Up North and Off Grid: Enjoying Winter Wildlife

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Just look at the puffy balls of feathers that we call chickadees! I can guess the temperature each day just by looking at these little birds

It has been so long since we had a real winter, I had almost forgotten how much fun it can be. As long as I don’t have to get in the car on a snowy day, winter is my favourite time of year. But then, if you ask me in June what season is best, it would be summer, of course. The best time of year is always the one that matches the date on the calendar. It is only when it rains in the middle of winter, or snows in the middle of summer that I take issue with the weather.

So long as I ignore the major meltdowns we had a few weeks ago, this winter is the best we have had in a long time. Even when the early morning temperature dropped to -40° a couple of times, I was happy all day. It is important to hit -40° now and then. It is normal for our latitude to experience this. All the species that live here expect this cold and have ways to cope. Invasive species can’t deal with the cold.

All we have to do is spend 15 minutes piling on the layers before we go outside, and we cope with the cold (nearly) as well as anyone. A walk in the woods gives a little view into how our wildlife neighbours are getting along. Just look at the puffy balls of feathers that we call chickadees! I can guess the temperature each morning just by looking at these beautiful little birds. The colder the temperature, the fatter the chickadees.

Deep fluffy snow is the blanket that protects many creatures through the coldest nights. I’ve been startled more than once while snowshoeing through the forest by a grouse popping up out of the snow. She tucked herself into the soft snow during a storm, and stayed there for a day and a night. The temperature in her little snow cave was way warmer than the -36° I read on the thermometer when I woke that morning.

While I was skiing along the trail one day last week I found a little bed where a snowshoe hare spent the night. I stopped to see why the snow had been disturbed. There was a cozy little curve packed in the snow…with a couple of bunny droppings left behind. I could just imagine the bunny tucked in, warm and comfy in the blanket of snow.

Further along, a moose and her calf had walked all over the ski tracks. My destination this week will be to follow the tracks to see where they have gone. I’ll need to dig out the biggest snowshoes I have, so I don’t sink too deeply into the three feet of snow. Moose don’t have any trouble with this deep snow; they just dance through it with their long, graceful legs.

The days get longer as we move through the month of March. The sun shines brighter, and warmer. But March is often a time of extremes as late winter struggles with early spring. It could be -30° one night, then +2° then next day. We may get the biggest snowstorm of the year, followed by a week of the sunniest days we have ever seen.

Personally, I’m hoping for at least four more weeks of winter. Let spring wait until April.

Viki Mather lived in the wilderness for three decades, without electricity or running water. Read these columns monthly to discover wonderful ways to live in harmony with nature, bring edible wilds into your kitchen, thrive without plugging into the grid, and enjoy a healthier life. Viki has recently retired from Kukagami Lodge, where she shared her love of nature with guests for 27 years. Now she will be offering courses on Edible Wild Plants and autumn wild mushroom collecting by request throughout Ontario. Contact her if you would like to organize an event. Email kukagami@gmail.com

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