a childhood saved

A Naturalist's Notebook

When I was 14-15 years old, I wrote a series of 23 essays as a weekly assignment for my high school English class. I called the series "A Naturalist's Notebook." Naturalist's Notebook Table of Contents

"Dead" of Winter? November 29, 1973

Whoever said that winter is a dead [season] was greatly mistaken. There is much to be seen out-of-doors, as well as much to do indoors. In relation to plants, many plants stay alive or green all through the winter: rhododendron, white pine, cedars, spruces, and other evergreens. Pussy willows already have buds in November. Magnolia buds can be seen to grow larger as winter progresses.

In relation to animals, well, it is quite a show. In the insect field, not much is to be seen. However, on a warm winter day, the mourning-cloak butterfly can be seen fluttering over the snow. Many insects die in the fall, but some hibernate over the winter, such as bees and even wooly-bear caterpillars. (Did you ever see many wooly bears crossing roads in the fall? They're looking for a place to hibernate.)

In the bird field, there is much to be seen: cedar waxwings, evening grosbeaks, pine siskins, redpolls, crossbills, are some of our wintry visitors. Then there are the permanent residents, the ones who stick around for the entire year: chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, red-tailed hawks, cardinals, and mockingbirds are common in winter. A few robins usually stay, too. Last year we had a male Baltimore oriole visit us nearly every day from late November to mid-February!

In the field of mammals, just take a walk in the snow and look down. Deer mice, white-footed mice, fox, rabbit, deer, and squirrel leave tracks you can find. Many other animals can be identified by their tracks, for instance: a flying squirrel leaves a long "sitz mark" where it lands after a long glide from a treetop. A muskrat leaves a strange, turtle-type track. The line in the middle of this track is his tail-mark.

To sum it all up, winter is as fine a time as any to go out and observe the natural world.

Next: "Bird Census" December 12, 1973