Big chill brings beauty, intrigue

Cori Brown
Contact ReporterThe Backyard Naturalist

Winter has never been my favorite time of year. I struggle with the short days and long nights. Lack of light and deep cold seems to infiltrate and slow down everything I do.

Fortunately I do get some relief by focusing on the intrigue and beauty of stories in the snow. My dog Navi (pronounced Navy) insists that we go out for a walk every day, even when it’s bitter cold. She has that knack of making me feel guilty if I don’t acquiesce to her wishes.

Any dog owner will tell you how we are ruled by our four legged friends and not the other way around!

So off we go to check out the scenery with me bundled up from head to toe and her prancing about with her beloved Frisbee. Snow can be a great revealer when it comes to the daily struggles of animal survival. Who is visiting whom? Is their visit nefarious or convivial (the latter would be so much nicer)? Do they stay awhile or high tail it out of there?

When we look around, it seems commuter traffic is everywhere! I always recognize my deer buddies’ tracks. I can tell when they’ve been startled. They start to slide in the snow like baseball players coming into home plate. Other times the younger ones chase each other and kick up their hooves. Their strides are more erratic and turn on a dime. It’s amazing how the snow can reveal all of these things.

Squirrels are easy to figure out, too. It’s really obvious when their tracks run right into the trees! Many, many squiggly lines tell me we have way too many squirrels! Where are the foxes when I need them?

Speaking of foxes, we have daily showings almost every night on the trail camera. They have a regular routine of visiting the salt lick and checking out the nearby brush piles for mice and other small varmints. I have yet to get a glimpse of their tracks in the snow because Navi always gets to them first. Naturally she is very interested in her canine cousins and tends to rapidly obliterate any sign of them.

Felines are well represented. They tend to be straight lines in the snow heading underneath trees, bushes and even our outbuilding porch. All are great places to hide and observe what is going on in the world.

With plenty of foxes and cats about, rabbit tracks seem to be missing in action. I’ll have to wait and see if some are lucky enough to survive the winter.

Birds are always a favorite find. The snow becomes their tablecloth as their tiny feet embellish it with delicate cross stitches. Around feeders, their tracks become abstract art as they pile one on top of the other like Pickup Sticks (that’s an old-fashioned kids’ game for the uninitiated).

It’s always a challenge to figure out who’s who in the bird world just based on their footprints. It helps to have a trusty visual aid like an old T-shirt full of bird tracks. Of course, when I look at the cardinal and junco tracks on the shirt, I still can’t tell them apart. It seems like many song birds wear the same size “shoe”!

My favorite winter photo of all is not exactly a track but a whole bird! I ran across it completely by accident on a steep hill behind the house. It reminded me of the snow angels we used to make when we were kids but this was the real deal. A bird landed there with wings and tail spread out forming a perfect replica of itself in the soft mid-March snow.

I have no idea what kind of bird it was but it didn’t matter. Not only was it beautiful but it also made me feel hopeful for spring. The sun worked its magic and it was gone within a few hours. What a wonderful memory to tuck away for a cold and snowy winter’s day.

Do you have a favorite winter snow moment? Maybe it’s a mysterious or an unusual visitor to your yard. Have you been lucky enough to see a Snowy owl or experience thunder snow?

Don’t let winter’s drab countenance or quiet whispers fool you. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes. Keep those eyes and ears open as Navi and I wish you a Happy New Year full of wonderful nature discoveries to come!

sports@carrollcountytimes.com

410-857-7896

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