I think most years about this time, give or take a week, we get a thaw where the weather is gorgeous and mild and the sun is shining and the snow melting and the insects poke their heads out for a breath of fresh air. Today was one of those days; a balmy 5.5°C (42°F), which had me returning from my walk with my jacket unzipped and my mittens stuffed in my pocket (in truth the mittens never came out). Even though I understand the groundhog saw his shadow last week and we’re in for six more weeks of winter, days like today give you hope that spring is not that far off.
(Potentially only three weeks, in fact; last year the first moth of the year came to our door on February 25. Of course, the evidence suggests he was not quite all there (or maybe just hopelessly optimistic), given that it was -3ºC (26ºF) at the time I found him. The first sensible moths showed up last year on March 17, which is – coincidence? – about six weeks from now.)
In any case, as I stepped out today I noticed some insects milling around on the sun-warmed cement and log beams of the house, which were, I believe, the first outdoor insects I’ve seen moving about this year (this doesn’t include springtails, which are probably not insects). Most of them are Small Milkweed Bugs (), which I’ve written about a couple of times before. They’re familiar faces, now, the first brave souls to venture forth at the hint of spring warmth. (In contrast to last year and the year before, I did actually ID them correctly this year; I’ve had a habit of calling them Box Elder Bugs when they first appear.) They’re a few weeks earlier this year; last year they didn’t come out to sunbathe until February 22.
(One of the most interesting things about keeping a blog has been being able to track the phenology of certain events like this, and compare it from one year to the next. I’ve always meant to keep a journal of sightings, first and otherwise, and some years I’ve even actually started, but I never remember to keep up with it. Perhaps it’s because, come April and definitely May, one starts to get flooded by all the “first” observations. I should probably select a few favourite and harbinger species – Red-winged Blackbird, American Woodcock, Dutchman’s Breeches, Coltsfoot, first moth, first butterfly, first Small Milkweed Bug – and just remember to record those every year. After all, they’re the ones that please me so when they first appear.)
The milkweed bugs were joined by a few other critters – a couple of species of fly and a single spider, none of which I feel confident in ID’ing. I didn’t even bother trying for a photo of the spider as he was tucked into an awkward spot on the wall. Below is one of the flies. By the time I got back from my walk the sun had slipped farther down the sky and the patch of wall they’d all been hanging out in was now hidden in shadow; all but a few hardy (or hopeful?) milkweed bugs had retreated back to their cozy niches. We’re back to a forecasted high of -7°C (19.5°F) tomorrow, so that might be it for another few weeks, but it was a nice treat for early February.