By Sarah Schrock
There’s only one word to describe this past week: frigid. After a big ol’ nothing from a snow forecast that predicted lots of snow last week but only brought periodic dustings, the temperature plummeted to an inhuman level and we scrambled to stay warm inside — all the while attending holiday performances, last-minute shopping, and baking, and cooking, and baking, and shopping, and cooking, and baking. Meanwhile, the snow shovels were swapped for brooms as the light powder was easily swept away.
The upshot of the cold, dry snow dustings is incredible animal tracking. When light dustings of fresh fluff coat the ground, it’s time to head out in the early morning and see who’s been out and about during the night. My favorite tracks in the snow are mice tracks. They are so tiny and sweet, and easily distinctive because their tail drags between their footprints creating a pattern that resembles a zipper. Something like this :-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-.
We recently added a pet rabbit to our entourage at home and much to our surprise, our new bunny has attracted some friends. We spotted fresh rabbit tracks outside our house bounding up the easement between our house and the neighbor’s, perhaps curious of our new resident. Right next to them was pair of squirrel prints. Hopefully the owls and hawks won’t catch on that he’s here. Turkey, raven, LBBs (little brown birds), deer, cats and dogs are abundant in town. If you get farther afield, the chance of seeing exciting tracks like cougar, bobcat or weasel are quite good.
So how do the little critters out there fare when the weather gets so cold? When there’s little snow cover, the subnivean environment is not adequately developed. This is the environment between the top snow cover and the ground. Snow cover creates an insulated layer that is heavily used by my many animals, especially rodents. They tunnel and burrow in the insulated layer, but when it’s now well developed, it forces those critters to find alternative cover. So, don’t be surprised if you find rodent nests in protected corners like sheds, hot tub frames, garages, wood piles or in your house.
Another limitation to the cold is no access to water. When the rivers and lakes freeze over, animals must rely on water intake from the food they eat. Snow consumption is an option, but most animals have metabolic adaptations to acquire water from their food.
Another way to observe the animal world this winter is to join the annual Christmas bird count on Jan. 1. Each year the Audubon Society, nationwide, conducts a citizen-based count that goes into a national database to inform scientists of trends in bird populations. The count is open to birders of all ages and abilities. Birders are broken into groups and head out to different areas in the region to observe what they can for the day. If you want to join the Christmas Bird Count, meet at the Cinnamon Twisp Bakery at 6:30 a.m. on Jan. 1. Everyone is welcome.
Birders will reconnect at the Twisp Valley Grange at 5 p.m. for a potluck and swap stories of the day. If you can’t make the count, you can contribute by reporting your own observations that day from the comfort of your home. If you have a feeder in your yard, or happen to watch birds that day in your yard, you too can be part of the count. For more information contact Dave Rudholm at firstname.lastname@example.org or (509) 429-1105.