Signs in Jan-March
On what date did you see the first woodchuck?
On what date did you hear the first peeper? The "peeper" is a tree toad and looks like a very small frog with a peculiar marking on the back. What shape is the mark?
On what date did you first find a salamander? If you do not see one in the water at the edge of ponds, then turn over some stones in the bottom of a brook.
Very often you will see some little insects along the bottom of the pond, that bow actively as they swim. These are howdy-may-fly nymphs. Catch some and watch their gills move. Where are their gills fastened? Are they or are they not like fish in this respect?
Look for a little bird smaller than a sparrow. If you look closely you will see two white bars on his sleeve unlike the wren, who has no bars. The bird with the stripes is a kinglet. What color is his topknot? What kind of a song does he sing? If you do not know this, it will surprise you.
Pick out the red-winged blackbird, which has red on the wings; the bronzed grackle, which is the largest; the rusty grackle, which is the size of a redwing but which has a pale yellow eye and no red on the wings; and the cowbird, which is the smallest and the worst of them all!
Watch for a small bird which walks or runs on he snow. It does not hop like a sparrow, is a bit larger, has peculiar ear-like feathers on its head, and looks as though it had a black bandage across the face. It is the horned lark.
Watch for a small gray bird which shows two white tail feathers when it flies. It is the junco. Does it hop or walk? What color is its breast? What color is its bill?
Watch for a sparrow which has a peculiar flitting flight. It dives into shrubs along the roadside, and has a streaked breast and a striped face. Where does it perch when it sings? It is the song sparrow.
Find a bluebird and describe the color of its breast. Does the bird look brighter when it is between you and the sun or when you are between it and the sun?
Notice a remarkably red sparrow with a heavily dark-spotted breast, and a rather long reddish tail which gives it the name fox sparrow. Does it occur more commonly alone or in flocks? It is rather uncommon.
Find a meadow lark. It is larger than a robin and shows two white tail feathers when it flies. What color is its breast?
You may also see a flicker, which is about the same size, but remember that it shows a large white spot on the rump instead of two white tail feathers. What color is its breast and how does it differ from a meadow lark in the way in which it stands on a tree?
Notice the first ant this spring? Where was it?
Very early in the spring make a trip to some brook. You may be able to chop a hole in the ice and get some ice that has a clutter of leaves frozen in. If this was near the bottom you may melt it and get some water insects.
Watch for the leather-looking lichens which occur on stones and tree trunks. They and some of the mosses often are at their best during the first thaw. The fact that they can thrive so well under such a condition makes it possible for them to grow farther north than most of our plants. Why is it impossible for our larger plants to grow in the far north?
Watch for the pussy willows and note that some have the yellow anthers ready to shed the pollen. Notice whether or not the pussies come from the uppermost buds. What comes from the buds that are not pussies?
Find a coltsfoot flower cluster. These look like dandelions but have little leaf-like structures along the stem. Watch for the leaves and see if you can tell why the plant is called coltsfoot.
Where and when did you find the first skunk cabbage flower cluster? Notice the little hood with the ball of flowers on the interior. See if you can find any insects within.
If you take a walk beside some brook, notice the crystals of ice which form under the ice where the stream has gone down.
Notice the buds on the maple trees. You will see many that show early in the spring. Are these at the very tip or just back from the tip? Do these first large buds produce leaves or not? It is worthwhile to know this, in order to understand about pruning shrubs, vines, and trees.
How do poplar buds differ from willow buds? Do the tassels come from the very tip buds or back from the tip? Do all poplar trees bear flower buds that are alike? Are the tassels at the tip or not? If possible, find some of the things which look like buds but which have slender, red strings sticking from the tip. Compare these with what you remember about corn, and decide which will bear the hazelnuts, the tassels, or the buds with the red strings.
Find a scarlet-cup fungus. It grows on dead sticks in the woods and needs no further description than its name. Take it to camp; slowly dry it a bit; breathe on it and watch what happens. Of what is the cloud made?
Watch for the small, green, flower-like structures which occur at the tips of some masses, and the little sac on a long stem which occurs on others. These help in reproduction. Jar one of the stalked sacs on a warm, dry day, and the same thing will happen that happened with the scarlet-cup fungus!
Near a brook or a pond watch for the first water striders, little fellows that skate along on top of the water. Throw a dead fly, if you have one, onto the water near them and see what they do.
Watch in the water for water-boatmen, little insects that swim with a pair of oars. Possibly you will find them better if you stir up some leaves on the bottom of the pond.
Later in the season get some quartz crystals by breaking up quartz pebbles or rocks. Also find some flint or chert. Each of these is made up of quartz.
Take some fine, loose, water crystals, such as snow, and pack them together into a snowball. The harder you press them, the more the crystals grow together. If you pour water over the ball and let the water crystallize (freeze), you have a ball of almost solid ice. The same thing happened in using lime crystals and pouring limewater over it, on a big scale. Marble resulted from pressing limestone until the crystals began to grow together, just as you pressed the snow crystals and they began to change into ice.
