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What a difference a year makes

What a difference a year makes. Last year at this time we were knee-deep in snow. This year, until perhaps recently, we were on target for one of the warmest winters on record.

Though unusual, the warm weather did make it easier to get outside and enjoy nature. Because of the lack of snow, animals are still very active. A recent walk at the Audubon Center on a warm day last week revealed some interesting things. Up at Bog Meadow Pond I watched as a beaver carried on as if it were summer, casually swimming across the pond to its lodge carrying a freshly cut birch twig.

Beavers typically spend the fall collecting twigs and sticking them into the mud under the water near their lodge, acting as an under-the ice food storage area for the two adults and last year’s young huddled together during the cold winter months.

This strategy enables the beavers to conserve energy by not having to break through ice in the middle of the winter in search of food. It also serves to protect them from predators by not requiring the beaver to come out of the water. This was not a problem earlier this winter though, and it is obvious that the individual I observed (probably one of the siblings) was enjoying fresh food and a winter swim.

On my way back down the hill, I listened to the black-capped chickadees singing; not their usual winter “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” song but their slow and melancholy “tea-cher” song more reminiscent of the breeding season and warmer months; in fact, this song reminds me of sugaring season and tapping time. I wonder how this warm winter will affect our maple syrup crop this year?

As I neared the house, at the edge of the trail I noticed some snowdrops in bloom, a bad sign this time of year! I have missed winter. I miss the new coat of snow in the woods and the fresh tracks of deer, bobcat, mink and otter. I miss the walks across the frozen ponds to explore places hard to reach in the summer.

And I miss the crisp winter air that seems to amplify the sounds of singing birds and creaking trees hidden deep within the forest. This was last week and its getting colder now. I guess I’ll just have to wait to see what the rest of January and February brings. After all it is New England!

Scott Heth is the director of Audubon Sharon and can be reached at sheth@audubon.org (subject line: Nature Notes).

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