December is no reason to stay inside
The morning of Nov. 16 we awoke to several inches of snow on the ground. By Thanksgiving week, green grass was visible again with the storm’s remainder slowly melting in piles at roadside edges and parking lots. Accumulated snow in November is a rare occurrence, but may portend a snowy December, a white Christmas and winter wonderland into the new year.
The Winter Solstice is still 19 days away but already signs of the winter season are everywhere. Our beautiful New England autumn and Indian Summer are long past. Tree leaves of living green have gone out in a blaze of yellow, orange, red and brown, leaving behind the lighter grey hues of leafless branches. Now, the secrets of nature are more discernable and give themselves up easily with clear sightlines through the woods.
Snaking along roadsides and through forest stands, stone walls are no longer obscured by foliage. A few of the tall oaks, hickory and maple, though bare, reveal large clumps of brown leaves. Usually 12 inches or more in depth, the dark clumps are built high in the trees with a base of intertwined sticks with dry leaves woven between them – winter quarters for grey squirrels.
Birds who breed in northern New England and Canada have made their way to our somewhat warmer neck of the woods for the winter. I’ll especially be on the lookout for the tiny golden-crowned kinglet with its crest of orange-yellow feathers atop its head. These hyperactive birds flock and scrounge together in stands of spruce and other conifers, searching for their favored diet of arthropods, such as spiders, mites and caterpillars.
On Dec. 30 I will again participate in the Christmas Bird Count with a team of experienced birders counting and identifying every bird we see over several hours. We are part of a larger team working a 15-mile diameter circle and following a specific route between Brooklyn and Killingly. Begun by the Audubon Society, the Christmas Bird Count has been going on for more than 100 years. Last year our team logged 1,185 birds of 43 different species. I’ll report on our success in this column in January.
While some of our feathered friends find our winter weather enjoyable, some of our local animals are preparing to hibernate. Small rodents, such as chipmunks, and larger mammals, such as woodchucks and black bear are moving into winter quarters. Deer don’t hibernate but will bed down in groups in thick conifer stands of hemlock and pine. You can find their depressions in the snow where they had laid down for the night. They face in different directions – all the better to keep the group safe and on the lookout for predators.
Digging out our warm coats, hats and gloves and making sure the snow brush and ice scraper is back in the car is no reason for us to hibernate. Outdoor activities usually mean long johns and thick warm boots, but there is still plenty to do.
With the cold comes deer hunting season. If you are a woods rambler like me, it’s important to know the local hunting season dates and times. I keep a florescent orange-colored vest in my vehicle and always wear it in the woods this time of year.
One of the best ways to get outside this December is to take the whole family to a Christmas tree farm. A sure sign of December is the “open” flag hanging from the entrance to our local tree farm. There is no better holiday season tradition than picking out and cutting your very own locally grown tree.
One of my favorite December traditions is Christmas by Candlelight at Old Sturbridge Village. The historic village is ablaze with lights and customs of the holiday, sleigh rides, music, a bonfire, caroling and more. The event runs until Dec. 23 on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings beginning at 3 p.m. For more information go to: https://www.osv.org/event/cbc/.
Winter officially begins Dec. 21. To celebrate I’ll be leading a Winter Solstice hike from 10 a.m. to noon (weather permitting) at Goodwin Forest and Conservation Center in Hampton. Contact me for more information.
December is here. Time to dust off the skis and snowshoes and get outdoors. I hope you enjoy the holiday season and join me and others as we care for, enjoy and pass on this beautiful place we call home – The Last Green Valley.
Bill Reid is the chief ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor and has lived in the region for more than 35 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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