Monday, January 29, 2018

3 Nature Outings for Wintertime Well-Being

The Daily Prism has cherry-picked three easy ways to enjoy nature in winter, from a post in Cool Green Science, "10 Winter Wildlife Experiences to Enjoy."  Visiting nature is the perfect antidote to the winter blues:

...when the temperature drops, it’s time to head outside. A naturalist can find interesting critters at any season, but I’ve always found winter adventures to be some of the best (and most family friendly).

In colder climes, the lack of tree cover and a white snowy backdrop makes finding birds and other wildlife easier – even in cities and suburbs. So pull on some warm clothes, grab your field guide and binoculars, and head outside.

1. Go owling

It’s quite simply the best time of year to observe owls – many species of these charismatic birds are at their most visible, and active. Snowy owl irruptions occur every few years, sending them far south of their arctic homes. They’ll be in farm fields, vacant lots, airport runways – anywhere there’s open space and some rodents.

Other northern owl species will occasionally show up farther south. Last year, a northern hawk owl spent the winter in a Hailey, Idaho neighborhood. It was my then two-month old son’s first bird expedition, and birders from around the region showed up to enjoy the show (which lasted for three months). Resources like eBird and local Facebook birding groups can keep you apprised of any rarities. There are a variety of bird species beyond owls that might show up on a snowy winter afternoon.

And even if the vagrants don’t show up, great-horned owls are one of the most adaptable and charismatic birds. They’re setting up their nesting territories – and hooting up the neighborhood. You can often see them at dusk, silently ghosting over a field.

This video is current and well worth watching.

2.  Find raptor and grouse “snow angels.”

Winter is also a great time of year to spot hawks and falcons, often hunting from a telephone pole, fence post or bare tree. But can you find where one made a snow angel?

When a raptor makes a kill on powdery snow, it often leaves a dramatic wing print – a sign of bloody struggle, yes, but also quite beautiful.

A related activity is to find a ruffed grouse’s “snow cave.” To protect themselves in the winter, grouse often live in a version of an igloo. Sometimes they make these igloos by plunging from the air into a snow bank…leaving behind their own versions of avian snow angels.
Raptor snow angel. Photo © USFWS/Flickr through a Creative Commons license

3.  Search the open water.

As water freezes, waterfowl seeks out open water for food and protection. Warm springs, swift rivers and parts of lakes often remain open for much of the winter. And great flocks will crowd every available space: ducks and geese of many varieties, mergansers, the occasional bald eagle.

Look closely for an otter cavorting along the ice’s edge, or a muskrat collecting grass.

Seasoned wildlife photographers know a patch of open water can offer some of the best bird photography around. Hide in some reeds and enjoy the show.

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