The early and mid winter weather that we have experienced led me to believe that we would soon see bare ground and mild to warm temperatures. Boy, was I mistaken; February weather was more like January than March. The Sheridan area certainly was nasty with a slug of nights going below zero and the remainder in the single digits. I can only remember a handful of days when the temperature climbed above freezing.
The snow that fell in December is still on the ground with the accumulations that came after adding to a knee deep snow pack in my front yard. The bottom layer of snow is darned near ice and it sure has made it hard for turkeys and pheasants to find food. I imagine that the sharp-tailed grouse have done pretty well by foraging on the buds of cottonwoods, chokecherries and willows. The mule deer that had been traipsing through the yard at dark haven't shown up in three or four weeks.
Fortunately, some of the south and west facing slopes that have sagebrush or other shrubby vegetation are open with bare ground in some spots. The scoria hills around Acme and Kleenburn are free of snow and have a contingent of mule deer and white-tailed deer on them. How much forage remains for them is a question.
Needless to say, not only are we humans looking forward to spring — so are all the critters that have endured this winter. According to the calendar, the first day of spring is just two weeks away. Calendars can be cruel some years. Still, some feeble signs of spring are showing up.
It probably doesn't do the wildlife much good, but I have noticed that in the flower beds on the south side of my house a few tulips and day lilies have emerged along with some hyacinths, daffodils and crocus.
Though I can't say for certain, I would guess that cheatgrass growing on the fairly open south and west facing slopes are greening up and offering forage for Hungarian partridge, cottontail rabbits, and deer.
I can tell that my neighborhood cottontail rabbits are getting their infusion of spring hormones because their tracks are ranging further afield. Cottontail rabbits usually breed during the first few days of March so that the first litter of young come in early April.
I have heard great horned owls hooting in my neighborhood many evenings in early February. They breed rather early and the females incubate their eggs so that the young are hatched close to when the first green up occurs. I imagine that this year when the snow melts off that the voles and deer mice that have enjoyed some protection from the owls due to the rodents using snow tunnels will afford lots of meals to the owlets. Then, too, so will the young cottontail rabbits that will appear in April.
Normally, I would be doing an article about the first bird of spring. Usually my son, Clint, reports that the red-winged blackbirds have arrived in the marsh a short distance north of his house around the first of March. It seems that the red-winged blackbirds haven't made the push north yet, but they certainly have things much more spring like 200 miles to the south.
It is so demoralizing to realize that northern Wyoming and Montana are winter bound while southern Wyoming and Colorado are in the throes of spring. The ponds in Cheyenne are open and loaded with ducks and geese. The grass in the median of I-25 is green from Wheatland into Ft. Collins. The high for Wyoming on March 3rd was 68 degrees at Torrington. Sheridan only got up to 38 for the day.
This weird weather pattern is destined to stay for the next month or so according to the long range forecast. Our region is supposed to be below normal temperature wise and above normal for precipitation so the winter will drag on while our neighbors to the south will be experiencing spring and early summer like weather.
While I'm not wishing for a drought like our neighbors are experiencing, I would like to see a stretch of weather where the temperatures reach “normal” — that is, mid- to upper 40s. Oh well — we won't have to worry about losing our snowpack too soon this year. I'm going to pull out my photos of Belize and try to soak up some of the warmth they exude. Think and pray for spring!