The snow is gone, the trails are once again walking trails, and we only have to wait a while until things dry out completely and until the last of the frost is gone from the ground and then we begin the late spring time in the woods. The deer have been herding in the preserve. Groups of several have been seen lately. One of the Barred Owls that have been seen regularly in January and February was found dead in the school forest adjacent to the Scotch Creek Preserve. With no outward signs of trauma on the bird, some natural cause of death is suspected. Since that finding, another couple of Barred Owls have been seen in the preserve.
This early spring time is a great time to learn the trails of the preserve. We members of EATS have talked to a number of residents of Edgar who say they are reluctant to walk the trails in the woods for fear of getting lost. With the vegetation down now and visibility great in the woods, trails can be easily followed. A walk in the school forest area directly north of the Edgar High School football field is a little muddy now. The members of the Agriculture classes have been collecting maple sap from the many maple trees in that area, and one can see what seems to be more than a hundred blue sap collection bags on the trees. So–with your skis and snowshoes put away, its time to put on a pair of boots and walk the trails. Lots to see in nature.
The Barred Owl is still being sighted now and then by skiers and snowshoers at the north side of the woods of the preserve. Apparently it has established somewhat of a permanent residence in the Preserve. Although mid February is having some very cold weather, the days are getting longer at a rapid pace and the territorial songs of the Northern Cardinal give promise that spring is on the way.
Following up on the Barred Owl sighting noted above, if you go outdoors on a still evening and listen, you will probably hear owls calling. This is their mating season and you will probably hear Barred and Great Horned owls calling. Cardinals may be heard best at daybreak.2/17/15
During the month of January I have walked the trails of the Preserve a couple of times. The trails are excellent for walking, and from the looks of the tracks, one does not really need snowshoes on some of the cross trails, as boot tracks are evidence that some people are walking the trails without snowshoes. Deer tracks abound and deer beds along the trail tell me that deer are to be seen if you take your time, move slowly, watch carefully and pick a day when the trails have not had a lot of traffic. The woods are very silent with snow on the ground and about the only creatures I heard were the Nuthatches working on the tree trunks. I didn’t notice a lot of scales from spruce, hemlock and pine tree cones on the snow. However in my yard in town, which has a lot of evergreens, the snow has been littered with cone scales. No surprise that I had about thirty Pine Siskins visiting the bird feeder socks with the thistle seed. Pine Siskins will feed on the seeds of evergreen cones. Red Crossbills may also have been the birds working the cones for seeds, although I didn’t see any. Crossbills are less likely to visit bird feeders. The usual Nuthatches, both varieties, and of course Chickadees are regulars at the feeders. I have counted as many as 20 Mourning Doves on the ground beneath the feeders some days and they appreciate the bird bath with the heater to give them liquid water to drink. A few Blue Jays, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, and in the semi-darkness of early morning and evening, a pair of Northern Cardinals complete the bird show. I haven’t noticed a Tufted Titmouse at my feeders–ever, although people I know who live just fifteen miles away have them. There have been sightings of a Snowy Owl or two in the area, but nothing like the irruption that occurred just a year or so ago. ( irruption is the term used to describe a mass migration of Snowy Owls southward out of Canada when their food supply is inadequate in the far north). Snow Owls have migrated as far south as Georgia along the East Coast in recent winters.
A Barred Owl has been sighted often in the Preserve lately, by several different people, usually in the woods to the east of the school forest. They will take an occasional squirrel or rabbit, but their usual and seemingly favorite food is the vole, or meadow mouse. Posted 1/24/15
Too busy during the month of December to do much walking in the woods of the preserve. Usually I am looking forward to the snow shoe time with good depth of snow to make it seem necessary to put snow shoes on. This month the trails in the woods have snow on them, but the trees overhead in most places collected snow and that seems to have limited the snow depth on the trails. One could walk the trails quite easily without the need for snowshoes. As the month drew to a close, more snow improved conditions. The woods are beautiful in the winter. I remember the lines from the Robert Service poem, “The Spell of the Yukon”– “It’s a great, big, broad land ‘way up yonder, There are woods where silence has lease, There is beauty that thrills me with wonder, There is stillness that fills me with peace.” Take a winter walk in the woods. Stop. Look. Listen.
We are in the second week of November as this is written, and we are getting the first really significant snowfall of the month. The walks through the woods with the crunchy sounds of leaves underfoot are going to change. If the snowfall is deep enough and if the cold weather holds, we will be starting to prepare the trails for skiing. It’s rather early for that but some years find mid-November snowfalls that don’t melt before March. In the last few weeks the little creatures that call the woods home have been very busy. Squirrels have made their nests of leaves high in the tree tops. They have been actively seeking and storing hickory nuts at the north end of the school forest. Chipmunks were busy until the weather turned cold. I watched one chipmunk that had dug a hole for its winter quarters under a log near the trail. It watched me as I walked past. Near the entrance to the school forest near the tennis courts, two trees have been laid wide open with a hole several inches wide, several feet long, and as deep as the middle of a ten inch tree. The work was done by Pileated Woodpeckers. These large (about 18 inches long) birds can really chip holes in dead wood as they seek some of their favorite food, carpenter ants. I have seen a Pileated Woodpecker working the trees, but it left before I could get a picture. Beneath the leaves on the forest floor, life goes on. Mice will appreciate the snow cover because they will be safer from some of the predators that hunt visually. However, mink, weasels, fox as well as some types of owls will hunt mice by sound as well as by sight. I have sat on a log while deer hunting several years ago and watched a vole (meadow mouse) moving back and forth beneath the leaves. I saw something smaller than a mouse moving between the leaves and then a commotion that disturbed the leaves about ten feet away. I believe a shrew caught the mouse. These little killers are half the size of a mouse, but will kill and eat mice. Much of the time the shrew will be finding insects, worms, spiders, and other smaller fare beneath the snow. Last of all, I saw a cottontail rabbit near a brush pile-winter quarters. Soon the woods floor will have an unbroken carpet of white. Beneath that white–life goes on.