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  • Delaney Dahl

Wild Winter Weather & Eco-Anxiety

With the weather we have been having this year in the Midwest, if you were to tell me that tomorrow’s forecast would be cloudy with a chance of meatballs I just may believe you. Winter has come and gone within the blink of an eye, which is unusual for an area that usually spends months covered in snow with freezing temperatures. It is so interesting to go outside and see how nature has taken to this weather-wackiness, and wonder what is to come. 

Broken Records

Early bird gets the worm! 📷: Nora W.

Each time I open my phenology calendar, I am surprised to see that it seems like we are a few weeks ahead of nature's schedule. It says to expect swans, geese, and robins in just a couple of weeks, but they have already been around, having migrated back a few weeks ago. On March 3rd, 2024 records were broken across Minnesota for the highest temperature recorded, above 70° across the state. Records were broken for the highest temperature recorded that day, as well as the first day to hit 70° for the year. This is quite different than the typical 35° weather that is to be expected for early March! It made for quite a beautiful family weekend outing to explore all the changes that are happening.

Migration Madness

Warmer temperatures causing ice to melt and plants to start sprouting have given the signal to species that migrate to head back. We have seen several species come back weeks early, and some never even left! Sandhill Cranes made their appearance in late February this year in the Driftless Region, using the Mississippi Flyway as they migrate back. Hundreds of different bird species will use the Mississippi Flyway during their migration – now can be a great time to see who has made the journey back! The warm temperatures allow Sandhills and other species like swans and geese to forage for aquatic roots and insects in water that would otherwise be covered in snow and ice.

Sandhill Cranes, Eastern Bluebirds, and Red-winged Blackbirds have all made their return! 📷: Nora W.

Red-winged Blackbirds have made their early appearance this March and can be spotted hanging out on cattails and along roadsides. After spending their winter down south, Red-winged Blackbirds are back north for the spring and summer months as this is their breeding grounds. Happy that the marshes are now no longer frozen, Red-winged Blackbirds wasted no time this year getting established and preparing for the breeding season. 

Oddities All Over

Lilacs blooming in January! Silver Maple blooming over a month early.

There is a gradual wave of green that has begun taking over, from plants budding, grasses sprouting, and wildflowers blooming. Nora noticed her ornamental lilacs started blooming in January of this year, you read that correctly, in January! We can also see Silver Maple beginning to bloom. Typically blooming in late March to early April, the maples are a month ahead and instead are blooming in late February.

Quite the surprise spotting a Painted Turtle so early!

As I was walking along the Great River State Trail in Wisconsin, on March 2nd, 2024 with my family in just jeans and a t-shirt I was keeping my eyes out for anything curious that stuck out as odd for the season. Right away I was greeted with a Painted Turtle that was basking in the sun. This was interesting to me because not only am I seeing a turtle in March when the temperatures are typically around 35°, but also there was still iced-over water on the river and nearby streams. It was a 60-degree day in March, but we still were perplexed at the idea of this water being nearly freezing temperatures yet the herps were waking up. 

The Herps are Here!

Leopard Frog taking in the sun.

I was keeping my eyes (and mostly ears) open when walking on the trail for any snakes that may be emerging from their hibernation underground, but no snakes were to be seen that weekend. Rather the next day, March 3rd, 2024, when the weather was somehow even warmer out, we stumbled upon yet another turtle and even a frog at Seven Bridges in Wisconsin!

Finding this Leopard Frog was mind-boggling, to say the least. After spending winter under the frozen water in mud, once temperatures are above 50° Leopard Frogs will come out of hibernation and start searching for their breeding grounds. Another fascinating find was a tadpole that was soaking in the sun. Don’t panic – this isn’t a tadpole that hatched this year already, in fact, some tadpoles will actually overwinter in this stage. Green frogs will commonly lay their eggs in late August, meaning tadpoles are hatching in the fall, which does not give them nearly enough time to develop into a frog before the winter season hits.

Another turtle soaking up the sun. Tadpole seen near the shore.

There are also some other advantages that tadpoles have when overwintering. For example, tadpoles are much more well-adapted to survive in low-oxygen environments rather than an adult frogs. Another advantage is the more time spent eating and growing as a tadpole, the larger the frog will be once it undergoes metamorphosis! 

Calming the Eco-Anxiety 

Now while it can be super interesting to see and explore all the changes that are happening early this season, it can also start to dwell on our minds. Concerns for what is going to happen because of all these sudden changes into spring-like weather are sometimes unavoidable. Take for example insect populations that have been hatching during these warm days, when the next day and nights are freezing temperatures, there will be dwindling numbers of insects that are not adapted to survive in cold temperatures. From bats to birds, many animals rely on insects for a food source. If our insect population drops, so will other wildlife populations. 

Insects (and arachnids) have been seen earlier than expected this year.

Now this hypothetical was not to try and send you down the eco-anxiety spiral, but rather to bring up the conversation of it – and how we can save ourselves some panic, while still making a difference. Connecting with nature is a great way to help relax and reduce eco-anxiety. As time in nature will help mental health overall, it can also reduce eco-anxiety by strengthening your connection to nature. Try to avoid using technology in nature to fully immerse yourself in the outdoors, or try some meditation! 

The best reminder we can tell ourselves is that we are just one person, and to focus on what we can control. Climate change is such a grand and complex issue that no one person can solve it on their own, it requires a collective effort. The best way to deal with eco-anxiety is to channel it into positive actions and efforts. Personal efforts can be anything from choosing local food options, writing/calling legislators to take action, supporting organizations, having conversations with family and friends, and so much more. Read our other blog posts and follow us on Instagram and Facebook for more ideas!

It always feels good to get out and connect with nature!


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