My focus for 2022 is on phenology(seasonal natural phenomena). I grew up in this area but spent 37 years in central Texas.

This is my second winter back here so even though I’ve been a naturalist for 45 years, I need to get my sense of timing back.

Fortunately, the 2022 Wisconsin Phenology Calendar by The Aldo Leopold Foundation and When Things Happen: A Guide to Natural Events in Wisconsinby Randy Hoffman, (based on his 50 years of observations) are guiding my way.

With a starting point, I can compare what I’m seeing, and what to be on the look-out for, particularly birds. During January I hosted a regular breakfast club for an average of 15 species: wintering juncos and tree sparrows joined house finch, blue jay, cardinal, black-capped chickadee, mourning dove, white-breasted and red-breasted nuthatches along with 3 species of woodpeckers.

Susan says “enjoy now, as Junco’s breeding grounds range from Central Wisconsin up thru Canada . . . mine left by April last year.”

wing prints from juncos in snow

Wing prints and the track they make when they do their hop-scratch to get seeds under the snow. Photo by Susan Sander.

Of course, there are always house sparrows, and occasionally starlings startle the crowds.  A trio of crows spend more time flying around, sometimes in pursuit of the red-tailed hawk.

It’s exciting to catch a newcomer: a brown creeper walking up the maple tree trunk, and a common redpoll that just landed among the finches. A Cooper’s hawk bounced off a window clutching a starling. And I’ve heard a belted kingfisher over Nippersink Creek! Not bad for a small backyard in Genoa City.

At night the coyotes raise their voices and the great horned owls have been courting. A cottontail leaves tracks around my house. A lot happens while we sit snug indoors.

We might think spring and breeding season is a couple months away but the wild things are busy looking for and re-establishing territories and finding mates. I awoke the other day to a house sparrow singing up a storm as it checked out a bluebird house.

Eagles can be spied along the Fox River as they start their courting and nesting cycle.  And many mammals are also in mating mode (gray squirrels are in wild-abandon chase mode).

According to the phenology calendar, February starts with early arrivals of robins, and horned larks heading farther north. Eastern bluebirds along with turkey vultures should start to arrive around the 10th with sandhills soon behind. It’s interesting to compare their internal calendars with mine on the fridge.  Some of our winter birds might actually be heading farther north for breeding. It’s one reason that the Great Backyard Bird Count is held over the weekend of February 18th-21st. (Mark your calendars!) It’s the great shuffle time of spring migration, and observations help provide data on shifts in phenology.

This area of Walworth County, Wisconsin and McHenry County, Illinois (aka Greater Hackmatack Ecosystem) has a number of habitats that are important not only to migrating birds but also those in need of nesting sites. Join in learning more about where the wild things are and how they make use of conservation lands, including those of Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge. Reporting your sightings helps FOHNWR monitor wildlife responses to restoration/conservations efforts as well as populations. For more information and to share your sightings, email info@hackmatacknwr.org.