When the ice melts on the sidewalk or in some gorge, notice if it leaves any loose pieces of rock. Do you suppose these pieces were loose before the ice formed? How would the rock or the gorge change year after year if this continued?
Notice the stones in the bottom of some creek when the ice is going out. Are they covered with slime, growing plants, and insects, or are they bare? Apparently the creek has had a house-cleaning. What helped do the cleaning? Tip over a stone if possible and see if the house-cleaning was thorough enough to clean out all the insects and plants that will live in the stream next summer.
Stick a pin on a ruler and leave it in the window sill so that at noon the end of the shadow falls along the markings. Take a record of these shadow markings at noon each day for these three months. How do they vary? How does this compare with the length of the days ?
Keep a weather chart on your calendar. If the days are clear, leave the date uncolored; if cloudy, cover the date with horizontal lines; if it rains, cover it with vertical lines; and if it snows, cover it with vertical broken lines. Maybe the first half of the day will be cloudy, and the last half, bright. If so, indicate it on your chart.
When did you have the first thunderstorm? Was it followed by warmer or colder weather?
Learn to recognize the constellations given in the Astronomy Merit Badge Book and in the illustrations in this section.
What constellations can you see in January which are gone by the last of March? Watch the skies or this series of charts to see when they appear again.
Watch for a bright star which sets after the sun has gone down. This is Venus. Does it set at the same time throughout the three months of January, February, and March?
Find the pole star from the big dipper and decide which way the other stars seem to go around this star.
On what date did you find the first dandelion in bloom? If possible, account in some way for this particular plant's blooming before other dandelion plants did.
When did you find the first chick-weed in bloom? This is a rather delicate plant which grows commonly around the basements of houses and barns, in cities or in the country. It has very small white flowers. If the plant was near a building, was it on the north or the south side? What difference would this make, and why?
Watch for the first shepherd's-purse flower. You may find this in bloom in the town or the country. The chickweed seems to have ten little white petals, while the shepherd's-purse has four arranged in the form of a white cross. It belongs to the family Crusiferae, which means cross-bearers. Watch for others in this family.
On what date did you find the first bloodroot in the woods? All Scouts should know this plant with the showy white flower, but if you do not you will know it when you pick it and get the red "blood" on your fingers.
When and where did you find the first hepatica? Were the leaves with rounded lobes or with the three parts with acute ends? If you found one of these look for the other, which you may find nearby.
Watch for the first spring beauty. These are delicate flesh-colored flowers. They grow in clusters near the top of a stem which arises from two leaves. Sometimes they are expanded near the middle.
Look at a weather report. On it you will find what the temperatures were at different places in the United States. Remember what happened when you followed directions with the stove, and decide over what parts of the United States the air is rising on certain days. Does it rise in the same place every day?
Watch the weather reports. Locate on a map each of the cities reporting temperatures and see how far south zero weather is registered during these three months.
Watch the weather reports and see how far north the temperature never goes below 32 degrees, the freezing point, during each of these months. Of what value would this information be to you in telling where this year's crops were being planted and how they were getting along?
If you take a walk beside some brook, notice the crystals of ice which form under the ice after the stream has gone down. Are these crystals larger or smaller than those on top of the ice? Is the temperature under the ice or above the ice more uniform throughout the day? Are crystals which form slowly in a uniform temperature larger or smaller, then, than those which form quickly?
Notice the stones in the bottom of some creek when the ice is going out. See if the house-cleaning was thorough enough to clean out all the insects and plants that will live in the stream next summer.
When the ice melts on the sidewalk or in some gorge, notice whether it leaves any loose pieces of rock. Do you suppose that these pieces were loose before the ice formed? How would the rock or the gorge change year after year if this continued?
The Earth and the Universe
Learn at least a few of the winter constellations. Do the stars seem brighter in the winter than in summer? Do they seem to twinkle more or less than they did in summer?
Draw plans for your school grounds if you have not already done so. Plan to put on a good Arbor Day program.
After the ice has melted from some pond you may be able to see plants growing beneath the water. They seem to stand erect in this water.
Take a few of these plants out and hold them up in the air. Do they still stand erect? Why do you suppose this difference exists?
Preying Water Creatures
What other live things can you discover?
Scavengers of the Water
Among the leaves in a spring you may find, even in very cold water, little many-legged creatures which seem to swim on their backs. They are fresh-water shrimps.
Fishes of Direct Economic Interest
Some day during the latter part of this season you may stand on a bridge over a river and see chunky-headed suckers working their way upstream. Do they swim near the bottom or near the surface? Do all of the other fish you see swim in the same places as the suckers?
If you happen to be where a sidewalk passes beneath maple trees, or
even under some other kinds, notice that in these months there are often large,
wet spots even though it may not have rained. Look in the frees above and
see if you can find the cause.
