About this time of year some of us start griping about winter. I can relate to this, even though I enjoy our Montana winter season. If we count the time from first snow, which came in late September, to last snow, and who knows when that’ll be, we do have long winters, even if they’re not all that severe here in southwest Montana.
We’ve had a couple cold spells, one in December and then the first week of February. It’s actually kind of crazy, though. On February 6, we set a record low temperature of -36° F. for the day. Just a few days later, however, we got up in the morning to temps in the mid-30s, and that’s a swing of around 70 degrees for morning low temperatures.
Some people in our extended family think I’m a little strange because I’m always reporting on the daily weather. I plead guilty, but my weather fascination comes from growing up on a farm, where virtually everything that happens, good or bad, is weather related. My farm days were long ago, but when it comes to outdoor activities, it’s still the weather that makes the rules.
Still, if we get tired of winter weather, Bruce Auchly of Montana’s Fish, Wildlife & Parks points out that right about now is an exciting time if you’re a great horned owl.
Right around mid-February, perhaps right on Valentine’s Day, great horned owls are “getting it on.” These big owls are the only Montana bird that gets serious about courtship and mating in mid-winter. They’re going through courtship in December and January, and they’ll start nesting and laying eggs in February.
Typically, great horned owls lay about two eggs, and that’ll be followed by a 30 – 35 day incubation period. The baby owls will stay in the nest for up to two months, meaning it’ll be mid to late May when these baby owls will take their first flights. The juveniles will spend the summer months growing and developing their flight and hunting skills before setting out on their own to make a living as an adult.
So, if mid-winter seems an odd time for nesting and laying eggs, it’s a timetable that works for owls and for giving baby owls the time they need to grow up before the next winter season.
Of course, this is also the heart of the year when it comes to snow sports, such as skiing. After a dry and mild January, snow conditions at our closest ski hill, Discovery Ski Area, above Georgetown Lake, were deteriorating, with bare spots showing up on some of the sunny slopes. With regular and substantial snowfalls this month, ski conditions are excellent.
A bit further away, Lost Trail Powder Mountain, west of Wisdom, has been getting smothered with new snow. Last week their website reported over five feet of new snow in the first two weeks of February.
Some people get excited in December, when ski areas reopen for the season, but it’s February and March when they typically get their biggest snowfalls and conditions reach their peak.
Still, if the thoughts of great horned owls celebrating romance, and powder skiing on our area ski hills don’t make you feel warmer, just remember that every day, there are three more minutes of daylight than the day before. Currently, our daylight hours are about an hour and a half longer than back at the winter solstice in December. We’re just a month away from the vernal equinox.
Finally, if the equinox is just a month away, that means it’s also time to give some serious thoughts to some spring fly-fishing, and for those of us who like to roll our own, it’s time to get serious about tying flies and to replenish or replace our supply of flies.
Living here in western Montana, there’s really no reason for people to be bored. In or out of the house, there’s always something fun to do.