The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Outdoors

February 2, 2014

Forget about the Super Bowl, it’s Groundhog Day

CAMERON — Early this morning on Groundhog Day, handlers at Gobbler’s Knob, Pa., removed Punxsutawney Phil from his den. If he saw his shadow, we’ll have six more weeks of winter. No shadow, and we get an early spring. At least that’s the myth, the legend, the old wives’ tale.

Of course, it’s all hogwash. Rousting a groundhog from hibernation to see its shadow on Feb. 2 is no better a predictor of winter weather than checking woolly bears’ color bands in the fall.

But it’s all harmless fun. Just ask the folks in Punxsutawney, Pa. Groundhog Day is a huge event there; thousands of visitors attend and 43 corporate sponsors help make it happen. And it’s the one day of the year groundhogs get just a bit of respect.

And Pennsylvania isn’t the only place that really gets into Groundhog Day. Even states where groundhogs don’t occur have come up with ways to get in on the action. In Ohio, for example, Buckeye Chuck assumes Phil’s role. In Michigan, it’s Woodchuck Woody. Staten Island Chuck takes center stage in New York. And in West Virginia, it’s French Creek Freddie, named for his home at the State Wildlife Center. Maine has W. Chuck Berry. And the Tennessee Aquarium is home to Chattanooga Chuck.

Because groundhogs, which are large ground squirrels, occur only in the eastern U.S., some western states have come up with creative ways to be part of the holiday. Sarah Palin decreed Feb. 2 as “Marmot Day” while she was governor of Alaska. Several species of marmots live in western states. Colorado relies on the wisdom of Flatiron Freddie, a yellow-bellied marmot. And Oklahoma, where groundhogs do occur, tries to cheat the system by using sibling grizzly bears, Will and Wiley, at the Oklahoma City Zoo.

The silliness of all this is that groundhogs at mid-latitudes rarely venture from their burrows on Feb. 2. They are still sound asleep deep in their burrows. After they enter their winter dens in the fall, groundhogs plug the entrance to the burrow and curl into a snuggly ball. Their body temperature drops about 57 degrees to 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and their pulse drops from more than 100 beats per minute to just four beats per minute. Clearly, few wild groundhogs see the light of day on Feb. 2.

So how did the tradition of Groundhog Day come to be? It actually began centuries ago with a European church holiday, Candlemas.

A verse from an old English song set the stage:

 

“If Candlemas be fair and bright; Come Winter, have another flight;

“If Candlemas brings clouds and rain; Go Winter, and come not again.”

 

In that short verse and others like it from Europe lay the roots of Groundhog Day. Candlemas dates back to early Christianity in Europe, celebrating Christ as the “light of the world.” On Feb. 2, the clergy blessed and distributed candles for the people to display in their windows. Early Europeans watched to see if hedgehogs saw their shadows to predict the remainder of winter.

In the absence of hedgehogs in North America, early Americans decided groundhogs would make a reasonable substitute. German settlers brought with them the tradition of Candlemas. The belief was that at the midpoint between the winter solstice and spring equinox, if the weather was fair, the second half of winter would be cold and cruel. If the skies were cloudy, an early spring would follow.

The first record of using groundhogs to predict winter weather dates to 1842 in Berks County, Pa. For more information about Groundhog Day, visit www.groundhog.org.        

------

Snowy Owl update: In last week’s column I described Project SNOWstorm, research to learn as much as possible about snowy owls during this impressive irruption year. Scientists are catching owls and equipping them with transmitters to track their movements.

“Philly,” trapped at Philadelphia International Airport on Jan. 9, was relocated 40 miles west to Lancaster County farmland. It returned to the airport just two days later. Sadly, Philly was hit and killed by a UPS cargo plane at daybreak on Wednesday. The plane was not damaged.

----Dr. Scott Shalaway can be heard 8 to 10 a.m. Saturdays on 1370 WVLY-AM (Wheeling) or online at http://tunein.com/radio/WVLY-1370-s23555/. Visit Scott’s web site www.drshalawaycom or contact him directly at sshalaway@aol.com or 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.

1
Text Only
Outdoors
  • Gettin’ ready for gobbler season: Step 4 — the setup

    This just in — in a recent study on turkey hunting and turkey hunters it was found that 98.7 percent of the time when hunters were unsuccessful when calling in a gobbler, the hunter made some mistake during the last 50 yards of the bird’s approach.

    April 17, 2014

  • 041314 Ellis.jpg Spring break is an attitude

    Finally, warmer weather has arrived to the Mountain State. I’m told, it’s socially acceptable to be late nowadays and there is even a term for it — being fashionably late. Of course, I have also been told that camo is the new black in fashion. I don’t care much for tardiness, or for fashion for that matter, but I am perfectly content with the weather forecaster’s report as of late. And if wearing camouflage is trendy, I will fit in just nicely at any social gathering.

    April 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • Coming soon to a garden near you: Hummingbirds!

    One of the things I look forward to each spring is the northbound migration of ruby-throated hummingbirds. Until 1997, that meant waiting until one showed up at my feeders. But that year a website (www.hummingbirds.net/map.html), began mapping hummers as they moved north.

    April 13, 2014

  • Morel mushrooms are a W.Va. delicacy, but be careful

    The morel mushroom is one of West Virginia’s best-known delicacies that grows wild in the woods statewide. Mushroom hunting is a wonderful way to get exercise and be in the outdoors at the same time. There is no expense involved, and a bag is all that is needed.

    April 13, 2014

  • 041014 Turkey Call Gettin’ ready for gobbler season: the mystical world of calling

    Do you think that calling wild turkeys into shotgun range is some sort of art form that can never be yours?

    April 9, 2014 1 Photo

  • Fishing is a good way to introduce kids to the outdoors

    Few experiences are more rewarding than introducing a child to the outdoors. I remember teaching my daughters at the age of 3 to recognize the voice of a barred owl — “Who cooks for you, who cooks for you-all!” They were amazed they could identify a bird without seeing it.

    April 6, 2014

  • ‘A river runs through it’

    He was a natural at reading water. Whether in a kayak, a whitewater raft or a fishing boat, he simply saw water differently than most. He was good, no doubt about it. When I was learning to row a raft down whitewater, I asked him for his guidance. He would sit in the back of the raft coaching me on waters and their currents. With his help, I too began to see the waters differently and read the river.

    April 6, 2014

  • 040314 turkey feather Gettin’ ready for gobbler season: Step two — scouting

    So you want more hero pictures this year crouched behind a big gobbler fanning his tail out? Either that or the ever popular gripping him around the neck and straining to hold up his 20 plus pounds?

    April 3, 2014 1 Photo

  • 033014 Ellis.jpg Sportsmen’s tax dollars prove very beneficial

    If you enjoy wildlife recreation and conservation, you may want to find the nearest sportsman in your neighborhood and shake their hand. Ultimately, it’s their spending of dollars on the equipment to fuel the passion of the lifestyle they cherish that brings in millions of dollars to our state for wildlife.

    March 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • You may know more bird songs than you think

    Early migrants began returning several weeks ago. Turkey vultures, killdeer, and phoebes were probably as befuddled by the late winter weather as we were. But by early April, we should be safe from any more extended cold snaps. And that means the parade of returning migratory birds will accelerate every week.

    March 30, 2014