That polar vortex that so rudely pushed down from the North Pole and into our lives last month left me thinking about ways to stay warm. Not just blankets, warm clothing, and proper shelter warmth (those are certainly essential), but rather, emotional and spiritual warmth. You know, the “cozying up” and “staying in” kind . . .

Staying warm, searching for signs of spring, I noticed . . .

It seemed everyone was trudging through winter these days, keeping an eye on the thermostat, watching for signs of spring. The other day, pulling a living room curtain to the side, I looked for signs of spring beyond my window while curled up with a good book, a cup of English Breakfast, and wool blanket from Peru. Odd, I noticed a surprising number of birds that weren’t there the day prior, blanketing my yard.

My home state of Virginia, where I live and write among the goings-on of a busy family, was catching a few days break from the cold weather that marked most of January and the February we were now plodding through. Such a ruckus those birds were making.

Setting book, blanket, and tea aside, I rushed to top-off the bird feeders, wondering all the while where’d they been? Those birds. American robins, tufted titmice and common grackles. Had they been there all along? Quietly nesting, not making a peep among the holly trees and boxwoods that surround my home? Or were they popping by on their journey toward somewhere else? Somewhere warm like Florida? Or South Carolina where someone I love attends school?

I suspect what I spied were birds in flight.

Though the tufted titmice probably stayed close to home. Probably hunkered down somewhere as I had been; “cozying up” and “staying in.” For me, a wool blanket from Peru. For the titmouse, a nested cup of wet leaves and pulled bark, undoubtedly lined with dog hair scavenged from the grass in my backyard.

Researchers at Oxford University in a collaboration with researchers at Cornell University are using AI and weather forecasting to accurately predict bird migration in the United States up to seven days in advance. Twelve variables model the distribution of migratory birds, temperature being the most important. It appears bird migration reaches greatest intensity after warm nights which bring favorable winds and stimulates insect activity. Ah ha! So that’s what was happening.

My signs of spring in the cold of winter explained.

Cornell Lab’s BirdCast updates every six hours and predicts bird movements up to three days ahead of flight based on current weather radar. I find it comforting to know that in the dead of winter, when Baby, it’s cold outside!, I can ready myself and my feeders for the next fleeting hours of warmth that might usher in another onslaught of birds seeking refuge in my yard. Those birds. Warming me emotionally and spiritually, showing me signs of spring, promising more warmth to come.

Birds feature prominently in my debut novel, Holly Banks Full of Angst. Available for pre-order now. Publishing November 1, 2019, through Lake Union Publishing.