Winter can easily become a time of boredom and shuttering ourselves indoors, so it helps to be reminded there’s never been a better time to get outside to explore and connect with nature. Lockdown restrictions have severely limited our entertainment options but if this steers us back to nature then everyone and our furry and feathered friends stand to win. Whether you make a point of taking regular nature walks, are inspired to become a birder, or try your hand at nature photography, a world of possibility and real time entertainment awaits
To get an idea of who is living in your neck of the woods head outdoors after a fresh snowfall for clues in the form of tracks. If you find some but aren’t sure what made the impressions, try consulting the Canadian Wildlife Federation to assist in your investigation. Not uncommon to roam our area this time of year are squirrels, rabbits, fox, mice, skunk, raccoons, on occasion deer, or sometimes even moose. We can tell a lot about an animal’s behaviour by following its tracks.
Nature photography can be an enjoyable hobby and a useful tool to observe birds and mammals unique to our region. Pictures last longer than memory, are great for journaling and can provide greater detail than what we initially recall. There are several free apps, the most popular being iNaturalist, to upload pics for recording, mapping and identify sightings. Observational data is then shared to an open platform to assist the public, conservation agencies and scientific researchers. It’s an interactive way to engage in and learn more about our ecosystem.
Discover the world of birding, once a niche pastime, it’s experiencing a surge in popularity because it’s accessible and can be enjoyed at a social distance. According to Swan Lake Outdoor Education Centre’s Twitter, the benefits of birding include strengthening connections with nature, fostering curiosity, offering opportunities to practice patience and acceptance.
Some winter birds to look out for in our area are blue jays, cardinals, chickadees, nuthatches, grosbeaks, finches, sparrows, juncos and even the elusive snowy owl. Visit the library for books on aviary identification, or you can reference any number of fantastic resources online such as Wild Birds Unlimited, eBird and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Some websites also have free interactive apps and live camera feeds such as Project Feederwatch allow you to get incredibly up-close views.
If you want to attract birds, try providing them sanctuary in the form of a feeder or birdhouse. This will encourage their survival and increase the frequency of their visits. If you’re looking for a project, The David Suzuki Foundation offers comprehensive step-by-step instructions on how to build a fat block bird feeder. You can get creative by upcycling materials from your blue box such as milk cartons and plastic bottles to offer food and shelter. The type of food you offer will attract certain types of birds. For example, cardinals prefer shelled peanuts and dried fruit whereas jays and woodpeckers are partial to sunflower seeds. Be sure to place a feeder or house a minimum of 5 ft from any windows. For extra measure, you can apply decal stickers to windows to help prevent collisions.