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Cheryl Kimball's Nature Talks: Amidst changes during the year, the yearly cycle stays the same

THINGS ARE CHANGING. As every year comes to a close, I am as ridiculously surprised by the shortening of the day as my mother seems to be by the onset of Christmas. “Christmas seems to come so fast,” she says by mid-December, like it changes the time it comes each year and leaps out at us unexpectedly, like one of those bobcats that are apparently running roughshod over the state.

I react the same way to the decrease in daylight hours, like it doesn’t happen each year. “I can’t believe it’s so dark at 4:30,” I exclaim to my mother by mid-December during one of our daily phone conversations. As the weeks wear on, it changes to, “I think it’s staying a little lighter a little later in the day.” No thinking about it, yes it is.

But at this time I do keep a steady watch for the lengthening of daylight hours. As one who cares for barn animals, I head out to the barn in the morning when it is light enough that I can see without a headlamp. I have a personal policy that at least once a day I feed my animals in the daylight so I can take a close look at everyone, make sure they have all their limbs intact, eyes are bright and alert, no bleeding anywhere. Horses are prone to finding anything that might injure them and everything in the world seems to enjoy snacking on ducks and chickens, so I just want a head count when I can see everyone all together and in the light of day.

As the beginning of the year starts to fade away, I can head to the barn earlier in the morning — but never without that first cup of coffee. My favorite time of day is first-cup-of-coffee time, which for me is between 5 and 6 a.m. almost all times of year. I feed the dogs while the coffee is brewing and they go happily back to bed with full bellies. The world outside is peaceful — little traffic goes by, the three shooting ranges within hearing distance aren’t being used, no leaf blowers are blowing leaves. In early morning I can read a book not only in peace, but without fear of falling asleep.

Other things are changing besides the number of daylight hours. The sun is getting stronger. A slight banking behind the barn gets a good dose of the sun during its warmest part of the day and is currently bare of snow, which didn’t take much effort this year so far. Our domestic ducks have once again started to duck (pardon the pun) under the gate to the horse paddock and wander around to their favorite spots, now clear of snow cover, and dabble for bugs and sprouts.

One of the most notable changes are the bird songs. The chickadee seems the first to start the mating game. It is hard to believe that this long, low lament that resonates from the treetops comes from the same little bird whose rat-ta-tat-tat staccato song chastises us to hurry up as they chatter just inches away while we fill the feeders.

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Speaking of bobcats, don’t forget to get your letter of opposition (or support I guess, if you are so inclined) to the N.H. Fish and Game’s proposed “limited harvest” by Feb. 10. Several columnists have called attention to this ludicrous idea — John Harrigan for a while now, Gail Fisher last weekend. The Nature Conservancy recently released a statement with the following comments: “We do not believe that there is any demonstrated biological or ecological need to reinstate a bobcat harvest in our state.” And while “research undertaken by the University of New Hampshire has greatly increased our understanding of bobcat ecology in the state, we also think it is important to recognize that our knowledge remains incomplete.” They go on to state, which I believe is one of the oddest things about the proposed “harvest,” that even with the higher numbers estimated, “bobcats remain uncommon” in New Hampshire. Send those letters to N.H. Fish and Game Department, 11 Hazen Drive, Concord, NH 03301.

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Lastly, although I have resigned myself to it being unlikely that I will see a red-bellied woodpecker this season here in Middleton (“north of Rochester”), I received letters and have had a couple personal conversations and am pleased to report that red-bellieds are being seen in Gonic, Hooksett, Chester, Deerfield, Goffstown, Brentwood, “southwest of Rochester,” Hampton, Francestown and Canterbury, and I am sure many other locales. Yay for the red-bellieds.

Speaking of which, people do occasionally refer to and think of them as “red-headed woodpeckers,” which is easy to understand since they have that bright red Trump-like toupee that stretches down the nape of their neck. A look at a photo of a red-headed will quickly help anyone see that the red-headed woodpecker is completely red from the bottom of the neck up and includes the entire head. They are not commonly seen in this part of the country, although I was lucky enough to see one once when we lived in Wisconsin. Also, red-bellieds do in fact have a slight red belly, which is often hard to see with their belly plastered against a tree or suet feeder.

Cheryl Kimball is a freelance writer who lives north of Rochester. You can email her at