The evening air of late January and February is usually soft and mild, with occasional sounds from early spring peepers along with other frogs and toads. During my science teaching days, I could often be found in some nearby stream, pond or marsh with a strong beam of light searching the pond surface for the reflective eyes of early frogs and toads, in hopes of obtaining a few specimens for temporary use in my classroom.
These little creatures served a purpose for instruction, and an occasional lesson, when one would make a meal of a smaller member of the group. Some of my former students still living in the area may even remember the eight-foot terrarium I constructed between two tables in which I placed these temporary creatures before I returned them to their original home.
In addition to the animals of the streams and partially iced-over ponds, I managed to, once in a while, attract a few larger animals that would provide an excellent lesson of night activity at this time of the year. Night time, during all seasons of the year, is usually active with many creatures, both small and large, that are searching for prey or shelter. An exception is those animals that hibernate or, to their counterparts, that aestivate, which means entering into a period of summer dormancy.
Above: An open field is graced by many footprints of small mammals and birds searching for both shelter and food during the more difficult time of the year. At right: A stream is a good spot to look for frogs and toads during winter months.
The winter scene is always fascinating when we look for evening birds among the trees and snow-drifted branches, particularly owls. One owl in particular that I enjoy seeing in our county during winter is the Snowy Owl, an occasional visitor from northern Canada.
Snowy Owls have been recorded in our county during irruptions from the first of November to about the end of March. These irruptions attract many bird watchers from other parts of New York as well as Pennsylvania. These sightings are the result of a rare winter irruption that occur periodically. Theories regarding the reason for such irruptions include declining sources of food. In the case of owls that feed on small rodents, the decline may be due to several factors, such as loss or destruction of the prey's habitat. Or, it may also be due to high sources of predation by large mammals, such as wolverines, fox, coyotes or other large members of the carnivore families, as well as hawks and eagles.
Another visitor from the north is the Great Gray Owl, one of the largest members of that group of birds. Sightings of the Great Gray Owl have occurred from the first week of February to the second week of March, demonstrating the rarity of this bird's occurrence in our county.
Many other animals also appear during these months of the year. We still enjoy the winter antics of the Cottontail Rabbit, the deer and several other small animals that leave their tracks in the snow.
Enjoy the winter. Take a walk in the woods or a field. Look for tracks and other signs of animal life. And remember, photographs and article suggestions can be sent to me by U.S. mail at 38 Elm St., Fredonia, NY 14063, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you, and have a safe and enjoyable winter season.