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Nature's Best by Elma Chapman - Ups and Downs

Gotta love Indiana weather: Monday we went cross-country skiing in 20-degree weather and Saturday we were biking on the Pumpkinvine in 60-degree weather. Quite a difference in six days!

There wasn’t quite enough snow here to ski, so we went to Madeline Bertrand County Park in Niles, Mich., just north of South Bend, Ind. In fact, the trails there connect to the trails in St. Patrick’s County Park in St. Joseph County, Ind. There are three trails for skiing, two of which are lighted for night skiing, which would really be fun, but we were there in the daytime.

The green trail is the longest at 2.5 miles and has a few hills, but is really quite tame. The yellow trail is a mile long and has the lighting for night skiing. A few hills, but again, pretty tame. There’s also a red trail for beginners, which is only a half-mile. There are ski rentals available and a warming lodge with a fireplace and self-serve hot chocolate and microwave popcorn for a small fee. The lodge has glass windows on one side that look over several bird feeders. We saw the regulars: cardinals, chickadees, nuthatches, downy woodpeckers, and titmice, and also one hungry deer that was looking longingly at the bird feeders, but too shy to come so close to the window.

Saturday in contrast was warm, sunny, and breezy. I would have said outright windy, but after the high winds of Friday, Saturday was just breezy and no snow at all. We didn’t see any trees or limbs down on the trail. If they had fallen, they were already cleared off by the time we pedaled through in the early afternoon. Lots of sticks littering the path, courtesy of the Friday gusts, but no problems. We went from Middlebury to the end of the trail near Shipshewana and back with a spring-like visit to the Dairy Queen. We saw quite a few people biking or walking on the trail. No signs of wildflowers yet! That’s a good thing, because the early prediction for the middle of this week is for a winter storm.

Preliminary results are in from the Great Backyard Bird Count held over President’s Day weekend with 5,296 species reported from various locations around the globe. The U.S. had the most checklists sent in (123,004 – and three of them were from me!) with 657 species seen, but India had the most species seen – 728!

We had snow on the ground here that weekend, so my bird feeders were quite busy. Once the snow melts and the temperatures moderate, I see fewer numbers and fewer species at my feeders. By the way, St. Patrick’s County Park mentioned above has a pair of nesting eagles and with help from Notre Dame they have installed a camera that is aimed at the nest. You can’t see down into the nest, but you can watch the eagles come and go. The website is environmentalchange.nd.edu/programs/nd-leef/eagles.

While not as sunny or warm as Saturday, Sunday was still a great day to be outside. We decided to walk the new trail at Dallas Lake County Park. It’s a wide crushed limestone trail that is ADA compliant. Where it goes through wetlands, there’s a newly constructed boardwalk. The trail starts at the park office and goes along the north side of Pond Lil through the new acquisition, then along the east side of the property and down to the beach at the lake, then back up along a ridge that passes by the lodge, and then back across the road to the boardwalk that parallels the road back to the park office. Despite the warmer temperatures of this past week the Dallas Lake was still frozen – not that I’d go walking on it, but I didn’t see any open water on the lake from the trail. The trail will have its grand opening in April, but ours weren’t the first footprints I saw. The deer like the trail, too, judging by the hoofprints. We heard lots of geese and a few ducks, as well as a few songbirds.

As for the dire predictions for mid-week (as of Sunday evening) whether we get snow, ice or rain and how much of it depends on the track of the storm. I put my ski boots away for the season, but my husband left his out, so we’ll see who guessed right come Wednesday or Thursday.

Stay warm. Winter isn’t quite over yet.