Deep freeze helps deer

The cold weather we’re currently having can help deer. Mild weather followed by a freeze can leave a crust on the snow thick enough to support deer, who take the opportunity to browse on previously unreachable vegetation. A thinner crust may make progress difficult for them but support the wolves at their heels.

Lichens stir in winter sun

Many lichens on south-facing trees and rocks stir to photosynthesize in the sun on mild winter days. If temperatures rise above freezing like they have in the past few days, fungi such as winter polypor and orange witches’s butter may swell up on tree bark.

Watch for snowfleas during thaws

Many of the tiny specks in this photo are actually snowfleas

Many of the tiny specks in this photo are actually snowfleas

A balmy break often occurring late in the month is known as the January thaw. On such mild, sunny, midwinter days, tiny snowfleas often cover the surface of the snow like soot. But if you look carefully, you’ll see them spring across the snow like fleas. March break is another good time to look for them.

Beaver Love Under the Ice

In January or February, when females are in estrus, beaver couples exit their lodgings — which may also be occupied by the previous year’s offspring — and swim attentively together. Without further preliminaries, the male clasps his partner, moves aside her paddled tail and slides around her so that they are both turned  slightly sideways. They mate for anywhere from 30 seconds to four minutes. After catching a breath of air, grabbing a bite, perhaps making small talk and resting for 20 to 60 minutes, they may repeat their love plunge three or four times.

Mars rising in the east

Mars makes an appearance this winter in the eastern sky. Look for a bright reddish “star” in the east, about half-way up from the horizon to the zenith (top of the sky), about 10 or 11 p.m. For those with a knowledge of constellations (which you’d have after reading Up North!), the planet is between the constellations of Leo and Gemini this season.

Bright winter stars and planets

Make sure to look up when outside on a clear, cold January night. The brilliant Orion constellation, with the famous 3 “belt stars,” shines in the south sky in the evening. Below and left of Orion is the bright star Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. Also called the Dog Star, this star is located in the summer sky during the daytime, and therefore not visible, but the source of the expression “the dog days of summer,” since its star-shine is supposedly added to the heat of the day. In the early evening, Jupiter shines brightly low in the west and will soon disappear from our view. Meanwhile, Mars is rising in the east this month… look for a reddish star.

Meteor shower Jan. 4

The Quadrantid meteor shower takes to the skies Jan. 4, but it’s a tough one for Ontario and North Woods stargazers. The weather outside is frightful for skygazing, of course, and the nature of the Quadrantids means peak times only last a few hours close to twilight. Best viewing is actually from western North America. The shower emanates from its “radiant” located in the Bootes constellation, and the shower’s name comes from an old constellation that was removed from the charts by international agreements in the early 20th century. Remember to mark Aug. 11 on your calendar for the Perseid meteor shower… much better viewing weather!