When the rough-legged hawks stuck around, Carol Kelly knew an easy winter was in store.
It never fails, if the hawks stay, it’s a warm winter.
Likewise, frisky skunks and motherly squirrels are a pretty good sign the early spring is here to stay.
“We’ve already our first baby squirrels. That’s early,” said Kelly, executive director of the Medicine River Wildlife Centre. “I never see baby squirrels until way into May and we’ve already had them.”
“Normally, we get a lot of calls about skunks getting active and breeding in March. This year, it was all January, February.”
There’s lots of other evidence in the world of wildlife. Songbirds are nesting and great horned owls are having their young sooner than usual.
While there’s a risk that the weather could turn ugly, Kelly’s gut instinct is to pay attention to wildlife’s gut instincts. And they seem pretty confident it’s going to stay decent.
“I like to think the wildlife kind of know more than we know, that they sense things we can’t.”
For moose, an unwelcome harbinger of the warm spring has been a big boost in pesky tic populations, which are annoying and can be killers in some cases.
Jim Robertson, executive director of the Kerry Wood Nature Centre, has also seen nature push its schedule up a couple of weeks.
“Most things are a little bit early that I’ve seen,” he said. The nest boxes are in use. The nuthatches and chickadees seem to be nesting slightly earlier than usual.”
Visitors are also reporting tics and mosquitoes are making their presence known.
“There are lots of little things biting at ankles and so on.”
A centre volunteer, who lives in the Woodlands Hills area near Red Deer, has kept a log of when crocuses come into bloom. This year, they bloomed March 27, close to the earliest ever since her records were kept.
Crocuses normally don’t bloom until the end of the first week of April into mid-April.
City of Red Deer parks superintendent Trevor Poth said an early spring translates into big expectations from residents eager to hit the trails and parks.
“We’ve started to see a huge volume of people using the parks, and that’s excellent,”said Poth.
“Where we’re challenged is that most of our summer students have started yet so we’re working with two-thirds of our standard summer workforce and trying to meet the public’s expectations.”
Crews have been out clearing gravel from paved trails. It is a bit of a gamble on the city’s part because if there is more snow and a freeze, the gravel-less trails could become a hazard.
But after consulting long-term forecasts, the city decided to go ahead with its gravel cleanup. It has been helped by the easy winter, which meant much less gravel and salt were put down than in some years.
An early spring and greening trees could prove a mixed blessing if the weather turns bad. If a big snowfall comes, leafy trees will groan under the weight.
That happened last year in Calgary, a spring snow dump destroyed a massive number of trees, he said.
Alberta Agriculture crop specialist Neil Whatley said the mild winter has left fields drier than usual.
“We could really use a spring soaking right now. The topsoil could be a little wetter for seed placement,” said Whatley, who works out of the Alberta Agriculture Ag-Info Centre in Stettler.
In the southernmost part of the province, five to 10 per cent of seeding of pulse and cereal crops is done already.
“They are starting to move down there,” he said. “It’s a little sooner than usual.”
Central Alberta farmers remain cautious with a hard frost at this time of year not unusual.
There are a small number of producers seeding in Central Alberta, he said, adding “but in the last week of April there will be a lot of wheels rolling.”