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Cardinals begin their mating calls next week
Poor Will’s Almanack
By Bill Felker

January 23-29, 2006
Teach me, gentle flowers,
To wait for springtime showers,
In this winter-world to grow
Green and strong beneath the snow:
Teach me, gentle flowers.
-Christian Richardt
The astronomical calendar for the first week of late winter:
The Chinese Witch-hazel Moon wanes throughout the period, becoming the Helle-bore Moon at 9:15 a.m. on Jan. 29.

The Chinese Witchhazels and the Hellebores are two of the earliest blooming plants that overwinter in this region. If you don’t have one of each, look for them at a local nursery. Enjoy their blooms through the rest of the winter, and plant them outdoors in March or April.

Weather patterns
Jan. 31: This is the second weather system of late winter, and it is typically followed by an even more pronounced thaw than occurred after the previous two fronts.
February: Four wintry high-pressure systems define the first two weeks of February. After the 18th of the month; however, the fortunes of spring gather momentum, and some of the mildest conditions so far in the year follow the three remaining February high-pressure systems. Major storms are most likely to occur around Feb. 3, 6-9, 14-18 and 24-25.
Feb. 3: As the final front of January weakens, it often brings the brief “Groundhog Day Thaw,” a warm spell often potent enough to bring skunk cabbage into bloom as far north as the Great Lakes. February 3, however, consistently pushes a strong high-pressure ridge across the Mississippi, sharply raising the possibility of below-zero temperatures, and initiating a weeklong period of increased possibilities for bitter daytime highs.

Natural calendar
Cardinals begin their mating calls this week of the year, just as average temperatures begin to rise. When you hear the cardinals, you will know that hazel catkins are flowering in Great Britain. In milder years, frogs are laying eggs there, too, about the same time that frogs are mating in the South of the United States.

In the southern area of England, newts are returning to ponds about a month before salamanders start to breed here in the lower Midwest. British bumblebees are out looking for the first snowdrops a month before the Ohio Valley bees are on the move. And the cardinal’s song here means that rooks are nesting and that the song thrush is singing south of London.

Below the 40th Parallel, from South Carolina west to California, crocus, daffodil and tulip foliage emerges in the garden.

Garlic planted in late November has pushed out of the ground. The first rhubarb leaves are unfolding, and Algerian iris will soon be blossoming in Virginia.

Mind and body
The S.A.D. Index, which measures the forces that contribute to seasonal affective disorders on a scale of 1 to 100, rises to 90 on Jan. 29. This period remains the worst of the year for the winter blahs. Try to be outside as much as possible. Be active, and avoid excessive carbohydrates in order to give your body and brain the best chance of getting through the season with the least stress.

Diabetics should take special care of themselves between now and the arrival of spring. The most severe diabetic reactions generally occur when the S.A.D. Index is high and the weather is cold. PMS and angina are also worse for many people at this time of year.

Field & garden notes
As the days lengthen, take cuttings of roses, Russian sage, forsythia, viburnum, pussy willow, lavender and other flowering shrubs for fall planting and future bloom.

Late winter is also the time to treat ash, bittersweet, fir, elm, flowering fruit trees, hawthorn, juniper, lilac, linden, maple, oak, pine, poplar, spruce, sweet gum, tulip tree and willow for scales and mites. Spray trees when temperatures rise into the upper 30s or 40s.

Pruning is recommended for the next two weeks while the moon wanes. As time permits, pick up supplies for February lawn and pasture seeding.

Best hunting & fishing
Since the moon will be overhead in the morning this week, plan to do your hunting and fishing then. Animals and fish should be most active as the January 25th cold front approaches. After that brisk weather system passes through, lie low until the barometer starts dropping again in front of the January 31st cold front.

Cardinal song schedule
When the solar year ends in December, early mornings are quiet throughout the region. The cardinals sleep late, only singing sporadically after about 7:40 a.m. By the end of January, however, the steady advance of the day’s length triggers the mating cycle, and cardinal song begins to consistently precede sunrise by about half an hour through spring equinox.

As April approaches, the birds rise even earlier, sometimes calling an hour before dawn. By the end of May, most cardinals reach their limit around 4:00 a.m.

After that, they settle into the longest days of the year, sleeping in a little in the mornings, their music softening as the nights grow longer.

Here’s a schedule of cardinal song from winter solstice to summer solstice (Day, Sunrise, First Cardinal Song):

Dec. 21, 7:53 a.m., 7:40 a.m.
Jan. 1, 7:57 a.m., 7:40 a.m.
Jan. 10, 7:57 a.m., 7:30 a.m.
Jan. 31, 7:45 a.m., 7:20 a.m.
Feb. 5, 7:40 a.m., 7:10 a.m.
Feb. 9, 7:36 a.m., 7:04 a.m.
Feb. 16, 7:27 a.m., 6:57 a.m.
Feb. 20, 7:22 a.m., 6:45 a.m.
March 3, 7:06 a.m., 6:33 a.m.
March 13, 6:50 a.m., 6:16 a.m.
March 20, 6:39 a.m., 6:10 a.m.
March 27, 6:28 a.m., 5:55 a.m.
March 31, 6:21 a.m., 5:44 a.m.
April 2, 6:18 a.m., 5:34 a.m.
April 16, 5:56 a.m., 5:12 a.m.
April 21, 5:49 a.m., 5:05 a.m.
May 2, 5:34 a.m., 4:43 a.m.
May 23, 5:14 a.m., 4:04 a.m.
Send your nature observations to Poor Will, P.O. Box 431, Yellow Springs, Ohio 45387. And for more almanack information, visit

Poor Will’s Scrambler
In order to estimate your SCRAMBLER IQ, award yourself 15 points for each word unscrambled, adding a 50-point bonus for getting all of them correct. If you find a typo, add another 15 points to your IQ.

Here is this week’s rhyming Scrambler:
Published in the January 18, 2006 issue of Farm World.