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Bogbean (Menyanthes trifoliata) by Bryan Pfeiffer

The Light is Coming

February 5, 2021  |  by Bryan Pfeiffer  |  23 comments  | 

I honestly have no clue what Punxsutawney Phil declared on Groundhog Day. Of course we’ll have six more weeks of winter. The shadows may come and go. What is certain, however, is the light. Here in Vermont we’ve just crossed a threshold: 10 hours of daylight — and increasing every day.

Yeah, it’s an arbitrary threshold. But in nature’s response you will find no artifice. Sure, spring remains a long way off here in New England. Even so, our first avian migrants, Turkey Vultures and Red-shouldered Hawks, as predictable as the daylight itself, are drifting northward on schedule. And the squirrels, like those groundhogs, are getting amorous.

I’ve included below for you a couple of relevant readings from my archives. But lest you get too optimistic or wistful for warmth here in the north (after all, the skiing is still great), I’ll present you with two arthropods now walking around on the snow: a spider in the genus Cicurina and a wingless fly in the genus Chionea.

Oh, and that flower above — okay, that’s simply a gift because, well, I just like its looks. I came across it while tagging and filing digital images the other day (winter is when northern biologists do that sort of thing). It’s Bogbean (Menyanthes trifoliata), which I photographed on 8 June 2019 at a fen in Brookfield, Vermont. We won’t see it in bloom for another four months. So keep your pants on — well, er, at least your long-johns handy.


Red Squirrel by Bryan Pfeiffer

Shadows and Sex

You don’t need Punxsutawney Phil to know which way the wind blows. Groundhog Day isn’t about shadows or winter or spring. It is about sex. Birds and rodents now begin a season of foreplay. And for those squirrels, mating can amount to "pure and unadulterated chaos."

Turkey Vulture by Bryan Pfeiffer

Migration's Misfits

Pick your favorite early sign of spring: squirrels mating, mud oozing, maples flowering. Mine is a Turkey Vulture soaring. But more than being a vernal messenger, the Turkey Vulture is an avian iconoclast, toppling simplistic notions of migration.

Caddisfly case in the Grand Canyon by Bryan Pfeiffer

Hope and Rebuilding

Speaking of the light, and in case you missed it, here's my essay for Inauguration Day — our challenge of rebuilding, expressed in the life of an ephemeral insect I encountered while backpacking in the Grand Canyon.

  1. Marci says:

    Did I mention our Carolina Chickadees are starting to sing their full spring song?
    Marci in NC
    PS Love reading Bryan’s stories and the responses!

  2. Marcy Ashley-Selleck says:

    LOL on this whole thread!
    For the first time in 4 years, I saw three Carolina Wrens at the same time at my feeders here in Shelburne on 2-03-2021. I’ve also been seeing Common Redpolls in small numbers, the largest group of 20 or so on 1-27-2021. And on various days a small flock of American Robins wandering the woods! I’m busy now watching the active Bald Eagle nests on the Catalina and Channel Islands on, and the Long-eared Owl roost in Montana. I look forward to your updates this spring on our Vermont native everything, Brian!

    • Sounds wonderfully busy there, Marcy. Thanks for the report! Three Carolina Wrens — triple high energy! 🙂 And thanks for the link — I hadn’t know about it, but will tone in.

  3. Marci says:

    Flocks of Robins are starting to come through – going north obviously – hope its not too early – we have snowy/icy weather coming, even down here in NC.

  4. Bill says:

    What are Choneas. Searched all over the web and nothing came up in the context you and your friends used the word.

    Just an old guy learn about nature at a late age. Love your emails but apparently not meant for beginners.

    Thanks for making me work at it – sorry I was unsuccessful … Cheers,

  5. Mary Boulanger says:

    Our winter bird is a Carolina Wren! However, since it has graced us all winter long, perhaps it’s a harbinger of Carolina Wrens moving up north. He likes suet, the drinking water in the shallow glass bowl on the picnic table on the deck, and he bathes and drinks. There are stones in the bowl for birds to stand on. The wren also likes bites of snow! He’s really acclimated! About three years ago we had a Boreal Chickadee all winter! Wow. Right outside the window on a platform feeder!

    • Thanks, Mary. Nice to hear from you. Yeah, Montpelier has been busy with Carolina Wrens this winter as well. And Boreal Chickadees — at last some of them — moved a bit this fall. They were showing up in places south of their customary range (which we think of as “permament”) here in Vermont.

  6. Mary says:

    Thought I was replying to Jenn’s on the Chionea. Yes, it was a Chionea!

  7. Mary says:

    Me too!! And I was going to look it up. Thanks Bryan! Mine was busily marching across a rather broad expanse of snow. Don’t know where it was headed — or where it could tuck in when temperature drops.

  8. Brian Mulhearn says:

    Conk a ree- Red-winged Blackbird.

  9. Cathy Smith says:

    Just what I needed today. Spring, if not in the air, is at least in the lengthening light! And I love those tiny creatures undeterred from venturing out despite the thick covering of snow. Thank you for this, Bryan!

  10. I saw Chionea out last week! Love this, Bryan. I am always waiting for the light to return. PS, if you ever are leading walks to the Brookfield fen, I’d love to see that plant.


    Wonderful, delightful, informative. I love reading your stories. They read like a story not an essay.

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