

So, in short I hope that you (fellow birder) also had the great fortune to observe during this past GBBC of 2010, and furthermore that you had the confidence to log on and report your totals. 

Remember: Every Little Bird bit helps, when it comes to science...make yours "count" too.

Thanks for reading!