It's no wonder that the weather is the current hot topic of conversation. It's hard not to talk about how nice it's been, considering that all December the daytime temperatures have been around the 40s. By now, the ground is usually frozen, and will be until spring thaw. This year there is little if any frost in the ground, and there are still some warm weather animals out and about.
When it's cold enough to freeze the ground, the ground moles have to dig deeper to find earthworms, who have also migrated down further in the soil. This is when those trailing mounds of dirt in your mowed lawn should stop appearing. Yet, I saw a fresh one just this afternoon in the lawn near the garden.
The opossums are out of hibernation, and are patrolling the roadsides at night, looking for anything to eat. This time of year they should be tucked away somewhere, sleeping. I had a friend tell me he saw a Brown bat, flying around just after sunset. He said he couldn't see any flying insects anywhere, but the bat seemed to be hunting. Brown bats should also be hibernating, but the warm weather speeds their metabolism, so their hearts beat faster, and they wake up, hungry. It has to be hard for an insect-eating bat to make a living midwinter, which is why they normally sleep right through. I'm sure the bats will be fine, but it's still kinda strange to be spotting them now.
The gray squirrels are playing love games, chasing each other through the bare branches of the trees. Sometimes the one being chased slows down to let her pursuer catch up to her. Looking like they are wrestling in slow motion, they roll over each other, and then off they go again, scurrying through the branches at lightning speed. The young gray squirrels should be born in late February, but they won't emerge from their warm nest in a hollow tree limb until April.
I've been seeing a few Kestrels on my drives. There aren't many birds that you are likely to see perched on a high wire in the winter—not like in the summer, when the blackbirds, robins and grackles are around. Often as not, a lone bird perched a highline this time of year is going to be a Kestrel. A lone hunter, the robin-sized Kestrel may perch for an hour on a power line over a grassy ditch or field. In the winter, his main diet is voles, so he constantly watches the grass below for any movement. When I see Kestrels wintering over, it means there are voles to eat, and that's a very good thing. When the vole populations are at a cyclic high, they are providing food for a host of wild birds and other animals.
Even if it's cold where you are right now, keep your eyes and ears open for the beautiful signs of nature. I guarantee you will be inspired, finding your own natural instincts in the life of winter.
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