Winter is full of wonders, like ‘I wonder how I can enjoy the outdoors when it’s so cold and snowy out!’ Sure, the brief daylight hours, freezing temperatures, and seemingly lifeless landscapes can appear uninviting to the casual explorer, but the bare trees, snowy ground, and dark, crisp nights afford us unique and exciting ways to view wildlife and nature. Here’s just a few ways you can enjoy winter at local conservation properties or in your own backyard!
We may not be able to spot hummingbirds or osprey during the winter months, but there are many other bird species that stick around for the winter or even migrate to Massachusetts from far northern habitats. Winter is a great time to learn about our feathered friends because nests and the birds themselves are easy to spot in leafless trees. This time of year, food sources are scarce, so if you want to attract birds to your yard consider putting out a much appreciated suet cake or a DIY birdfeeder and watch the goldfinches and nuthatches flock. Pick up a field guide or consult an online resource to help you identify these winter residents as you encounter them on the trails or watch them from your kitchen window.
Snow is an amazing tool for getting to know the wildlife around us. The imprintable ground makes it easy to track their footsteps, follow their trails, and learn more about their lives. Even if you never see the animal, it’s exciting to follow the clues it has left behind and put together a story of where it was going and why. Brush up on the general shapes of Massachusetts wildlife tracks with this simple guide, and consult this resource for some general tips to get you started. Great Neck Wildlife Sanctuary and Douglas S. Westgate Conservation Area are great spots to test out your skills!
** Getting started with birdwatching and wildlife tracking can be challenging. Keep this list of questions handy to help you identify birds and animal tracks with confidence.
Listening for Owls
There is a bright side to the brief sunlight hours during the winter – owls! These mysterious raptors are nocturnal, meaning they’re active during the night and hide during the day. There are eight owl species that reside in Massachusetts’ forests, woodlands, and even residential neighborhoods. Familiarize yourself with their calls and listen for them when they are most vocal just after sunset or just before sunrise. If you can’t hear owls in your neighborhood, join an organized owl excursion! There are a few offered throughout the winter by various organizations including Lloyd Center for the Environment in Dartmouth.
The relentless winter chill might seem like a deterrent for outdoor exploration, but the cold, dry air offers a clear sky that is perfect for stargazing. Longer nighttime hours mean that you can experience the moon and the constellations, even on a school night. While it’s tempting to gaze at the sky from your window, you can only see the full sky by going outside. To ensure you’ll be braving the cold for a good reason, watch the weather report and wait for a clear, moonless night. While you’re waiting for the perfect stargazing conditions, familiarize yourself with a winter star chart or make a star wheel, and stay up to date on celestial events. When the conditions are just right, bundle up and head to a open area that is as far away from artificial lights as possible. Let your eyes adjust to the dark for at least five minutes, then look up and enjoy the endless and ever-changing wonder of the night sky! Enjoy the night sky on local conservation properties by joining the Buzzards Bay Coalition for a Full Moon Night Hike or a Stargazing Stroll.
Whether you’re stuck in a blizzard or braving a cold, you can still connect with nature through reading. Check out this list of great books about nature, including this book about how animals survive during the winter. Check out our 2016 newsletter on the Resources page for an article with more title suggestions! Whether you’re reading about outdoor adventures or ecology, these books will inform and excite your outdoor exploration for when the skies and your sinuses finally clear.
Those long winter vacations and snow days are a perfect time for kids and families to learn more about their local environment in fun ways. Learn all about the marine life of Massachusetts with these fun coloring pages and activity books or create interactive nature crafts. Avoid cabin fever by attending family-friendly nature events.