The Joys of January
by Josh Palumbo, Forest Management Coordinator
I welcome you to The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen’s attempt to bring some nature and knowledge into your home. The Nine Minute Naturalist borrows from NPR’s lovely 90-Second Naturalist podcast. Since we all have a bit more time on our hands, the goal is to take something that is happening out in our environment and stimulate your brain for roughly nine minutes. I hope you enjoy!
There is something special about the idea of a clean slate. From the promise of a snow-covered white palate to the calendar flipping over to month 1, January as a month of new beginnings should be embraced no matter your thoughts on cold temperatures. This Nine Minute Naturalist will focus on the aspects of January that should bring joy.
My favorite part of January is the promise of falling snow. Wintergreen during and after a snowstorm is a special place. Besides the obvious recreation activity of downhill skiing and tubing, there are many ways snow creates new recreational options. My favorite post-snowfall activity to the search for unique animal tracks. The blank canvas of fresh powder on the ground creates stories waiting to unraveled. Tales of coyote hunting, mice crossing water ways and raptor strikes from above are just a few potential options in a landscape of fresh snowfall. There are a few special places to visit when Wintergreen turns into a winter wonderland. My favorite place is the Cedar Cliffs Main – Hemlock Springs trail loop. The reason this is so productive from a track finding perspective is its location. Located behind the tubing park, it offers access to the open space of Wintergreen with navigable contours just at the edge of the resort. This terrain is flush with deer, rabbit, squirrel, and other prey species that attract coyote, fox, and other predators. This makes for many unique track identification opportunities. Another great place to explore at Wintergreen after a fresh coat of snow are the golf courses. So much wide-open terrain that is easy to access making searching for animal tracks a breeze. Both Devils Knob and Stoney Creek golf courses are lovely to explore due to their movement through the communities plus their offering of waterways in form of streams or ponds. These water features on the golf course increase the diversity of options you may find when track hunting. Another special location to explore is the Blue Ridge Parkway. The BRP closes at the first hint of snow or ice leaving a giant canvas to explore. The access point off Laurel Springs Drive offers Wintergreen residents almost immediate access to this resource that should be taken advantage of. Be sure to get there before your fellow Wintergreen residents to find fresh, unaltered animal activity sign.
Another joy of January are the animal encounters beyond just tracks. A joy of mine every year is the arrival and departure of a flow of cedar waxwings. My backyard is lucky enough to have a large, healthy hawthorn tree. Hawthorns are members of the rose family. They fruit in late fall and the berries stay on throughout the winter months, making this tree species sought after in the winter months. The bird that may love fruit the most is the cedar waxwing. This nomadic bird roams in large flocks searching the landscape for fruit. In the winter, the options are a bit more limited. Hawthorns, winterberry, and eastern red cedar are the primary attractants in winter months. Watching a flock appear, gorge themselves and leave is a brief but joyful activity.
Another species that makes itself known in January is the red fox. Red fox sightings, especially in Stoney Creek, are common and a lovely occurrence. The less than joyful part of red fox making themselves known in January is that it is primarily through auditory processing. Few animals produce a more blood curdling noise than this normally quiet predator. Their scream sounds similar to a child’s scream and is quite disconcerting if you do not know who created the sound. Red fox can make 28 different communication noises. The scream is used for a couple different reasons. The primary reason for the fox scream is to locate a mate. The mating season is from December to February. Since fox are generally solitary creatures, locating and attracting a mate takes a bit more effort than for pack animals. As fox are commonly active at night, having a fox “encounter” in January is usually just a odd but unique way to be woken up. Use this link to discover the scream of the red fox: https://wildambience.com/wildlife-sounds/red-fox/.
Make sure this January that you find the subtleties of the new year to be joyful. Embracing the offerings of the winter are the best ways keep you jubilant this January. Be diligent to get out and see what a Wintergreen wonderland has to offer.