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I took a 2-mile walk to note a few things going on outdoors before I wrote this week's column.

Just outside our front door I saw hundreds of fishing houses on the Lake Waconia ice cover. Soon a mature bald eagle flew not far overhead and glided in the direction of a nest that began construction last November.

Fresh squirrel, rabbit, mouse and pheasant tracks told stories in the snow. The buds on native basswoods and sugar maples, red-osier dogwood and staghorn sumac shrubs, and wild plum and apple trees reminded me that in a few short months these tightly packed units will have turned into flowers and leaves.

A white-breasted nuthatch sang of spring just enough to tell me that one season slides slowly into the next, but for now I need to savor winter.

Barred owls carry on hooted dialogues with each other. Great horned owls are on nests incubating eggs. They are Minnesota's earliest nesting bird.

Honey bees balled up deep within their hives keep warm with their beating wings. Dead bees in the snow worry those people learning about beekeeping who wonder why the bees are in the snow and how they got there. This occurs when winter sunshine raises the temperature on the inside and the front of the hive sufficiently to cause bees to fly out a short way to void themselves. The excrement is dark spots on the snow. Bees that fly even a few feet from the hive sometimes become chilled. In moments, their bodies cool down and they are unable to use their wings to get them back to the hive. They drop to the snow, casualties of the cold. It's a sad, common occurrence in the honey bee cycle.

Timberwolves breed in February, but only the dominant pair in a pack. It prevents overpopulation and helps maintain an adequate food source. Pups are born in northern Minnesota in mid-April. Coyote mating season also has begun.

About 20 years ago, Fred Struck from the Traverse de Sioux Garden Center in St. Peter pointed out to me that plants in his greenhouse began to come out of dormancy and start growing on or close to Feb. 11 each year.

Fred is a horticultural science graduate from the University of Minnesota and a keen observer. At the latitude of the greater Twin Cities area and St. Peter, this awakening in greenhouses happens because the sun has moved higher in the sky and is concentrating its rays.

So starting Feb. 11, it can get hot and humid in greenhouses on sunny days. Fred can plant pansy and geranium plugs in the greenhouse, but the furnace must run at night.

Jim Gilbert has taught and worked as a naturalist for more than 50 years.