Monday, April 22, 2013

Cold Decay

Spring may have officially started one month ago, but that doesn't mean much in Michigan's Upper Peninsula — especially not this year. In 2012, we experienced a spring unlike anything I've ever seen before: 80°F temperatures, early flower blooms, and little snowfall to speak of. This year has been the exact opposite. We've had snowstorm after snowstorm and weeks of daytime temperatures barely scraping 32°F; now, in what's getting to be late April, spring looks like it might finally be on its way. Maybe.

Toward the end of March, I put the head of the Ann Arbor buck outside, and tied it to a post: I had the hope that the chickadees, nuthatches, and bluejays would scavenge at it. Well, the birds saw it, gave it a few suspicious looks, and promptly ignored it — and the buck head has been hanging there, relatively unchanged, ever since.

Once the temperatures hit the mid-50s and 60s — and stay there — the beetles and flies will no doubt discover this food source and consume it quite quickly. I do still hope that the birds, at the very least, will use the fur to line their nests. I witnessed some of that behavior last spring, when I was stretching a deer hide, and it was neat to see the chickadees and warblers stuff as much fur as possible into their tiny beaks.

Despite the sky being gray and the temperatures not exceeding 40°F, the snow is melting — slowly. Much of our backyard is still covered. I did see an old friend today, though, thanks to the work of an off-leash dog. Last October, I picked a raccoon up off M-28, skinned it, and later put the body out back. At some point in late November I checked in on it, and was surprised to see maggots squirming around beneath the corpse. We received our first substantial snow in mid-January or so, and the raccoon has been covered ever since — until today.

The body's state of decomposition was quite putrid, with meat and fat sloughing off the bones. In some places, mold had started to grow, and it came in a vast array of colors, ranging from pink to white to blue. The off-leash dog had really torn into the carcass — and I've observed this, time and time again: (wild) scavenging mammals want nothing to do with carrion when it's in this state. Domestic dogs, however, seem to love it.

In any case, because spring has been slow, posting has been slow. I hear that temperatures might actually reach the low-60s this weekend, and maybe by mid-May the snowbanks will have melted.

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