Gather some of the long, yellow tassels found on hazel bushes. Are the tassels at the tip or not? If possible, find some of the things on the hazel bushes which look like buds but which have slender, red strings sticking from their tips. Compare these with corn, and decide which will bear the hazelnuts: the tassels or the buds with the red strings?
Timber and Pulp Producers
Do trees in dense woods have their branches closer to the ground or higher in the air than trees growing in the open? In which locality do the trees have slenderer and straighter trunks? Which do you suppose would produce the better lumber?
Along the brook you may find some bushes which bear small, cone-like structures. These are alder bushes. At some time, also, during these three months you will find, on the alder bushes, yellow, tassel-like flowers which give off a cloud of dust-like pollen when shaken. When do you first find these flowers shedding pollen ?
Starch-Producing Herbs and Grasses
Examine a kernel of corn and see if all of the part outside of the "germ" seems to be the same. The starchy area will be white and different from the part storing oil. Do all of the kernels on an ear have the same amount of starch? Test corn for germination.
Do the sprouts of potatoes which have been in the dark seem to differ in any way or ways from those exposed to the light? If you find any differences, what are they?
Protein Producers, or Legumes
Along about this time of year you may be thinking of the seeds you will plant next summer. Within some of the beans you have probably stored, you may perhaps find the small, white, footless grubs of bean weevils. Do you ever find more than one such grub in a single bean? Badly attacked seed will float. Can you figure out why?
Mineral Food Producers, or Root Crops
You may have some root crops which have been left in the ground over winter. When they start again in the spring, do the carrots, for example, use the same leaves they had last summer or do they grow an entirely new set?
Medicine Producers and Aromatic Herbs
Above the snow you may find the lace-like tops of the plants of false pennyroyal. Rub these tops between your fingers and smell them and you will not have any trouble in distinguishing them. How many "seeds" do you find in each part which last summer was a flower?
You may easily find the tops of at least two kinds of milkweed sticking above the snow. One has large, coarse pods and is the common milkweed. The other has smaller pods and is the swamp milkweed. In which of these are the pods thinner?
When and where did you find the first hepatica? Did the leaves have the rounded lobes or the three parts with acute ends? If you found one of these look for the other, which you may also find nearby.
Plants Covering Waste Ground
Many fields will contain the dried tops of common mullein and moth mullein side by side. The common mullein has its flowers crowded closely together at the end of the stalk. On the moth mullein they are not crowded. Collect seeds from each of these. Are they similar or quite different? If they are not alike, what difference do you notice?
Watch for the leathery lichens which grow on stones and tree trunks. They and some of the mosses are usually at their best during the first thaw. The fact that they can thrive so well under such conditions makes it possible for them to grow farther north than most of our plants. Why is it impossible for our larger plants to grow in the far north?
When did you first find a scarlet-cup fungus?
Mammals Usually Found in Trees
When a big snow drift around an oak or nut tree melts, find where some squirrel has set up his winter quarters. His runways will often show very plainly just as the snow melts. Did your squirrel eat the nuts where he found them or did he carry them to nearby storehouses? You can easily imagine why your squirrel preferred to get his food here during the cold weather.
Mammals Commonly Found on the Ground
Identify rabbit tracks. Follow their trail.
Mammals Found Along Waterways
Some of the Troop may catch a muskrat during these months. If you do, examine the toes. Are there any webs between them like those found on ducks' feet? Is there something that might take the place of the web, or is there nothing of the sort present? Of what use would anything of this sort be to the muskrat?
Mammals Acting as Scavengers
You may have the chance to watch different kinds of animals clean their fur. Surely you have seen the cat do it. Did you ever see a rat cleaning the skin on its tail?
Some day follow the trail of a cat around a farm and write an account of what the cat did.
Notice that when you water the cows they will sometimes drink very little and sometimes more. Will a cow drink a greater amount of water if the water is warm or will she drink as much from a cold watering trough? It may be a case of "watering the milk" but it usually is profitable to have the cow drink as much water as she will.
Insects in Trees
Under the bark of dead trees you may find winding channels made by insects which have lived there. See how many different kinds of these channels you can find? In what ways does the work of at least two of these boring insects differ? In what trees do you find boring insects?
Insects on Low Plants
With a knife split open some of the swellings you find on the stems of golden rod. What do you find within: a mature insect or a grub?
Lower Forms of Life Beneath the Ground
When do you first find angleworms? Do they come up before the snow is gone? Before the last frost? Can they move equally well if placed upon their backs? Rub your fingers along their backs and along their under sides and try to explain your answer to the last question.
Insects Acting as Scavengers
When do you first find a house fly active? Are they as anxious to bite, apparently, as they were last fall, or are they more sluggish?
Signs of Wildlife In November - December
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Last modified: August 20, 2012.