Don’t hibernate! Get out!

Many of us, I’m sure, in idle moments have dreamed about hibernating away the worst part of winter.

Imagine curling up in our warm, comfortable bed and not waking up until the cold of winter is over! I know I have!  But luckily (?) it is simply not possible.  And I hope this column during the winter months helps in highlighting some of the exciting and lovely things you would miss out on if you were in a long, deep sleep.

My thinking about hibernation really started on our coldest day yet this winter. Early that morning out under one of my feeders was a Red Squirrel (but no black or grey ones).  Why in such cold weather?! I’ve known for a very long time that chipmunks hibernate.  But for some reason I thought that squirrels were “partial hibernators”. Further research revealed that squirrels do not hibernate–well, not like bears or bats or amphibians. Although squirrels may store some food and stay in their warm nest and eat this during periods of extremely bad weather, technically they do not hibernate. This then led me to wonder about the difference between the red and black/grey squirrels, which are (Just a little fact before we continue: our black and grey squirrels are really one and the same species. So we really only have two species of squirrel in our area: Red and Grey/Black.) I always thought that the Grey/Black Squirrel has been gradually working its way north; but I can find no information to back this up. So if you have any thoughts or memories to help me wrestle with this, please share.

And while I was thinking about what animals a really interesting photo came my way. Kirk Hillsley is an avid walker of the trails and an excellent photographer. On January 11th he was walking Baxter Creek Trail and came upon a beaver gnawing on a piece of wood. Luck would have it that he was able to watch it for quite some time and get some really good photos. And so here is another animal that I simply assumed hibernated during the winter. But this photo (and subsequent research) shows this to be untrue. I think more research is in order, because although they are not true hibernators they do seem to be able to stay for long periods holed up with their food. Surely they must sleep a lot during this time.

On my regular morning walk a few days ago I was passing by the millpond and looking at the rink that some hardy souls have created there. But the surface of the rink looked very peculiar. On closer inspection, the whole surface of the ice was covered with “feathers” the size of my thumb-nail raised up off the surface. Each “feather” was a crystal of ice with intricate detail.

Avid bird watchers will be glad to hear that the Common Redpoll is back in our area. This attractive bird, the size of a goldfinch, travels in flocks and moves unpredictably from area to area. Some winters we never see them and yet other winters we have large flocks of them.  You never know what you might see if you only watch. Don’t lose hope!

Whether it’s the sight of a redpoll or a beaver or patterns in the ice, there are wonderful things to see and experience in winter. So don’t hibernate! Get out! And enjoy! Happy New Year, everyone!

GET OUT! by Glen Spurrell

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