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Did you know that a chipmunk can throw its voice? Or that Wisconsin has a venomous mammal? What about the answer to the question: can porcupines throw their quills?Every Monday on WXPR at 7:45 a.m. and 5:45 p.m., the Masked Biologist answers questions just like these about living here in the Northwoods.You can keep track of Wildlife Matters and all of WXPR's local features on the WXPR Local Features podcast, wherever you get your podcasts.

November Is Here

image by free-photos on pixabay.com

October was not a great weather month, but we had a mild start to November. Was it Indian Summer or just a rare warm week? Whatever the case, it was much appreciated as the Masked Biologist shares in this week’s Wildlife Matters.

I remember a couple of weeks ago, the meteorologist at channel 12 mentioned that although we had a warm-up close to the end of the month, we were on track to break the standing record for the coldest October. I didn’t see the official final tally for Rhinelander, but I did catch that this was the third coldest October on record for Wausau. October was a blur for me for a few reasons. What I can say I remember was hazy days, colorful sunsets, lots of cold and lots of wind. Then came November, right? The official kickoff to winter. Well okay not the official kickoff to winter, the first day of meteorological winter is December first, so we still have that to look forward to. No, I mean the ground starts to freeze, and the snow starts to stick. We shed the last vestige of summer, being daylight savings time, committing ourselves to dining in the dark until late January. We pull our Halloween decorations and put in our Christmas decorations before the ground turns to tundra, clutching your smiling ghost yard stakes in its icy grip. The store shelves go straight to Christmas decorations, and television ads go from candidates to early black Friday sales.

Yes, November is the herald of the season that turns our Northwoods from the place everyone else comes to spend their summer vacation into one of the snowiest and coldest locations on the continent. You probably have noticed that the snowmobile trails have been signed and brushed open. A relatively recent development over the last decade or so is the blossoming of the trail cameras, put out by hunters to observe the numbers and behavior of deer in front of their stands and blinds. Gas stations and grocery stores have bags of deer bait for sale, and department stores have an increased amount of blaze orange clothing and ice fishing gear.

But last week you wouldn’t have known it was November, right? Other than the election and the really short afternoon daylight hours, perhaps. The sun was shining, the winds were fairly light, it was comfortable shirtsleeve weather. I hope you noticed it. I hope you made the most of it. Maybe you took a walk, or a drive. My brothers and many of my friends were out hunting deer as the rut, or the season when bucks chase receptive does, is making deer more active during daylight hours. With the leaves down, grouse hunting was not only more comfortable but you might have actually been able to get a second shot off with leaf-off visibility. I have one friend, a fellow WXPR volunteer, who was planning to take his young daughter out in the back 40 for one last campout.

Maybe you took the last few nice days to mow down your flowerbeds and mulch your leaves, like my wife did. Of course, at my urging she left some piles of leaves to help lightning bugs and other forest floor critters settle in for the winter. Or maybe you winterized your small engines, or campers, or covered your boat, I saw more than a couple boats on trailers towed through town. We had a rare week, what my family used to refer to as Indian Summer, usually in late fall, seemingly landed in November. While it didn’t impact our migratory birds, which other than waterfowl are long gone, but the winter residents certainly made the most of it. Squirrels, chipmunks and mice are caching food like mad. Beavers are reinforcing their dams and wedging food sticks in the mud at the bottom of their ponds. Wildlife knows when they get a break and they make sure to capitalize on it. I hope you escaped the pandemic and the election, at least for a few hours, and made the most of the weather as well.

The Masked Biologist is a weekly commentator on WXPR talking about natural resources and wildlife in the Northwoods. He is anonymous so that he can separate his professional life as a biologist from his personal feelings about the natural world.