Nature: Winter brings snow mysteries to solve

Days are cooler, winter clothes are at the ready and we know in many ways that we are in a new season and headed into winter. Wildlife, in its many ways, has been preparing to survive the colder days and nights coming.  Some of us never really put away winter clothes, for on a boat ride in July, you may need a winter coat!

Snowshoe hare will be white all winter so they can hide in the snow from their many enemies. Weasels also wear white coats in the winter. Bears fatten up and go to sleep when the time is right. The bear at Kisma Preserve in Trenton decided to ‘tuck in for his long winter’s nap’ the night before Halloween this year.

Tropical birds have mostly left for warmer southern climes. You may see a few individuals lingering longer than they should, but they are risking their lives in doing so with our cold nights, ice and snow. There is nothing so bedraggled-looking as a great blue heron standing in the marsh in a snow storm. Most herons are long gone and enjoying tropical beaches and warm weather that are more to their liking.

Arctic and other more northern nesters do come here for the winter and we enjoy seeing them in our harbors and along the coast. Now is a good time to watch bufflehead ducks, long-tailed ducks, common loons and eiders – both common and king.

Loons have to leave our lakes and ponds before they freeze up, for they need a long stretch of open water for taking off into the air. You will find many loons wintering along the shore and especially in local harbors. They are fun to watch as they dive and feed. Be sure you take binoculars and your field guide with you.

Walking along the Ocean Drive above the water gives you great advantage in seeing sea birds and especially common eiders diving and catching food. From this higher vantage point, you sometimes get to see a feeding flock come up and burst through the surface. At that very moment when they break through the surface, it looks as if a huge white flower is opening! A good friend and I witnessed this one time and will never forget it.

Grey squirrels and red squirrels keep busy even when the snow falls. They are well prepared with food stashes all over, and their fur coats keep them warm. Chipmunks are sound asleep, but have food stored nearby if needed. The meat eaters, such as coyotes and bobcats, do the island a needed favor in culling the large deer herd on MDI.  Remember that it is NOT a good idea to feed corn to the deer, for their digestive systems don’t handle it well.

Watch now for ‘stories’ in the snow left by various wildlife creatures having to catch their own food. Snow mysteries are interesting to solve. Look carefully for wing prints, feathers, drops of blood and foot tracks. Sometimes you can figure who did it, where and how, as in a game of CLUE. Be a super sleuth!

A classic story I found one time on Little Long Pond in the winter went this way. Hare tracks clearly were going along in the snow. At one spot, the hare tracks stopped, there were a few drops of blood and very large wing prints in the snow. What do you think happened?

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

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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