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Date:11/23/2014 4:14:14 AM
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When the Days Begin to Lengthen, Part II
I was writing about the depths of winter, and the first indications that the year had really turned. It would seem that my observations in my last blog applies to this winter. We had our January thaw, then our first cold blast. As I've said, the first blast is followed by a second, more severe blast. This week our temps will make it up to 30 degrees for a day or two, then, a second cold wave will render us to temps around zero at the start of next week. Regardless of that, during the thaw, I first heard the Phoebes. Northern countryfolk know the Phoebe. Phoebes make their distinctive "fee-bee" sound on the first mild days of January and continue to make them throughout late winter into spring. This is in contrast to what an old-timer told me about the "Kee bird." "The Kee bird?" I asked.

"Yeah," the old fella continued, "That's a bird that's sitting on a wire when it's 40 below and a 30 mile an hour wind is blowing up it's backside and he says, 'Keee . . . . ripes, it's cold!"

The long January nights are now more than ever punctuated by the hoots of the Great Horned Owl. They mate at this time of year. We live in a grove of mature Norway pine and a quarter mile south of us is a stand of mature White pine. The mating owls will roost in both places and call to one another throughout the long winter night, much to my Ruthie's disgust. I usually sleep through their courting but Ruth does not. These owls will then use the abandoned nests of other large birds (such as eagles or hawks) or squirrel nests and the female will normally lay two or three eggs. Both male and female will sit on the nest although the male will feed the female during this time. There is often the threat of the winter cold killing the eggs before they hatch although it is obvious that these owls are diligent enough parents to make sure the eggs stay warm enough in order to incubate. Incubation time is between 26 to 35 days. Other than the hoots of mating owls during the cold January nights and the encouraging calls of the Phoebe on warm January days, there is little else to keep us hoping for spring other than the knowledge that every winter is followed by a spring and that we need only patience to tide us over the deepest part of winter. -- Gary
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