Here in Philadelphia…
The winter solstice was an overcast dreary day. It was chilly. Now is a good time to note the position of the Pleiades in the night sky. Then we would know in the future that when the stars are in that position that it is the time of the winter solstice. See Equinoxes, Solstices and Cross-Quarter Days.
I’ve hung my bird feeders again. Scientists gave the okay. There were fewer incidents of the mysterious eye disease that affected feeder birds. I searched for any news about the disease and couldn’t find anything. It’s still a mystery. If you know something about it, please let me know in the comments below.
Winter means cozy evenings seated before a mesmerizing fire. But it’s been too warm for a fire. January may deliver the chilly days and cold clear nights made for hot chocolate and a crackling fire.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.
Donna’s Nature Journal – 21 December 2021
I still go into my garden and putter and do a little here, a little there. This past week I looked for insect signs. The still flying bees of last month are gone. There are still tiny gnats flying here and there, even with the 48 degrees F. But, insects have left signs. I got out my Signs and Tracks of Insects field guide ( Amazon.com affiliate link).
I found a dead and well -preserved Chinese Praying Mantis (Tenodera aridifolia) among my seedling containers. I found a praying mantis egg case last winter and disposed of it. A Chinese Praying Mantis lived in my garden in the summer of 2020 and ate pollinators as they visited my flowers. I have to check my shrubs branches for the egg cases. If the population grows the pollinators in my small garden won’t stand a chance of surviving and pollinating.
In the morning, I placed the praying mantis is a plastic container, by the afternoon on a foreleg was left. Someone ate it. A Northern Mockingbird was flying around the garden. The mantis was too big for the regularly visiting House Sparrow to eat. I wonder who took it?
On a seedling container, I found a substance that could be an egg case. That’s not mud above the hole in the photo. It looks like the egg mass of Lantern Flies. I did see maybe three or four Lantern Flies in my garden this fall. That is a far cry from the dozens I saw in 2020.
On another seedling container, I found a teeny tiny golden insect in a clump of silk. I don’t know if the insect made the web or if it was a insect wrapped by a spider who didn’t get to eat it before the cold weather arrived.
That’s my nature journal activity for the last couple weeks. Here are prompts for observing insects in winter.
January Nature Journal Activity: Evidence of Insects
There are so many millions of species of insects. There are thousands of species right in our neighborhoods. Obviously, knowing all the species of insects that live around you is probably impossible. But we can focus on orders and families.
- Look for tunnels on tree trunks and in wood
- Woodpecker holes left by drilling for insect eggs
- Abandoned wasp nests
- Galls on plants especially on goldenrod plants and oak trees
- Web nests in trees
- Active insects: Springtails or “Snow Fleas” (Achorutes nivicolus) often seen on sunny days on melting snow. Stoneflies (Order Plecoptera) found near streams and rivers
Did You Know?
Snow Fleas (Achorutes nivicolus, Springtails). There are 6,000 species of springtails in the world and 700 in North America. Springtails can be found in moist wooded areas where they live under tree bark and rocks. On warmer winter days, in spots where snow melts, snow fleas can be found on the snow. They snow fleas look like tiny black dots or somewhat like soot or car exhaust. Take a closer look. Are they hopping black specks? They are probably snow fleas. Springtails info on Maine.gov
Winter’s Key Happenings
Winter Solstice December 21, 2021 at 10:59 a.m. EST
Spring Equinox – March 20, 2022 at 11:33 a.m. EDT
Winter from the solstice, lasts 89 days, 0 hours until the Spring Equinox
In the Sky This Month:
This month’s moon is called the Wolf Moon because wolves are often heard howling at the time.
- January 2nd – New Wolf Moon
- January 9th – First Quarter Wolf Moon
- January 17th – Full Wolf Moon
- January 25th – Last Quarter Wolf Moon
“The Moon’s path across the sky changes with the seasons. Full Moons are very High in the sky (at midnight) between November and February (winter) and very low in the sky between May and July” – The Old Farmer’s Almanac 2021, p. 102
- New moon always rises near sunrise
- First Quarter near noon
- Full Moon always rises near sunset
- Winter Full Moons are high in the sky
- Last Quarter near midnight
- Moonrise occurs about 50 minutes later each day
Stars in the Winter Sky
Circumpolar Constellations – from latitude 40 degree north – these constellations are always in the sky revolving around the North Star: Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, Cassiopeia, Draco, Cepheus, and Camelopaedalis.
Winter Constellations – As the Earth revolves around the Sun, the star constellations visible change. The stars are therefor visible during different seasons.
Facing north in the Evening Sky in Northern Hemisphere: Pegasus, Lacerta, Andromeda, Pisces, Triangulum, Aries, Perseus, Auriga, Gemini, and Cancer.
Facing south in Evening Sky in the Northern Hemisphere: Cetus, Taurus, the Pleiades, Orion, Eridanus, Lepus, Canis Major, Canis Minor, Gemini, Hydra, and Monocerces.
The Sky This Month on Astonomy.com
Using the Pleiades as a Natural Calendar
Algonquin Indian Moon Names (with video)
Nature Study and Nature Journaling Activities
Winter Nature Journal and Prompts
Last month’s almanac: Nature Almanac December 2021
Nature Almanac for November 2021
and last year’s Nature Almanac December 2020
If you have a comment or suggestion, as always leave a comment below.
Happy Nature Journaling!
Thanks for the interesting information I’ve never heard of snow fleas.
Hi Dr. Fritzemeier, I’m glad you found the info interesting. 🙂