According to Environment Canada and all their high tech wizardry, this was supposed to be the winter of La Nina. Remember all those bone chilling warnings. It may yet come to pass. The Farmer’s Almanac predicted a low to medium La Nina which is closer to the truth to date.
What if you didn’t have environment Canada or the Farmer’s Almanac? Plants, birds, and animal behaviour are good indicators of the season’s weather ahead. Especially as you get older. You just don’t feel like chasing Roosevelt elk around mountains for days on end for that great photo op. Sometimes more of a dog chasing it’s own tail process. Then excitement is relegated to examining plants and observing the nearby birds, mammals and plants to compare to weather patterns.
In really cold and prolonged winters, tree and plant buds are as hard as rock. They can take someone’s eye out, but in milder winters you’ll find the buds quite soft which has been the case this winter. Last winter saw many plants sprouting early, but considering the forecasts the crocus were sprouting in late January this year, (earlier than normal). Basically all the plants are ahead of last winter. Roses and honeysuckles are already breaking from bud, and what is most amazing this season is the snapdragons which normally don’t over winter, did this year. Daffodils, hyacinth, and bluebells are early, with scillia having leaves up and well grown, while the grape hyacinth and iris’s are on time, all indicating a mild winter with a few cold pockets.
Birds were a bit harder to read as we saw much larger numbers at the feeders early this winter which may have indicated preparing for a colder winter or possible lack of food, but one of the pleasant surprises was a drastic increase in varied thrush and towhees this winter from the previous winters. I counted 22 varied thrush and three towhees on one occasion . It was the few Yellow-Rumped Warblers that stayed over, who usually leave the region for the tropics, that indicated a milder winter. You can only call them fools. Warblers are hyper active insect-eaters, but unlike other warblers they are generalists and can live on berries, seeds and even sap longer than the rest. Considering the number of flying insects still hovering throughout this winter, it would have been a buffet for the warblers that remained behind.
Last but not least, there is our local bear population. You have to look at regional populations versus painting the entire species with one stroke, as many experts still do these days. As one senior, large-carnivore specialist advised, it is sickly or old diseased bears that are the only ones out and about during winter. Hate to bust his bubble of antiquated knowledge, but healthy bears are wandering about especially during mild winters. This is more evident among coastal populations where you still have a reasonable food supply and milder temperatures. And this winter there have been more bears about than you can shake a stick at.
Then again, you can ignore nature and accept the expert meteorologists who are barely able to keep up with day-to-day forecasts, never mind long-range forecasts.
Lawrence Woodall is a long-time naturalist who lives in Port Hardy.