February is in full-swing now. February is generally my least favorite month of the year – it’s always a busy time in school or work, and it’s usually when I start to get tired of winter. I always feel like it’s harder to find interesting things to blog about in winter, when there’s just not much going on with plants or insects, only a few birds hanging around, etc. So both as a reminder to myself and as ideas for anyone else feeling the same way, here are four ways to pay attention to nature even in the cold and snow.
- Learn to identify animal tracks. Seriously, it only takes a few minutes to teach yourself the basics of different track patterns (for example, how to tell squirrel tracks from weasel tracks), and it opens up a whole new world of observation in the snow. You can read my past posts about animal tracks here, and find a good primer to basic track patterns here.
- Learn to identify trees without their leaves. Winter tree ID can be tricky but fun. Key things to look for include the branching pattern (alternate vs. opposite) and the size, shape, and color of the buds. I recently did a post with some photos of winter maple buds.
- Pay attention to the night sky. Yes, it’s cold, but that cold air can also mean crisp, clear views of the stars at night. Last fall I compiled a list of some great online resources that will get you started with night sky observation without the need for a telescope.
- Don’t take your winter birds for granted. Okay, yeah, a lot of the beautiful songbirds that breed here disappear in the winter, and it’s easy to not give a second look to the chickadees, nuthatches, and others that stick around. However, this is a great opportunity to get to know a few species in-depth without distractions. The Great Backyard Bird Count is coming up this week – why not get started with that?
Bundle up (I recommend wool socks and long underwear), brave the cold, and let me know what you find in your winter woods. I’m going on a winter birding adventure in Minnesota this coming weekend – can’t wait!