A quick check on how wildlife is handling ‘early winter’

Have you ever seen anything like this? People are asking me about the sudden early blast of winter, knowing that I am a long-time, keen observer of the vagaries of our alleged temperate climate.

Have you ever seen anything like this? People are asking me about the sudden early blast of winter, knowing that I am a long-time, keen observer of the vagaries of our alleged temperate climate.

The unfortunate answer is yes, I have, and what we have here is an intemperate climate. Exhibit “A” is that just 10 days ago, before the early October cold front blew in, it was so hot down and around Brooks that Beau and I gave up vainly looking for upland birds, and spent considerable time lolling in the shade and chatting with the rancher and a friend of his.

The next day, Provincial Hunting Day, after we had left for home, horrendous winds blew in, spinning and weaving hay windrows into ropey snarls and rolling bales over and wrecking irrigation systems. I suspect that the scarcity of birds had to do with them taking deep cover from the heat and the high winds they could sense coming on.

In Red Deer, a horrendous wind blew in about 4:30 p.m. on Oct. 6th, causing a power surge that took out the “tower” of this computer and the “box” on our TV and that of many others, judging by the lineup next day at Shaw of citizens bearing blown-out TV boxes. The surge was followed by a 10-hour power outage in our neighbourhood that had Herself and I breaking out our headlamp collection and other “survival” equipment that is ordinarily intended for outdoors use.

That was winter blowing in, followed by days of bitter cold, snow, and winds fit to give a man a closer shave than those over-hyped umpty-bladed razors. The good news about this sort of thing is that it requires a trip west to try to get into the Stump Ranch to satisfy myself it is still there and intact, without a tree on or through the cabin roof, etc. En route I reminisced and told Beau in his crate in the back, that, yes, I have seen this sort of thing before, but never immediately after such a prolonged spell of unseasonably hot weather.

Back when things were so civilized out here that the deer season opened around the fall equinox, Sept. 20th or so. I headed out on a Friday evening in early October after a few days of sudden, bitter cold, anticipating a pleasant evening and an early bed time to ensure catching first legal hunting light the next morning. As I opened the cabin door, it became obvious that I had forgotten to turn some heat on as I usually did around mid-September.

My penance was a long and unpleasant evening spent cleaning up the broken glass and frozen froth of burst bottles and cans, both within and without the fridge. But my pain was nothing compared to that of too many outdoors people who had not got around yet to winterizing their trailers and motor homes.

On the recent trip, after the cabin was warm enough to eat lunch without gloves, we packed up and went on a tour to see how the wildlife was weathering the sudden change and to give Beau a run. For the first time in weeks, Beau was not interested, either during or after his run, in a swim and a drink, and one look at the creek was enough to know why: the first ice floes of freeze-up were steadily cruising by. Thus endeth a short fishing season that started late and is ending early.

Our favourite forest trails were surprisingly clear of downed timber, considering the hurricane on the Sunday night of the August long weekend and these recent high winds. The fresh seven to 10 cm. layer of snow was totally devoid of ruffed grouse tracks, so Beau stayed in his crate and the 20-guage double in its case. This observation, plus little drumming heard in the spring and scant grouse sightings since, confirms the view of some experts that, here in the boreal forest, we are at the low of the notorious and mysterious 10-year grouse cycle.

The deer story was something else, a tale told in the blank white page of tracking snow on every oat or alfalfa field punctuated by the myriad marks of dozens of feeding deer. Most of the tracks were probably made at night, because a sudden and early snow seems to make deer extra cautious, as though they realize it negates their natural camouflage.

There were some white-tailed deer out feeding in a small, isolated alfalfa field, but they were more skittish than usual, fleeing at the first far-off sighting of my rig. The year’s first film was all exposed on a scouting camera I have on a trail into this field to take inventory for the November season, so I took it out and installed a new film. And yes, before we left the cabin, I did turn the heat up a notch, which should guarantee an October-November heat wave.

Bob Scammell is an award-winning outdoors writer living in Red Deer.

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