Spring Equinox 2016

Well, spring officially arrived at Sunday March 20 at 4:30 Universal Coordinated Time or 12:30 AM EDT for you locals. We modern humans insist on having a definite official signpost to clue us in to the change of the seasons hence the above date and time for the moment when day and night become equal lengths (apparently we can’t be bothered with looking out the window).

In reality the transition from winter to spring is rather amorphous with balmy warm days switching over to chilly late winter conditions teasing us with the promise of pleasant weather then firmly reminding us we’re not quite there yet. Sap begins flowing in the trees during warm days and receding when the night temperatures fall below freezing, a process that makes for good maple sugaring when these temperature fluctuations occur. Birds begin migrating and early spring flowers like crocuses and snowdrops begin poking out of the ground.

The recent record El Nino has made for a very weird winter here in northern New Hampshire. Temperatures were well above normal multiple times this past winter, pretty much annihilating the snow pack we usually have up here. Any snow that did fall was less than 6 inches (at least where I live) and quickly wilted away under rains that followed. While we may yet get an early spring surprise snow storm dumping a respectable amount of snow on us, it definitely won’t last. The ski areas are hurting and I have not seen any snow mobiles this winter even though the town hopefully graded the snow paths they usually zoom around on. The warm temperatures only made the snow trails vanish under rain.

While many animals have benefited from the low snow fall, such as deer, moose and turkeys, there are animals that depend on heavy snow cover and suffer when there is a lack of it. One of them is a small mammal called a vole , a small rodent similar to mice and often confused with them or with moles which are small insectivores, not rodents, adapted for burrowing underground. Voles do tunnel but do not have the specialized digging feet that moles have. Voles average between three to five inches in length and have very short life spans, usually less than a year, reproducing frequently to replenish their numbers. During the winter they depend on a good snow pack, so they can safely tunnel through it, hidden from predators. Dependent as they are for snow cover, this winter has likely been a disaster for them. Without snow to hide them, they are vulnerable to hungry owls, foxes, cats and other animals looking for a quick bite of protein

Last February I looked out an upstairs window after rain showers had eaten away at the meager snow and spotted the tunnels that a vole had dug.


The meandering structure was clearly visible and seemed to lead to a circular area, visible at the left in the upper half of the picture. Curious I went out to look more closely at it.


Judging from the bird seed scattered about the edges, this was a storage area for the vole. A grey squirrel was cheerfully helping himself to the bonanza when I came out with my camera. Since it was almost all sunflower seed, I knew the vole had been scavenging fallen seed from my birdfeeder and carefully storing it in a chamber he had dug out in the snow where he could feast in safety. Alas, the unseasonable warmth undid all his hard work.

While one can feel some sympathy for the voles, those of us who are gardeners can only sigh in relief. Voles can be very destructive of plants, bulbs and root crops such as potatoes. A neighbor who lived many years ago down the street had a cat who was a terrific mouser (and voler apparently). She didn’t realize how good he was until after he had passed on to Kitty Heaven. Suddenly she began to find her garden potatoes getting gnawed on by the little varmints. Like mice, these troublesome rodents can make the life of a gardener difficult as we try to plant crocus bulbs or seed potatoes. The market as usual offers a vast array of rodent removers that, judging from the reviews, are more effective in separating you from your money than getting rid of the little beasts. As usual the old fashioned methods are the best.