February is the midpoint of winter where daylight lingers noticeably longer and the first hints that spring isn’t far away are now seen. The year’s animal activity starts slowly; each week more and more players are on nature’s stage. Redwing blackbirds return and groundhogs and chipmunks may make an appearance on warmer days. Maple sap starts to rise and the first skunk cabbage flowers can be found throughout Cleveland Metroparks wetlands.
Daylight lengthens and the deep silence of winter is broken by the mournful call of mourning doves as the first spring bird songs now begin. Later in the month bird songs become quite noticeable as chickadees, tufted titmouse and cardinals join in the chorus. Great horned owls have been courting and establishing nest sites. Large tree cavities provide excellent shelter during cold months, but large stick nests of herons, hawks and crows will suffice. Incubation is about a month and young will hatch when temperatures are warmer. Toward the end of the month you will hear “okaleee”, as male red-winged blackbirds return to cattail stands to establish territories. Females may not arrive for some time depending on weather and will eventually begin to weave nests from last years’ dried out cattail fronds.
February is the traditional end of hibernation for mammals. The groundhog is expected to emerge from its winter burrow and proclaim the end of winter…or not. Male are first to arouse to wander in search of a welcoming female. For those mammals that remained active throughout winter such as skunks, raccoons, fox, and coyotes, this is a month for romance too. A fresh snow reveals their tracks as they travel widely in search of a mate.
Maple sugaring season begins when temperatures warm above freezing during the day allowing the sap to rise, retreating back into the roots when temperatures cool at night. This alternating rising and falling temperature keeps the sweet sap flowing until buds on the trees begin to open, bringing an end of another sugaring season.
Skunk cabbage can be found in many wetlands throughout Cleveland Metroparks, and when bruised or broken the distinct odor of a skunk can be smelled giving it its common name. The plant can create its own heat from rapid respiration in their starchy root; often melting a thin layer of snow or ice around the plant. Early active bees, flies and beetles may seek out the spathe, as the odor and color of carrion attracts them to the flower that may provide a meal for these early insects.