Four Ways to Enjoy Nature in Winter

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!

9 thoughts on “Four Ways to Enjoy Nature in Winter”

  1. i keep a diary of the different species of birds who show up to my sunflower, thistle, suet, and peanut feeders, recording the temp, weather conditions, and just started adding moon phase and illumination % thanks to a nifty iphone app. I note any interesting things like today, first crocus bloom, two days ago, first groundhog, or unusually large numbers, like on 1/21 i counted a mixed feeder flock of over 31 Spinus tristis and Spinus pinus at one time. We don’t get enough snow down here to do a lot of snow tracks, but lately I have spent a lot of time in my local creek scouring the gravel bars for fossils.

  2. also, for your amusement, some (i hope accurate) Native American names for the February moon: Ojibwe, the suckerfish moon (?) Menominee, fish moon (what’s with northerners and fish in the winter?), Lakota, moon of popping trees (freezing and exploding?) Abenaki, branches fall in pieces or bough-shedding moon, Shawnee, crow moon, and the two that might relate to how much you love this month, Cherokee call it the bone moon (as in hunger) and the Blackfeet call it the unreliable moon (which pre-dates their celebration of Valentines day,but what a coincidence, eh?!)

      1. I agree, plus I get to be a whole year older every February, which after age 12 really lost some of it’s excitement. But, hey, we, your readers, do love what you do, so it’s kinda like getting real Valentine’s Day validation year-round, but without the sappy-crappy cards, dead sex organs of over-priced angiosperms, and milk chocolate extra calories. I’m sure I speak for the other readers who, like myself, who are just beginning our stroll down the science sandwalk (I’ve only got two courses under my belt, and two more this semester) it’s fun, enlightening, educational, and a bit inspiring to read about your ramblings through those tangles banks. Thanks. :)

  3. And there are a few survivors who walk around the winter cold. Like some flowers, and insects. I do like to walk more in the winter than in the summer. But it’s true, don’t have the same diversity the winter than in the summer.

    In the beginnig of the winter I like to identify mushrooms :)


  4. Great list of winter activities and links. I would add photography to the list. Winter has fantastic scenery, from tiny things (like dry grass heads decorated with ice crystals from a frozen fog) to expansive views. You know this from your travels, of course. I humbly submit that my latest post offers some examples, if you don’t mind this blatant self-promotion (not what I came here for; I came for the enlightenment of a cool naturalist).

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