The bitter winds from an arctic blast of snow and falling temperatures arrives in Northeastern Illinois. Temperatures drop as a result of a strong negative arctic oscillation, which indicates that some very cold air has meandered out of the arctic and moved south across Canada and into the northern United States.
The arctic oscillation is an index of mean weather data that meteorologists and climatologists use to understand the stability of the weather over the pole.
The weather data moves the arctic oscillation index between negative and positive numbers. Mild winter weather would be indicated by the latter.
As the challenging cold weather takes hold, ice quickly forms on our rivers, and open water on ponds and creeks begins to disappear as the icy blanket is pulled tight.
The muffled sounds in the winter air cause us to trust our other senses a bit more.
The honking voices from a flock of Canada geese flying overhead is softened by the snowy landscape of sound absorbing crystals in the new snow.
During these harsh cold conditions, geese and dabbling ducks begin to look somewhat ragged and spend more time hunkered together with little movement.
Diving ducks, like common goldeneye, continue their hunt for crayfish in the rivers’ open waters.
Along the snow plowed country roads and on the high areas of windswept agricultural fields, horned larks fight strong winds searching for small seeds in the exposed areas.
At times, the little birds try to walk across the icy road only to be blown by a strong, cold gust causing them to skate most of the way across while using their wings to balance.
Horned larks are in Illinois year round and are considered resident to short-distance migrants.
During the winter months, the number of horned larks increase as birds from further north come south to winter in Illinois.
This is a good time, especially when we have snow, to locate and observe the little larks along with lapland longspurs and snow buntings foraging the edges of less traveled rural roads where it can be done safely.
Snowplows expose grassy areas where small seeds can be found by the larks when other areas are buried under deep snow during those brutal and challenging periods of winter.