What a difference … although it’s due to cool down a bit next week, this week has seen temperatures soaring (13C on the day this is being written) to levels so far above normal for the date that it is clear “something is going on”. Well, we know what, climate change and an excess of greenhouse gases. Not good and not likely to get better in our lifetime. We will return to this after the horticultural and ornithological interlude which follows:

Of course, warmer weather – even if it is raining – encourages us to look at the plants as well as the birds and there does seem to be a healthy collection of flower buds on our two magnolia trees/bushes. In the enclosed garden behind the house there is a Magnolia stellata some seven or eight feet in height while before the front door is a magnificent Magnolia grandiflora – well, perhaps not grandiflora but that’s what the label said 18 years ago when we planted it as almost our first contribution to creating this garden. In all honesty, being new to Quebec winters, we did not really expect it to “do” and for several winters until it got too large, we would wrap it in hessian and pray. J considered that this looked like a wartime gun emplacement! Today it reaches up the the upstairs windows on the house and spreads almost as wide. Most springs it is a blaze of white and rose-blush flowers. Grandiflora or not, it is certainly magnifique (not magnesium as the spell checker tried to insist) and we look forward to another terrific show. We won’t spoil things for our readers by sharing pictures from earlier springs – you will have to wait with us.

So, the warmer than normal weather. There is still a lot of snow but the depth is diminishing daily and as it does so it grows large sugary granules and compresses into ice at ground level.

Our Northern Cardinals are starting their early morning territorial calls all over the neighbourhood and eagerly claiming “their” bits of the garden and pairing up. Earlier in the winter we commonly see small, separate groups of males and females but now they are starting appear at the feeders in pairs. Mid-week we were entertained for a couple of days by a gang of three of four male Cardinals and a couple of females, that maintained a dignified distance, whizzing around the garden, often just a couple of feet above the snow; sometimes tolerating each other but other times sparring over the perches on the feeders while other males vocalized from the trees.

The small gang of House Finches are still with us after a few days’ absence but the real treat was Thursday 23 when the very first Red-winged Blackbird of the year homed in on the sunflower seeds we provide and spent a long time stuffing himself. This is remarkably early – there are just one or two RWBLs that overwinter but they are very unusual in doing so and we have seen no sign of any this winter – this was the first arrival of the year. The earliest recorded RWBL ever in the Montreal area was 18 February, I think around 2004, and our garden earliest was the 22 February in 2008 but the first arrival date over several past decades is 5 March. Once they do start coming home they arrive in a rush as the abundance charts for Montreal indicate as you can see in this chart. Very welcome anyway, they really are the first signs of spring.

Early spring and climate change … 

What we are seeing here just west of Montreal this year is disconcerting. Clearly, clearly the world is out of kilter. We don’t have to do much more than open the door and look outside to be aware of that but coincidentally, we were made aware earlier today (thank you facebook) of a multi-year study published by the U.S. Geological Survey that demonstrates just how far adrift from a sensible norm things have been getting. You can see a summary by clicking here … 

What the USGS data is showing is that spring this year is between two and three weeks ahead of where it ought to be. Spring for this study is determined by the opening of flower buds of plants such as lilacs and honeysuckle that are dependent upon temperature and not daylight length to control flowering. As they say:

“While these earlier springs might not seem like a big deal – and who among us doesn’t appreciate a balmy day or a break in dreary winter weather – it poses significant challenges for planning and managing important issues that affect our economy and our society. The effect on plants is obvious, but the early blooming of plants across the country also has an impact on the arrival of birds, bees, and butterflies that feed on and pollinate these species. Sometimes an early spring can actually benefit pests and invasive species”.