Nature notes: balmy December

After having negotiated a drive down to and back from New York State last weekend, we can attest to the fact that Pontiac residents are not alone in experiencing unusual December weather.

Earlier, I reported that England and Scotland are enjoying balmy temperatures. Now I can also say that New Yorkers are also experiencing unusually seasonable temperatures in the low- to mid-teens.

In all these places, residents are marveling at being able to stroll in city parks, not-quite-but-almost in short-sleeves and a cardigan. Surely these are more signs of global warming.

While on a walk along the woodland paths at Troutbeck Inn, Amenia, I was suddenly aware of conflicting sights.

First of all, a familiar sound greeted my ears. An immense flock of migrating robins swept through the woods, all calling to one another. Some fluttered in the branches; some dashed about on the woodland floor, scratching up the leaves and cocking their heads this way and that, listening for worms.

I imagine their numbers were possibly 60 or so.

This is a familiar sight to me, here in Duchess County, New York. This is the sixth year I’ve returned to this beautiful, historic country inn for an annual writers’ conference. And, it’s the sixth consecutive year that I’ve witnessed these large flocks of migrating robins.

Secondly — and this was an unusual sighting — some pussy willows were in flower. Not a good sign for this obviously confused shrub, whose survival could possibly be at stake when December’s freeze comes along. A second shrub whose identity eluded me was also in flower.

Thirdly, grass looked green in lawns and in pastures alike. The usual December stretches of bleak-looking lawns were, this time, lovely-looking swathes of dark green. And, in the fields, horses, goats, sheep, domestically raised deer as well as cows grazed on still-green pasture.

Signs of winter’s approach were jumbled up with odd sights you’d expect to see in late autumn.

And it’s the same here. Despite our early morning departure amid the year’s first ice storm of any significance (November 28) we returned on Dec 2 to a Pontiac where the grass still shows green. Although fields of browned clover have long showed they’ve been hit by frost, nonetheless the ground is not frozen.

We can still dig carrots from our garden. Usually at this time of the year we’d have covered them with hay, or simply left the few that are left to dig out of a frozen earth. Nearby, stand the still-delicious leeks and even some sturdy parsley.

This is December 4! When will this unseasonable weather cease?

Of course we have no idea. But if your household is like ours, you’ve been enjoying the extended season, fixing up the yard, the garden and doing other outdoorsy jobs that usually are usually next to impossible this time of the year, normally.

But what is “normal” any more?

As far as the weather is concerned, “normal” is exactly what we’re experiencing: “abnormal” temperatures.


Pontiac bird sightings

Correction: Last week’s mention of the “long-eared owl” was a mistake by me. Apologies. What I should have written was “great horned owl.”

Meanwhile (and I do mean this!) I’ve observed a pileated woodpecker on the black cherry tree just west of my house.

And, in the fields to the east, the male (gray-coloured) northern harrier (aka the marsh hawk) can still be seen flying just above the grass, patrolling for rodents.

Alas, no more sightings of bluebirds, no more calls of the whip-poor-will. That is, until spring really returns to our fields and woodlands.


Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer based near Quyon, Québec. Contact her at