I wonder how many of you know what Candlemass Day is! It is exactly half way between the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox. An ancient custom in Germany checked out hibernating badgers. (The European badgers – not the same as the American badgers.) If a badger was seen emerging, and could see it’s shadow, another 6 weeks of winter would ensue. If there was no shadow, spring would come soon.
Sound familiar? European settlers in the Eastern US transferred this custom to marmots, also known as woodchucks – also known as groundhogs. Apparently the groundhog’s prediction is about 30% accurate. Not sure What the European badger’s prediction was!
Groundhogs are true hibernators – their body functions slow down and their temperature drops. They will hibernate until food is available. However, they wake up for a bit at this time of year if the snow is not too deep to sense out potential mates so they can get a head start on procreation when spring finally comes.
January 2020 has given us a taste of real winter. My last post ended with me being hauled out of the ditch after our initial snowfall, but more snow fell. I spent several days on my atv but it was too deep and, because of the heavy rain that followed it, the initial snowbanks were frozen solid and too close. My usual ploughing neighbour did not have a strong enough machine and we had to hire someone with a small cat from further afield.
It all looked very pretty. (You will notice that the “animal graveyard” is now tastefully hidden!)
The birds continued to be busy at the feeder. I have an unusual number of woodpeckers this year. Most years, they are around, but tend to hang about the trees. A female downy woodpecker visits daily.
Two female hairy woodpeckers and one male feed constantly. The male is a greedy feeder and he sideswipes with his bill, sending the sunflower seeds everywhere. Isn’t he a handsome devil?
The weather stayed mild for a few more days, but then we were given an EXTREME COLD WARNING.
Be prepared for bitterly cold air.
An extremely cold arctic airmass in the far north will make its way southward this weekend. This airmass will first move across the central interior on today and then across the south on Sunday.
Temperatures will plummet to values not seen in years.”
Temperatures were quoted accompanied by: “Frostbite in minutes.”
And we got it. During the day, it climbed to about -24C, hitherto the coldest night temperature we’d had for this winter. At night, though….
How do the birds manage it? In their short lives, these local residents would never have experienced such cold before. But they were as busy as ever. Fluffed out and frosty, but they coped.
The Stellar’s Jay is looking as if he wished he were elsewhere.
All I could do was provide endless amounts of food.
I have known it get as cold as minus 50C twice in my 40 years on the Chilcotin. But I have never experienced the “forty below for weeks on end” that all the “old timers” talk about. This extreme cold lasted 4 days – then the warning was removed – but it still got down to -32. (Last year the coldest day was -34C). My neighbour at the river spent three weeks with her family in Australia – close to the worst fire zones. She said it wasn’t so bad where she was – not even a lot of smoke. Her worst problem was the 40C plus temperatures. She arrived home on the last morning of 40 below!
The cold, however, meant sunshine. By mid January the days were already noticeably longer. The sunset point had started to move. (On the shortest day it sets to the left of the bare cottonwood branches.)
We are always surprised how quickly the days lengthen. But we forget that the calendar new year occurs 10 days into the new solar year. Mid January day length is equivalent to the last week in November.
It took a few days to warm up, but soon the temperature was back to the very mild -10C or so at night and often a degree or two above freezing in the afternoon. This brought fog again.
The warmth melted the snow off the trees and the fog brought hoarfrost.
I started the slow business of breaking trail. Snowshoes sank so that the snow surface was level with my boot tops.
Afternoons were so warm I had to strip off gloves and hat and coat.
We had a few pink sunrises.
One afternoon I went to Tatla Lake. The snow depth was only half there – and apparently there was no snow at all south of Tatla (where it was warmer). On top of the Bella Coola Hill, however, there has been well over a metre since I was up there for the Solstice.
Near Tatla lake are the gymkhana grounds. I snowshoed onto the frozen lake nearby. The sun was low and it created a perfect frost bow. It is faint, so I hope you can see it.
But winter hasn’t quite finished yet. Down came the snow again.
As with the previous heavy fall, during the night it turned to rain. What a mess. We now have half a metre on the ground with a thick layer of ice underneath.
This is by no means a record here, but it is more than most years. No doubt our woodchucks are not going to stick their noses out on this Candlemass Day.
Something tells me that breakup is going to be fun!