By Jaynell Graham
The warm days of last week gave us a glimpse of spring.
Readers have dropped by and called in to report that the honeybees were out on January 29 when the temperature reached nearly 60 degrees. Wobbly wasps were reportedly making their way across some of the porches and patios of the county, as well.
Frogs were hopping out and about on Droop Mountain and Knapps Creek January 30, and it was raining frogs Tuesday night on the Denmar Road.
Raining frogs is always an interesting sight.
It may sound crazy, but it is an actual event dating back to Biblical tales of Egyptian storms. Such events are said to be caused by wind passing over a pond teaming with frogs, picking them up and dumping them in other places. It is quite common to see frogs seemingly rising from the asphalt of county roads during thunderstorms.
My Field Notes pal Dave Curry chimed in on that, as well: “If you have seen anything hopping, it was probably the wood frogs. They sometimes jump the gun on spring time,” he said.
Dave also solved a mystery for me concerning a huge flock of birds which hung out at my home one morning last week. Here is what he had to say:
“Sounds like you had a bunch of grackles. They are a beautiful, iridescent blue black with strange light colored eyes. They often travel in flocks with other blackbirds like cow birds, red wing blackbirds and starlings.”
Cindy Johnson reports seeing an inordinate number of hawks this year - spotting one nearly every day on her drive to and from work.
As for the groundhog seeing or not seeing his shadow on February 2, it appears that Punxsutawney Phil on Gobbler’s Knob in Pennsylvania, and French Creek Freddie in West Virginia, are in agreement about an early spring.
Neither of them saw their shadow on Saturday, indicating that spring is just around the corner.
As this is written and the wind blows the snow about, it is a little hard to imagine that things are going to take a dramatic change for the better.
Although we look forward to their predictions, groundhogs have been known to be wrong.
Just last year, these boys predicted six more weeks of winter weather, when, in fact, the Northeast Regional Climate Center at Cornell University later listed January to June as the warmest seven-month period since systematic records began being kept in 1895.
I’ll let you know a bit more about Phil’s and Freddie’s finesse in – say – about six weeks.
We have enjoyed some very nice days, and we have endured a few rough ones.
We may do well to remember the words of an old-timer who said, “I didn’t buy a Farmer’s Almanac this year. I’ll just have to take the weather as it comes!”
Bears and Bluebirds
by Dave Curry
Though we are well into the new year, it might be a good time to reflect on last year and wrap up some loose ends. A good way to do that would be to look at some statistics.
Yes, numbers can be misleading, deceiving and, worst of all, boring. But sometimes they can be informative and even surprising. So, let’s look at some stats and see what we can find.
Pocahontas County had the highest bear gun harvest of any county in the state with 183. Statewide, 1,937 bears were taken by gun hunters and archery hunters took 746 for a grand total of 2,683 bears. This number represents an increased kill by 34 percent over the 2011 bear season and about 12 percent over the record kill of 2,392 from 2010.
Webster County led the state in archery kills with 71 bears. Nicholas (67) and Randolph (57) came in second and third. The surprising stat was that Pocahontas only had 11 archery kills, barely breaking into the top 25 ranked counties. It could be inferred that the bears greatly outnumber the archers in Pocahontas.
While looking at numbers, let’s look at the final stats for the cavity nesters from last summer. There were 33 nesting attempts in our bird houses but only 11 were successful for a success rate of 33 percent. A total of 48 young birds fledged out into the real world. To break those down a little further, tree swallows accounted for 16 attempts, eight of which were successful, for a success rate of 50 percent and 35 fledglings produced.
On the other hand, bluebirds made 17 nesting attempts and were successful only three times, producing 13 fledglings. This 18 percent success rate is the surprising number to me, and somewhat disheartening. The 2011 success rate was 56 percent. The 2010 performance rate of 93 percent was truly extraordinary with 45 young birds fledging.
What caused this big swing? Several factors played a part in this decline. First, because of the mild winter and warm spring, several bluebirds began nesting up to three weeks earlier than usual. Then a sudden cold spell wiped out most of those early nests. Second, an above average raccoon population figured out the nest boxes and began preying on them as a food source. Efforts to discourage them were too little and too late. Thirdly, there is always going to be a certain amount of unsuccessful nests for unknown reason. Maybe a mouse or squirrel or snake may rob the nest, or a parent bird may be lost to a predator or disease. Often that vector will go undiscovered.
In nature a 25 percent success rate is about average for most song birds. A well-built, clean birdhouse can increase the odds for some cavity nesters sometimes, but not always.
In other happenings, last week’s warmer temps and rain gave an early hint of spring. Honeybees were out and about and checking out the neighborhood bird feeders. There seems to be something that they like in the degraded birdseed.
Large flocks of blackbirds were also observed, stretching the northern edge of their normal winter range. With the return of snow and cold weather, these grackles and starlings will probably return southwards for a while until spring breaks.