Last winter, I started to look at a useful book called Nature in Winter by Donald & Lillian Stokes. This book covers many aspects of the natural world in the northern United States in that coldest of seasons. Here are my previous posts looking at some of the topics that the book covers:
And now that the snow is here once again, it’s time to continue!
Yesterday, I took a walk around an agricultural station called Waterman Farm. This station lies on the fringes of the Ohio State University, which runs its operations. There’s been some sightings of an uncommon bird there lately, and although I didn’t happen to spot this bird yesterday, I saw some other things worth showing. First, a look at the farm!
I talked to one of the managers at the farm, a friendly and personable guy who said I was welcome to bird-watch here. We chatted about the various birds to be seen here, and his troubles with Starlings, who took over a Kestrel (a small hawk) nesting box he put up. ‘Starlings are just really aggressive’, he said.
There were a decent amount of birds in the area, all common for this area and season.
Hundreds of Pigeons were present in large flocks, foraging in the snowy fields. If you’ve ever wondered where they eat, they really like harvested farm fields.
At least 100 Crows gathered to look for food near the farm entrance. This seemed to be a social occasion for them. Flocking together in winter is not uncommon among year-round residents.
Out in the fields, Horned Larks foraged. These birds are easy to miss, being rather unobtrusive. They would flush up from the ground when hawks came by…
At least 2 different Red-Winged Hawks soared by, looking for brunch.
An American Kestrel flew low, sometimes hovering over the fields, sometimes perched low upon poles. This bird is one of our smallest raptors.
What were they hunting? Things making tracks in the snow.
From the book Nature in Winter:
More than just an impression in the snow, a trail is like a rope connecting disparate moments of time- both a record of the past and a connection to the present, for back on the trail are sketched the encounters with a living being, while ahead is the present animal continually leaving its life experience one step behind.
When I walked through the crop fields, I noticed an assortment of bird and animal tracks. Snow makes it many times easier to see what’s going on in the neighborhood when you’re not looking.
There seemed to be clusters of tracks around corn cobs- and little tooth marks upon them.
Rabbit tracks were the easiest animal tracks to identify. You could see where they loped along the edge of the fields, with their distinctive larger rear feet.
There were several sets of large bird tracks- probably Pigeons or Crows, or the occasional Hawk.
I wondered if this was a Hawk that touched down and took off again in a hurry, trying to get a meal.
Some creatures dragged their feet a bit through the snow. I wondered if this was a Mouse or a Vole.
There were places where Mice and Voles wore little trails through the snow. I bet predators keep an eye out on these trails.
These trails were fairly short, leading to holes into the grass tussocks. Numerous little barely-seen creatures travel in tunnels under grass out in the fields. This is the main food for the raptors flying up above. When you eat seeds, you can stay out of sight a lot. Your life actually depends upon hiding.
Here was a short trail between two burrows under the grass.
I stood still for a while, watching the ground. I saw a dark blurry shape disappear into this hole…I had the swift impression that it may have been a Vole or a Shrew. It moved VERY fast.
I glimpsed the same creature several feet away, diving into another hole in the snow, following a hidden highway mostly under the snow. These little furry things moved so fast I had to be impressed that the raptors could catch them. I could barely see them!
An occasional scene showed where a raptor had taken a bird. I’m guessing this was once a Pigeon.
I’d like to say that these were Fox or Coyote tracks, but they more likely were left by a dog. Not that there aren’t Coyotes around town, and Foxes perhaps out a little further in the country.
These were interesting impressions in the snow…
The fields stretched out around me. From a distance, you’d think there wasn’t much out there. But tracks in the snow tell a different story. Keep an eye out and see what’s been walking around with you out there!