Outdoor Almanac

A month by month guide to savoring the wealth of nature all through the year in Chapel Hill.

January

  • Nature: Good month to see birds, since the leaves are off the trees. Hardy winter moths may show up on your porch. Bear cubs are born in January – the first of all mammals in the calendar year. Formation of small buds can be seen on dogwood, redbud and forsythia. Take a walk in the woods and notice the many thriving varieties of lichens and moss.
  • Garden and Yard: In spite of cold night temperatures in the low 30’s some things will thrive: Rosemary, Bok Choy, Sage. Time to cut back the herbs and use the cuttings to make a wreath of rosemary, oregano, sage and fennel to hang on your front door. Install or adjust irrigation hoses in preparation for your spring/summer garden.

February

  • Nature: Good time to set up bird houses or clean out and repair existing ones.  Brown Headed Nuthatches are small birds that must compete with many other birds for used nesting cavities. They are unable to excavate their own. Consider setting up a bird house specifically for them. Plans are available online, and ready made houses can be purchased at bird stores.
  • Garden: Prepare garden soil. Add leaves and compost to soil. If you have English Ivy or other invasives in your yard, now is a good time to pull them up.

March

  • Garden Notes: Mayapple sprouts will start peeking through the ground, along with Tulips and Irises. Irises bloom more prolifically if you scoop away just enough dirt to expose the top of the bulbs. Check them this time each year, and thin if necessary . The first daffodils, hyacinths are blooming. Dogwoods budding. Arugula, spinach, brussel sprouts start growing slowly. Cold weather with nights in 20’s and 30’s still possible.
  • Nature Journal: Bird migration is underway. If you count you may see 20 or more species of birds in or around the yard. On March 28, 2014 we saw 28 different species of birds. Bluebirds will start moving into bluebird houses. Watch for pairs of brown headed nuthatches. More moths active now. In 2013 I set up a moth sheet, which attracted micro moths and geometer moths among others. Later in the day saw a tan colored moth on the deck. It is early for fishing, but catfish can be caught consistently, and my daughter landed a respectably large bass in March 2013. Look for Trout Lilies in bloom along streams.

April

  • Nature: Great time to visit Weymouth Woods in hopes of seeing the Red Cockaded Woodpeckers, which will probably be feeding their nestlings. Listen for Louisiana Waterthrushes near creeks. In the woods, keep an eye out for deer antlers. Bucks shed their antlers between Feb-April in the South.

May

  • Nature: May Apples should be in peak bloom. Legend has it that the largest bluegills come into the shallows on the first full moon in May, and start their nesting phase.

June

  • Garden: By now climbing plants may be tall enough to need extra tie ups amd support. Squash cukes pumpkins and melons have lots of blossoms but no fruit yet. Warmer weather means closer attention to water requirements of plants.
  • Nature: Fireflies are out now. As are the good ol’ Junebugs! Catbirds nesting – one year nested in bushes under our front window.

July

  • Garden: The straw placed around the plants in the garden will keep garden soil dark and appropriately moist, rather than becoming light colored, hard and dried out. Cherry tomatoes and larger tomatoes should be producing well. Cucumbers, Squash, Watermelon will likely have male and female flowers. Have noted several baby squash, white squash, watermelon and cucumbers being formed under the female flowers by this time. Watch for Squash Borers eating squash and cucumber stems. Within days plants will begin to wilt. Look for first Morning Glory blossoms. Irises and most other spring flowers have finished blooming now.
  • Nature Journal

    • Butterflies: Northern Cloudywing, Common Buckeye, Tiger Swallowtail, Silvermark are visiting our butterfly bush. A Zebra Swallowtail visited the neighbor’s butterfly bush.
    • Moths: Virgin Tiger Moth, Saw Wing Moth, others. The last week of July is National Moth Week – see http://nationalmothweek.org for moth night events.
    • Insects: Junebugs, Spectacle beetles (A type of snapping beetle), borers.
    • Birds: Catbirds built a nest in the shrubs under our front windows, can be heard singing throughout the day. The wrens are here and there. Hummingbirds are visiting the nectar feeder.
    • Other: Fawns are out and about with their mothers. A few years back, my motion camera caught a raccoon, opossum and deer in the back part of the yard. Dug up a shoe sized mole while turning over the material in my compost pile.

August

  • Garden: Start planning your fall garden.
  • If Water levels in the Eno and other well preserved streams are low this will be a good time to see Carolina Madtoms

September

  • Nature: September is the peak month for wildflowers and dragonflies. Take a walk at Mason Farm for an especially phenomenal show. Say goodbye to the Ruby Throated Hummingbirds, by October they’ll be headed for Mexico. Fishing can be phenomenal on cool mornings.
  • Garden: Moonflowers should be blooming by now.

October

  • Nature: Deer are in rut – mating season, constantly on the move, watch for them along roadways. Woodpeckers start their granaries – watch for woodpeckers flying out to the ends of branches to yank acorns, then flying to a dying tree trunk or limb and inserting acorns into them.

November

  • Nature: Watch for the arrival of the Juncos. An abundant array of acorns will be on the trails. Look for acorns or hickory nuts with neat little round holes cut into them – the precision work of flying squirrels (gray squirrels completely destroy acorns when they eat them). Deer are growing their winter coats. Bucks will have fully grown antlers now.
  • Garden: Hard frosts will likely kill off tomato, peppers and other plants. I leave the dead vines on the trellises because the White Throated Sparrows seem to like hanging out in them.

December 

  • Nature: Time to participate in the Christmas Bird Count. Watch for Redwing Blackbirds eating seeds out the sweet gum balls in the tops of sweet gum trees. Hawks may spend time lurking in lower tree limbs, or even on the ground – especially near feeders. Take a walk at sunrise on a frosty morning.

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