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Naturalist Notebook

Winter Wonders

My lofty dreams of a snowy winter, where I could walk along frozen paths and enjoy the glistening sunshine have all been dashed and I find myself scraping mud from my boots at the end of the day.

Tracking wildlife in the snow had been an enjoyable pastime for me. Sometimes I could follow an animal's activities for quite a distance on frozen ground. This winter has been more of a challenge to figure out all the muddy prints. Despite that, I have recorded several animals that have remained active through this rather warm winter. Not only have their tracks been evident but also many are active through daytime hours and I have observed them on their daily routines.

Squirrels and rabbits have been plentiful and evidence of their foraging and chewing is everywhere. On the creek, a muskrat is busy every day hauling sticks and still-green vegetation to its den. One notable visitor to my world has been a black opossum. When I first encountered it walking up a path from the creek, I was ready to make a U-turn and run back to the house thinking it was a skunk! Then I got a glimpse of a white face and saw it was a very unusual opossum. It has black body fur, a white face, and one white blotch on its back. Upon researching this, I discovered that this coloration does occur from time to time. Nearly every day this creature visits somewhere on the property. My dog has even grown accustomed to it and has left it alone.

Coyote tracks are evident everywhere and they like to mark their territory by leaving scat in the middle of pathways, driveways and roads in the area. I enjoy listening to their howls, yips and barks in the early evenings but have also heard them throughout the day as well. I have not seen deer tracks on the property since the beginning of the hunting season, which is usually the norm around here. I have seen them gathering in larger herds in other places nearby and some will return here in spring to have their babies.

One of the most astonishing sites this winter has been the presence of a Great Blue Heron feeding on the creek. On one of the coldest days this winter, I observed it standing on the ice ledge along the creek waiting patiently for movement in the water. What is also remarkable is that the fish have remained active through this winter as the creek is still moving swiftly through the main channel. I have even seen small fish in the drainage ditches that come through my property from adjoining farm fields. I have yet to understand this phenomenon but for the past several years, these ditches have not dried up completely. Even on some of the coldest days, these little fish and sometimes other little creatures I have not yet identified dart around in these waters and truly amaze me.

Over the years, I have learned that what appears to be a lifeless landscape in winter is truly the opposite. The natural world around us is a fascinating place to explore and enjoy even through these muddy days of winter.

Rose Moore
Master Naturalist Intern