Two blue moons coming

“Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful. And since we’ve no place to go, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!”

It might be December in Southern Maryland and the radio might be playing Christmas carols non-stop, but the recent weather hasn’t felt very wintery, even though we are on the cusp of that season. Officially, winter begins in just two weeks.

I haven’t seen a soul bundled up in true winter gear yet. And besides those scarves meant more for fashion than utility, on my sojourns this past weekend I saw nary a shopper wearing a coat, mitten, glove, or hat either. So far, just sweaters or jackets have sufficed to keep us comfortable this November and December.

Indeed, my family went for a night walk this past Sunday before bedtime to catch a glimpse of the supermoon overhead. December’s full moon is often dubbed the “full cold moon,” but that nickname felt a bit hyperbolic because, even outside in the night air with just pajamas and jackets on, not one of my children complained of a chill and my youngest wanted to stay outside a little longer so she could check out the yard in the dark. No, it doesn’t feel like winter yet.

But colder weather will be coming our way soon. It’s nearly time to break out the flannel sheets and an extra quilt for the bed. I’m even hoping for some of that fluffy white stuff to make an appearance soon.

I just got a brand-new truck, and I’m looking forward to trying out the 4-wheel drive in icy conditions. Besides, we just got our chimney cleaned and a cord of firewood delivered. There’s enough hot chocolate in the pantry to last us weeks (or at least a couple snow days). We are ready for some snow.

What’s fascinating about December’s supermoon is that it was just the first of three supermoons in a row.

There will be two full moons, both supermoons, in January. A supermoon occurs when a full moon is at its closest point in its monthly orbit around earth. There are usually a couple of supermoons each year, but in 2017, only this past one was visible to observers. The next one, due to occur on Jan. 2, will be a super-close supermoon.

In fact, 2018 is gearing up to be an interesting year for skywatchers. The full moon that takes place on Jan. 31 will take place during a total lunar eclipse. While it’s not visible from our vantage point in Maryland, you can still set your alarm and get up early to view the partial eclipse that’s observable from the east coast.

Having two full moons in one month is special, too. Usually there is one full moon per calendar month, but next year January and March will each have two full moons.

The second full moon in a season is commonly called a blue moon, which is how we got the saying “once in a blue moon.” Now if you’re an expert on the night sky, you’ll know the actual blue moon of 2018 won’t occur until Dec. 22. But for the rest of us, the colloquial definition is just fine to use.

February will have no full moon. Typically, February’s full moon is known as the “full snow moon.” I have a feeling that even without a full moon, there’s still a good chance we’ll get some snow that month.

Transition to winter feeding

Cold weather is upon us, so now is a good time to transition to winter feeding for the birds that visit your backyard.

If you don’t already have a suet feeder, those square wire mesh feeders are quite inexpensive at the hardware store, and blocks of suet will only set you back about a dollar or two each. When it goes on sale, stock up so you always have some on hand.

You’d be surprised how quickly a mob of birds can glean every last drop of suet out of a feeder when the snow is coming down and temperatures are freezing.

You can even make your own homemade suet. Plenty of DIY recipes are available online. Here’s a tip: Save the plastic containers from store-bought suet to use as molds for making your own. Suet attracts lots of different species in the winter, but my favorite visitor to the suet feeder is the dapper black-and-white downy woodpecker.

And if you’d like to see more woodpeckers in your backyard, put peanuts out. Shelled or unshelled, woodpeckers, blue jays and most definitely a squirrel or two will gobble them up.

Companies make feeders specifically designed for offering peanuts, but I’ve found I have more takers just by putting a row of peanuts on the railing of my deck. The birds call to one another to let their friends know the second the peanuts hit the railing, and then I sit back and watch them fly in the grab a treat.

Some bigger birds can hold several peanuts in their mouth at one time. They’ll stash those peanuts somewhere safe where they can access them when they need a meal this winter. That’s called caching. I’ve seen a blue jay stuff nine unshelled peanuts in its mouth before. Just make sure the peanuts you serve to birds and other wildlife are unsalted.

And don’t forget, birds need clean water in the winter just as much as during warmer weather, especially when it’s cold enough for water to freeze.

There are many kinds of heaters for birdbaths available. Never add anti-freeze or any other chemicals to the water.

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