| Jan 27, 2009

Back to HomeOutdoors in the Land O'lakes - January 29, 2009 A Winter Walkby Lorraine Julien

As I’m writing this column, it is mid-January, the temperature this morning is -36C and I’m wondering how little birds like the chickadees and finches are able to survive. At least the weather has been sunny, for the most part, so the temperatures do get bearable later in the day. In fact, this sunny cold weather is great for a winter walk. Just make sure you are bundled up with layers of your warmest clothing and footwear. So that you don’t take a tumble on packed and icy snow, it’s best to be safe and I like to wear cleats on my boots. Mine are heavy duty with about 18 vertical spikes set in rubber soles, similar to the ones the Canada Post people wear. Some inexpensive and lighter weight traction devices are available in a lot of stores and may be on sale at this time of year.

If the snow is fluffy and deep, it’s a good chance to use snowshoes to venture through the woods or out on the lake. We have the traditional type made of wood and leather (or catgut – is there such a thing?). These are mostly for decoration on the wall now that we have graduated to hikers made of wood and plastic. The advantage of the newer shoes is that most of them have cleats for a better grip on ice or on slippery grades. Of course, cross-country skis are great too, but we just happen to prefer snowshoes.

Now that we are ready for a hike, there is a lot to see. First of all, when it’s sunny after a new snowfall, the world seems to sparkle all around us as the sun’s rays touch the snow crystals. All is quiet except for the crunch of snow underfoot, the chatter of cheeky chickadees, the rat-tat-tatting of a woodpecker somewhere in the woods and water gurgling under the ice in a nearby creek. Noisy crows are never far away and break the silence now and then.

We always look to see if there are any fresh animal or bird tracks. There have been a lot of smaller animal tracks such as that of the fox, rabbit, and coyote, but we’ve seen no deer or moose tracks this year. In the trees, there are bird nests of varying types to check out: there’s the robin’s nest in a maple tree near a bedroom window (no wonder there was such a racket last spring!) and a tiny hummingbird nest nearby. I’m especially impressed with the hummingbird nests - it’s amazing how these little “engineers” are able to construct nests that hang by just a few miscellaneous threads or strands of birch bark and twigs and yet are still able to withstand all kinds of weather.

Two small, young raccoons seem to have taken up residence nearby as they make daily forages to our bird feeder. They are tiny creatures (half the size of my cat) that must have been born in late summer and didn’t have a chance to put on weight and get ready for cold weather. They are so tiny that two can squeeze into my wooden bird feeder which measures about 18” x 6”. Needless to say, the birds are not too happy with this arrangement and neither are we!

My neighbour has had a rare visit to their feeder recently by two Pileated Woodpeckers. I think it’s very unusual to see two of these striking birds together.

Now that the leaf canopy is gone and the forest floor is white with snow, visibility through the trees is unbelievable. It’s much easier now to spot and identify the various birds who either stay here for the winter or are just passing through.

I can see more of the strangling vine that I wrote about last winter (the Asian Bittersweet). I’ll never win the battle with this invasive vine but I still like to hack it down when possible. A few years ago, we were invaded by the Gypsy Moth and winter was a good time to look for the telltale eggs on the bark of certain trees such as the pine and birch. The eggs look like a beige splotch about an inch or so long and ½” or so wide. The eggs are very often laid in the curly bark of birch trees so they are hidden. One little patch like this can contain thousands of eggs. Sometimes the eggs may be laid on the underside of wooden lawn furniture. In any case, I scrape the eggs into a brown bag and then burn them later. I haven’t seen many of these lately but I’m always on the lookout for the next cycle.

Our cold, snowy winter is no excuse to stay indoors and hibernate. There is nothing more invigorating and interesting than a walk in our beautiful countryside this time of the year.

Please feel free to report any observations to Lorraine Julien at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or Steve Blight at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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