Friday, March 6, 2015

Return of Heavy Snow

The latest winter storm began dropping snow on Blue Jay Barrens early Wednesday evening.  Snow fell steadily through the night and continued until late Thursday morning.  The total snowfall was eight inches. That wasn’t close to being a record, but an eight inch snow is considered to be a major event in this area.  Temperatures are predicted to warm rapidly over the next week which should melt this snow fairly soon.  Of course, thick snow cover has a way of keeping temperatures colder than predicted, so I expect to be seeing this snow for a while.

Unlike our last snow event, this snow began with a couple inches of large wet flakes that stuck to whatever they touched.  This formed a base of snow on tree branches that caught much of the dry snow that followed.  Cedar branches developed a noticeable droop.  Some cedars lost their cone shape altogether and took on the appearance of sprawling shrubs.  Most will recover their shapes once the snow melts, but there are always a few left with a permanent disfigurement.

The Indian Grass managed to remain upright through this snow.  A few stalks developed a strong lean, primarily due to becoming saturated with water during a heavy rain event preceding the snow.

This winter storm officially began as rain on Tuesday afternoon.  Temperatures reached 50oF and almost two inches of rain fell during the next 24 hours.  By the time the rain changed over to snow, most of the snow from the prior storm had melted.

The rain was more than enough to fill the pond.  Cloudy water made it impossible to make a visual check for any new salamander activity.  Frozen slush now covers the pond’s surface, so I’ll have to wait for the melt to see what may be occurring in the water.  A few Spring Peepers began calling late Wednesday afternoon, but they grew silent when the temperature and the heavy snow began to fall.

During that brief period between one snow cover and the next, I noticed that voles had left the tall grass fields and extended their foraging tunnels into the lawn.  Voles forage in areas that provide a thick grass canopy capable of shielding their activities from predators.  Deep snow offers a temporary canopy cover that allows foraging in normally inaccessible areas.

Voles are plant eaters that feed on a variety of leaves, stems, bulbs and roots.  As they progress through an area, eating whatever they find suitable, they develop runways that are then used as travel lanes to quickly escape predators, move to and from temporary nests, or to access new foraging areas.  The floor of the runway is generally bare ground and the sides are lined with plant material unsuited to consumption.  Extensive systems are often developed.

I’m impressed by the amount of work the voles were able to accomplish in the short time the yard was covered by snow.  It’s a more impressive accomplishment when you consider that the vole was eating its way along.  Fortunately, I have no desire to make the lawn a manicured landscape of introduced grasses, so am not disturbed by the activities of a few hungry voles.

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