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It’s In Your Nature: You can only see so much from the couch

It’s January, we’re snug and warm in our homes, mostly oblivious to what’s happening outside in the cold Times News region. Sure, I just complained about my little changing bird list, but there really is much “going on” outside. Sometimes it is really hard to sit inside knowing a bunch of wildlife happenings don’t stop with the cold.

On the dull side, there are snapping turtles tucked away on a pond bottom hibernating until warmth stirs them “awake.” The woodchuck, save for Punxsutawney Phil, will be curled up in its den nestled in the dried grasses and leaves he/she put there in October.

The local robins, for the most part, have moved 50, 100, or 200 miles south to better find food. (Just last week though I saw a flock of 40 flying among some ornamental crab apples in Palmerton.) But there are a bunch of things happening even in the coldest times of January and February. Here are a few.

Bald eagles, who pair for life, are just putting final touches to their nests. In late October or November, they began adding sticks and limbs to their already huge nests. Now, they’ll finish off the nest with finer material to complete the nest’s central area. In the course of the next two or three weeks they’ll mate, and often by the first week of February, she’ll begin laying an egg every other day. One to three eggs are the norm.

I really enjoy sitting in Penn’s Woods at the end of October and early November to try to photograph the deer active during the rutting time. My early, predawn visit to my blind allows me to hear great horned owls calling as they re-establish their pair bonds. Now, by the final weeks of January, they’ll have claimed an abandoned red-tailed hawk nest or crow’s nest and will add a few sticks. Unlike the eagles, they don’t build their own nests, but, like the bald eagles, are early nesters. Mom great-horned owl will probably be incubating her two or three eggs about the time you read this column. Both of these dedicated birds will often sit tight through a winter snowstorm, getting covered in the falling snow, not willing to move and let the eggs exposed to the cold. I’ve watched video feeds of some eagle nests and over a matter of time they and the nest would be covered in a white blanket.

In early February, wherever a lake has some open water, male bufflehead ducks will ignore the icy waters and biting winds to do their dance across the lake surface. Males sputter across the water doing their best to get the attention of any interested females. Sometimes you’ll see three or four “running” across the surface. The “show” isn’t intended for our pleasure, but for any interested female.

In a mixed forest of hemlocks and hardwoods, the diminutive golden-crowned kinglet is constantly moving from limb to limb in search of an over-wintering spider or “bug.” As I’m typing this column, it is 9 degrees and these little buggers, weighing less than three-tenths of an ounce are constantly on the move and seem oblivious to the bitter cold around them. They certainly aren’t holed up in a recliner.

Then there is our common gray squirrel. They would have difficulty finding enough food in winter save for the fact that they have hidden acorns, nuts, and seeds underground. During the cold nights they’ll curl up in a tree cavity and emerge in the daylight. I like to follow their tracks across the snow leading me to a number of places where they dug through the snow and somehow found some of their cache.

Some cold days I settle a little deeper in the recliner, but most often, I know that without being outside, I’d miss the many things that do occur in the “dead of winter.” So, maybe, bundle up, be careful, but, get out there. The show does go on.

Test Your Outdoor Knowledge: Unlike other owls, the ____ owl can nest in almost any month of the year. A. Screech; B. Great-horned; C. Long-eared; D. Short-eared; E. Barn.

Last Week’s Trivia Answer: The California condor is the largest bird in North America.

Email Barry Reed at breed71@gmail.com

The bald eagle, like this one photographed over Saw Mill Run, is feeding its half-grown young by mid-April. Their nest building is complete now, and in about a week or 10 days she'll begin to lay her eggs. BARRY REED PHOTOS
Left: After finding an abandoned red-tailed hawk nest, the great horned owl pair will add a few twigs and some nest lining. About the time you are reading this column, some owls are already incubating their first egg.
Even though our lakes are partially ice covered and frigid, male buffleheads like this one will soon start performing their courtship antics for any interested females. They dive, sputter across the surface, and my favorite antic is when they “water ski” to a stop just short of their female interest.
Above: Golden-crowned kinglets, even though they are our smallest winter birds, can somehow manage to survive near zero night time temperatures and still find enough food during the day to keep “their ovens fired.”