Volume 12, Issue 6 ~ February 5-11, 2004

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Bay Reflections

Discovering Winter’s Delights
When the winter blues bring you down and cabin fever abounds, look to the outdoors for a new experience
by Kathryn Reshetiloff

Winter can be a formidable season to enjoy. Sometimes I just want to hole up in my house and wait for spring. The warm colors of autumn have been replaced with browns, grays and tans of the winter landscape. The skies are quieter as migrating waterfowl have reached their wintering grounds. But a winter walk can reveal a lovely, albeit different, landscape.

Evergreens, out-dressed most of the year by more flamboyant trees, now feed eyes hungry for color. Chesapeake Bay waters may be dark and foreboding, but odd driftwood sculptures adorn barren shorelines. The dry, brown marsh grasses glisten with morning frost, accentuating the meandering streams that wander through the wetland. Crystalline waterlines mark the daily rhythm of the tides. In this winter starkness, however, nature reveals itself to us.

Bare trees may look lifeless but, like other living creatures, they are merely in a dormant state. Twigs hold tightly packed buds that contain the next spring foliage. Trees in winter no longer hide wildlife from our view. A red-tailed hawk, perched on a bare branch, is easily spotted.

Naked trees also unveil last year’s nests. A clump of leaves in an oak is the treetop nest for a gray squirrel. A wasp nest hangs delicately from the end of a branch, like an inverted top. Bird nests — woven from grass, leaves, twigs, feathers and string still attached to tree limbs — tell much about their inhabitants.

A loose nest of thorny branches may be that of a mockingbird. A deeply cupped, neatly lined nest in a thicket probably belonged to a catbird. The small drooping pouch of soft plant fibers is the handiwork of the Baltimore oriole. If you see a small mossy knot on a tree branch, look again: It may be the tiny nest of the ruby-throated hummingbird.

Quiet and still as the winter months may be, wildlife still abounds. A passion for feeding birds is rewarded with a daily performance as sparrows, chickadees, finches, nuthatches, cardinals, woodpeckers, crows and blue jays vie for space at a feeding station. Squirrels busily search for their buried nuts or, if unsuccessful, merely raid the bird feeder.

Deer, mice, foxes, squirrels and rabbits are active throughout winter. Only the groundhog or woodchuck truly hibernates. Others, like the chipmunk, raccoon and skunk, go into a semi-hibernating stage. They may sleep for days or weeks at a time, then emerge for food during an unusually warm winter day.

You may not be aware of local wildlife until a light snow blankets the ground. Take a quiet walk immediately after the snowfall. Look down for telltale tracks in the snow. Begin by looking at familiar tracks. A dog’s footprint shows claws; a cat’s does not. This is true for wild canines and felines, too. Because of the way a fox walks, its tracks form a single line, while a dog’s gait leaves two pairs of tracks. A rabbit’s tracks, with its pair of large hind feet and smaller fore feet, are distinctive and easily identified.

So when the winter blues bring you down and cabin fever abounds, look to the outdoors for a new experience. Quietly wander alone and look. Look up, look down, look inward. The winter air is silent, for snow muffles sounds. Listen hard for the rustling of birds and other wildlife seeking food and cover. Listen as the trees sway and groan in the wind. Train your eyes to see the beautiful patterns created by icicles or cracks on a frozen pond.

When you finally feel like you belong in this picture, you will enjoy this newfound world. Spring won’t seem so far away, and maybe it won’t even matter.

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Last updated February 5, 2004 @ 12:05am.