A wonderland of discovery

by Andrea Wood

porkupineWinter doesn’t have to mean frosty afternoons huddled indoors. Instead, bundle up the kids for an exciting adventure, exploring one of your local nature trails.

LOOK DOWN! Animal tracks

From the small mouse to large white-tailed deer, there are so many animal tracks to see during the winter.

When out on the trails, watch for these common animals, whose tracks you can spot throughout the winter: ruffed grouse, snowshoe hare, red fox, red squirrel, eastern grey squirrel, black-capped chickadee, porcupine and fisher.

LOOK UP! Porcupines

Winter is an ideal time to try and spot a porcupine, and the best place to look is up high in the branches of a tree.

During the winter, porcupines feed primarily on the inner bark and needles of hemlock, pine, fir, spruce and tamarack, along with some aspen, birch, beech and sugar maple. If one is out there, you’ll spot it easily, as they can weigh up to 13 kg (30 lb), making them the second largest rodent in North America (only the beaver is larger).

The porcupine’s back and tail are covered in quills. These quills are actually modified hairs.

Many people believe that porcupines can throw their quills but this is not true. The quills can easily detach from the porcupine, but only when it comes into close contact with another
creature or object.

LOOK HERE! Black-capped Chickadees

One of my favourite memories from when I was a child was going for a hike in the woods and feeding the chickadees right out of the palm of my hand. Even now as an adult, it is still one of the neatest feelings in the world to have such a tiny little bird land on your hand for a brief moment in time.

A great book to read with your children before heading out to feed chickadees is That Chickadee Feeling by Frank Glew.

Pack up some birdseed and find the perfect trail to give it a try.

LOOK THERE! Beavers & Lodges

A great sight to behold in the winter is a beaver lodge, especially if you can find an area where the beavers are active throughout the winter.

Beavers spend most of their time nestled in their lodge during the cold winter months, but they come out to eat. Beavers eat the barks and twigs of aspen, willow, birch, poplar and red maples as well as aquatic plant roots.

A sure sign you have an active beaver lodge is the presence of a large collection of these branches piled and submerged next to their lodge. Another sign of an active beaver lodge is the presence of chew holes in the ice around the lodge.

Consider visiting a local conservation area, city park, or hiking trails for your family’s next outdoor experience.

Visit www.ontarioconservationareas.ca.

Andrea Wood is the Baxter Conservation Area Supervisor with the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority.