Thursday, February 7, 2013

Things to Look For in Winter

The days are getting noticeably longer, but spring is still long away. And yet, there are still plenty of things to look for outside.
>> What have you been noticing in nature this winter? Leave a comment below.

Umbilicaria mammulata
Rock Tripe by Paul J. Morris
Among wild edibles, rock tripe is not prized or even particularly appetizing...actually, it's pretty cardboardy. But as a survival food, it's been used for centuries. And even if you don't want to eat them, lichens are a pretty amazing phenomenon.

Photo credit: Annie in Beziers
Mica is another fun thing to look for when there's less going on in the plant world. For bigger pieces look especially in sandy or pebbley streambeds. But I see tiny flakes all the time in our local trails.

DC Squirrel
Squirrel by Vicki's Pics
Squirrels stay active through the winter, unlike their cousins the chipmunks. We know you know squirrels when you see them, but do you know them when you hear them? Listen to the chirps in our post and you may realize some of the birds you thought you'd been hearing were actually rodents.

Pine cones
Hemlock cones by DaveSF
Eastern Hemlocks are rare in our area due to our climate (they prefer the mountains), and becoming rarer due to an imported insect known as the wooly adelgid. It's worth seeking out these "redwoods of the East" while you still can. And winter's an easy time to do it, since they're evergreen.

Squirrel in the snow by ehpien
No big snows yet this winter, but we've had a couple that have left enough to enjoy for the day. If you get out early enough in the morning, you have a better chance of finding footprints in the snow. See our guide to some of the common animal tracks you might see. This Sunday in Rock Creek Park we saw deer, fox, squirrel, and raccoon.

Ice at Scott's Run by the Natural Capital
Even when it doesn't snow, looking for beautiful ice formations can be enough to entice me out into the cold for a good walk...usually. If we get another spell that stays at or below freezing for several days, go check out your favorite body of water.

In the Swamp
Skunk cabbage by Rupert G.
Skunk cabbage is one of the select group of plants in the world that attracts pollinators by imitating rotting flesh. And, it's just about the only native flower you're going to find blooming at this time of year. It's prehistoric-looking and stinky, but it's a flower. In January and February.

See also: for those of us (myself included) who tend to feel a little house-bound as it gets colder and colder outside, we wrote a Southerner's Guide to Staying Warm Outside in the Winter. We also put together a list of Nature Centers in the DC area, in case you need a nature fix when you really can't stand to be outdoors for too long.

Now get out there and explore!