many birds have less color than they do in spring and summer. They also may not be quite as vocal. Be sure to listen carefully for small pips, tweets, and squeak-like sounds while on your outing.
A couple of easy to recognize birdcalls are those of the white-throated sparrow and the black-capped chickadee. White-throated sparrows seem to repeat a slow phrase of “Ol’ Sam Peabody,” while black-capped chickadees call out their name with a “chick-a-dee-dee-dee.”
Weeds and Seeds
Old fields, fencerows, and wooded edges are excellent places to view birds and other wildlife. Here animals may forage among the plants that have remaining seeds. Gold finches are especially fond of the mature seed heads of thistles and coneflowers. Giant ragweed plants, which can grow to nearly 10 feet tall, provide seeds that are relished by quail and other seed-eating animals.
Several native wildflowers may be identified by their stem and seed structures during winter. While not brilliantly colored during winter, wildflowers have a second life with their architectural beauty. Coneflowers, milk-weed, and cattails are all easy to spot by their characteristic seed structures.
Around oak and hickory trees you may find the remains of acorns and nuts after mammals such as squirrels and other rodents have feasted. Seed-containing structures such as honey locust pods and sweet gum balls are also easier to spot on bare trees than during the warm, leaf-covered days of summer.
Tracks and Trails
Winter is a great time to observe mammal activity, even if you don’t see the animal itself. The footprints that they leave in the snow and mud this time of year can tell stories of food storage, pursuit of prey, and even acts of play.
With new snow on the ground it is fun to guess who left their impressions. Activities with tracks can include counting the number of toes on each foot and the size of the track. Following where the tracks lead is also quite interesting. Do the tracks go on forever or do they stop at a rocky shelter or perhaps the base of a tree? Is there a line drawn where the animal dragged its tail in the snow? Excitement builds as more clues are discovered.
Sometimes the mere location of the tracks gives away the animal’s identity. Slippery, snow-covered stream banks can serve as amusement parks for river otters. Tiny three-toed tracks around feeders, gardens, or trees indicate