A Northwoods Almanac for March 22 – April 4, 2013 by John Bates
How to Survive Falling Though the Ice
As March winds down, the danger of falling through thinning ice heightens. Many creeks are wide open, rivers will soon be opening, springs have created open water holes in marshes, and small lakes are showing signs of rotting ice.
So, what should you do if you fall through the ice? Mary and I took a wilderness first aid course last spring and were shown an exceptional video (http://drbenkim.com/what-do-if-you-fall-through-ice) on exactly what happens to one’s body and mind when in icy water, as well as how to survive the experience. The narrator, Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht, a thermophysiologist at the University of Manitoba, actually does controlled demonstrations of himself as a skier and and as a snowmobiler going through the ice, and records what happens the longer he is in the water.
Here are a few notes on what he says: “First, be aware that as soon as your body hits icy cold water, it will experience something called cold shock phenomenon. This phase lasts between one to three minutes, and is characterized by an instinctive gasping response, which can lead to hyperventilation and a huge waste of energy. Try to slow your breathing down and know that you have more time than you think to survive.
“Once you are relatively calm, try to swim to the point at which you fell into the water and use your arms to grab hold of a solid edge of ice.
“For most of us, the natural instinct is to pull ourselves straight out, as we would do in hoisting ourselves out of a swimming pool. This is next to impossible. The most efficient way to get yourself out of the water is to keep your legs as horizontal as possible and kick like you're swimming, and try to get into a rhythm of kicking your legs and pulling your body forward onto the ice with your arms. Kick, pull, kick, pull, etc.”
These short videos show exactly what happens when you go through the ice, what to do to get out, and then what to do to survive hypothermia. They are the best videos by far that we’ve ever seen on this. Please watch them.
Salmonella at Bird Feeders
Reports are coming in of salmonella occurring at bird feeders, not an unusual phenomenon in early spring. A bird infected by salmonella typically becomes very lethargic and puffs its feathers up like it’s very cold, eventually dying in a few days. Salmonella bacteria live in the intestines of birds and are shed in the feces of infected birds. Birds contract salmonella through direct contact with infected birds or by consuming food or water contaminated by the feces.
Redpolls, goldfinch, and pine siskins are among the most susceptible species at Northwoods feeders, and since we currently have large concentrations of redpolls in our area, all of us need to clean up the seed hulls under our feeders, change the water in our birdbaths frequently, and clean our bird feeders with a 10 percent bleach solution.
If you observe dead or sick birds at your feeders, take the feeders down, clean them, and then wait a week before starting to feed again.
If you see dead or sick redpolls, keep your cats and dogs indoors, since with certain strains of salmonella the animals could become infected through eating the affected birds.
Dead birds should be removed from feeder areas. You can pick the birds up by using a plastic bag to avoid direct contact with the bird; it's important to wash carefully after handling potentially diseased birds.
The Ides of March
The Ides of March corresponds to March 15 on the Roman calendar and became notorious as the date of the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC. Caesar was stabbed to death at a meeting of the Roman Senate by some 60 conspirators. According to Plutarch, a seer had warned that harm would come to Caesar no later than the Ides of March. On his way to the Theatre of Pompey where he would be assassinated, Caesar passed the seer and joked, "The ides of March have come," meaning to say that the prophecy had not been fulfilled, to which the seer replied "Aye, Caesar; but not gone." This meeting is further dramatized in William Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar, when Caesar is warned by the soothsayer to "beware the Ides of March."
Because of the soothsayer's exchange with Caesar, the Ides of March now signifies at the very least a fateful day. But more than that, it intimates a sense of foreboding that an unpredictable danger is in the air; that anything might happen.
And that pretty well summarizes normal March weather in the Northwoods. More importantly, it also reflects the reality of how hard life has become for most wildlife species. March is usually the month of greatest hunger for wildlife – the culmination of winter – and thus the month where death finally overtakes those individuals weakened by constant cold and want since November. That Spring Equinox occurred a few days ago is little more than an abstraction if the deep snow remains and the jet stream continues to draw down frigid Canadian temperatures.
Thus, March is the month that for some will bring to light the phrase “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” for it’s now that individuals may die with the warmth of spring in sight just a few counties south and only a few weeks away.
Bird Song Again! Robins Returning
However, March is also a month of great vigor, where mating is taking place for many mammals, and even birthing for a few of the hardiest, and birds are winging north to proclaim ownership of territories and their simultaneous desires for a mate (or mates). It is a period of rekindled exuberance, and one of the first to try and sing spring into being is the American robin, that most common bird which most of us exult in for a few weeks and then summarily disdain and ignore the rest of the year.
I’ve been rereading The Singing Life of Birds, a book by Donald Kroodsma, a world-renowned birdsong expert, who has an entire chapter on the songs of the robin. He recorded and analyzed the familiar “cheerily cheer-up cheerio” carol of various robins and found it far more complex than most of us would ever realize. He discovered that every individual bird has its own unique repertoire of phrasing, its own tempo of delivery, and its own repetitive patterns that make it possible to identify individual robins solely by their song.
Robins, like most songbirds, also sing with a far greater intensity at dawn than they do the rest of the day. As Kroodsma writes, “Listening to how birds sing at dawn is key to understanding them . . . Hear any singing bird at dawn, and you’ll likely hear something special, perhaps even undescribed in all of the written literature about that species.”
So, as the robins return, and dawn is still at a reasonable hour, try to get out and hear the difference between their dawn song, and their songs later in the day.
Speaking of songs, the male northern saw-whet owl begins his serenading of females usually in late March, though its serenade has not one whit of musical quality to it. Listen in the evening for the monotonous, single tone of the saw-whet, a sound likened to the beeping of a truck when it’s backing-up.
Migration is Starting
Birdwatchers in southern Wisconsin are reporting a host of birds that have migrated back including waterfowl like tundra swans, goldeneyes, all three species of mergansers, wood ducks, scaup, pied-billed grebes, and ring-necked ducks. Add in great blue herons, sandhill cranes, and tundra swans, as well as songbirds like red-winged blackbirds, robins, and song sparrows, and despite our snow, the birds are telling us that spring is near.
On 3/26, we reach 12.5 hours of daylight. The full moon occurs on 3/27. Known to various tribes as the “Sap” moon, the “Crust on Snow” moon, and the “Death” moon, this may be the last full moon of this winter that will reflect off snow.
On 3/29, look for Saturn three degrees north of the waning moon.
In April, look for Jupiter in the west at twilight, and Saturn rising in the east.
“The seed catalogues are arriving again, and as I take them from their brown envelopes and study them at the kitchen table, I muse again on the dogmatic assertion which I often make that the countryman’s relation to Nature must never by anything else but an alliance. Alas, I know well enough that Nature has her hostile moods, and I am equally aware that we must often face and fight as we can her waywardness, her divine profusion, and her divine irrationality. Even then, I will have it, the alliance holds. When we begin to consider Nature as something to be robbed greedily like an unguarded treasure, or used as an enemy, we put ourselves in thought outside of Nature of which we are inescapably a part. Be it storm and flood, hail and fire, or the yielding furrow and the fruitful plain, an alliance it is, and that alliance is a cornerstone or our humanity.” – from Henry Beston, Northern Farm