Resist the urge to hibernate this winter
Wednesday, January 1, 2014, 1:34 PM
Contributed by Caroline Schultz
This winter, resist your impulse to hibernate and get outdoors instead! Whether for a few hours on snowshoes or a few days in a heated canvas tent – discover the natural wonders of winter. You won’t be disappointed.
As the first frost arrives, nature prepares for the long nights and frigid temperatures of winter. Deciduous trees and other plants shed their summer outerwear losing their leaves in a blaze of flame-coloured glory. But this doesn’t mean that life in the forest and fields has shut down. In fact, winter offers nature lovers the chance to experience nature in an unhurried and quiet way.
Animals have their own ways of dealing with the harsh winter climate. Most of our birds head south. Some travel to the farthest reaches of South America, while others venture just a few hundred kilometres to find food and shelter. But a hardy 10 percent of our birds remain in the same habitat year-round.
Some of our mammals, including black bears, groundhogs and chipmunks, hibernate in dens and emerge only when temperatures begin to rise in early spring. All of our reptiles and amphibians disappear during the winter months. Frogs and salamanders overwinter at the bottom of ponds and lakes – with some actually freezing solid. Snakes head for underground chambers called hibernacula that shelter them from the cold.
While many of us humans like to remain in the comfort of our homes and let winter pass us by, we do not hibernate. If we did, we would miss a fascinating season for observing and reveling in nature – from winter birds at our feeders, to snowshoe hares clad in their winter white, to tiny “snow fleas” – also known as springtails – hopping madly on patches of melting snow.
Many of the owls we chance to see or hear in winter months are visitors from more northern locales. When rodent numbers are low in the northern boreal and tundra habitat of snowy and great grey owls, they head south in search of food, giving southern Ontario residents a rare opportunity to view these majestic birds. Snowy owls have already been showing up in various southern and eastern Ontario locales this winter.
Ontario Nature is a network of 150 nature-focused groups that coordinate winter outings such as owl prowls, snowshoe hikes and a Christmas Bird Count. The Nature Network calendar of events can be found at the Ontario Nature website.
Caroline Schultz is Executive Director at Ontario Nature a province-wide organization which protects wild species and wild spaces through conservation, education and public engagement (www.ontarionature.org).