Nature: Leave the leaves. The wildlife will thank you

Snowshoe hares are wearing white “coats” now so they blend in nicely with the wintry scene. They are sought after as food by many other mammals and birds.

Being white in a snowy landscape helps many to survive. Sometimes this hare is also called the varying hare because it does change it brown summer coat for a white one in the winter. The legs of this hare are very strong and it has very large feet that are densely furred in the winter. The fur on their bodies is thick and very soft.

Snowshoe hares start changing into their winter coats in early October and are white by December. The spring molt begins in March and is complete by early June.

You can find snowshoe hares from Alaska to Newfoundland and in the northern United States borders, south to the Appalachian Mountains in Tennessee and western North Carolina, in the Rocky Mountains to New Mexico and the Sierra Nevada to California.

When I saw them in Newfoundland this past summer they were, of course, brown.

These hares produce young from April to August and the young are born 37 days after mating. Usually they have from one to six in a litter. Three young is an average number. The young are called leverets. They are born with their eyes open and fully furred. Average life expectancy is five years.

Like mice and other such prolific breeders hares provide food for many other creatures. Besides man they are sought after by lynx, bobcats, weasels, marten, fishers, great horned owls, goshawks, red-tailed hawks, and coyotes.

Hares do get ticks and a naturalist here on this island posted a hare he had seen on a Cadillac Mountain hike with its head and ears covered with swollen ticks. That was not a pretty sight!

Hares can leap long distances when they get moving and the distances between tracks in the snow are almost unbelievable.

If you are able to, be sure to take a hike in the snow across a lake or some other expanse on a moonlight night and look for tracks. I did that a few years ago with a friend and it was a magical experience not to be forgotten.

I mentioned last week about evening grosbeaks coming into the area in numbers this year. So far, sightings I have heard about only involve a few birds being seen at a time at feeders but the winter is still young! Keep me posted, please!

Often in the fall homeowners get the urge to “clean up” their yards for the winter. Actually it is better for wildlife if you do not do that. Never snip off your perennials. The seed heads of cone flowers provide a healthy cache of seeds for birds to eat all winter. The seeds may be almost invisible to you, they are so tiny.

Leaving dead plants around can fill your property with protein-packed bird snacks in the form of the insect larvae of flies and wasps found in goldenrod galls. I have woodpeckers and other small birds enjoying the tall stalks of mullein plants near me.

Leaf litter is a good place for birds to search for bugs. Leaf litter is not just a good fertilizer; it’s a great habitat for a variety of critters such as salamanders, snails and toads to find food and shelter.

Establish a brush pile somewhere on your property, for it provides birds shelter in bad weather and protection from enemies. A brush pile is a place of refuge.

Several evening grosbeaks are being seen at a feeder in Pretty Marsh and the birds seem to really like citrus scented millet and nyjer seeds.

Last year on Thanksgiving Day two beautiful hooded merganser were seen in a local cove. This year at the very same cove and on the same day there was nothing but ice everywhere! Nature always has surprises in store for us.

Witch hazel actually blooms this month. Every since I was a small child I remember using witch hazel on my skin as a soothing agent. The pungent but pleasant aroma brings back many memories of my mother especially. An extract for medicine is made from the bark and twigs.

Witch hazel is a small shrub, from 10 to 15 feet tall. You find it in dry or wet woods or open areas. In autumn you can find the seeds capsules which are quite interesting. Both blossoms and the seed capsules appear at the same time and when the seed capsules ejects its contents it does so with great force and sends the seeds many yards away!

The flowers appear as yellow clusters; the leaves are a dull golden color and spotted in the fall. It is a really “late bloomer.”

Please let me know what you are seeing. If you take a walk along the shore take my latest book, “Living On the Edge,” so you can identify what you are seeing. It’s available in local libraries.

Send any questions, observations or photos to [email protected].


Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.
Ruth Grierson

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