It never ceases to amaze me how quiet the prairie, woods, and marshes can be during the dead of winter here in North Dakota. Oh, there are the occasional sightings, such as that of deer and coyotes, plus the sighting or calls of chickadees, nuthatches, and other birds. But it often seems hauntingly quiet during the winter. That is a bit deceiving. A closer look reveals that many animals are quite active during the winter. I was thinking about that recently while taking a walk in the Turtle Mountain aspen forest.
For example, tracks, up, down, and around a beaver lodge revealed a coyote had recently investigated the lodge before continuing across a small lake. Then there were the distinctive deer tracks through the snow at the edge of a meadow. The deer walked along the edge of the woods, dragging its feet in the snow a bit, and occasionally going up to the shrubs where it likely nibbled buds and twigs before moving off again.
There is also lots of sign of activity below the snow. Common occupants under this big white blanket include small mammals such as shrews, voles, and deer mice. They stay active throughout the winter. Occasionally I would see evidence of these animals, such as the top of an arching tunnel formed when they burrowed through the snow. These tunnels may even open to the surface occasionally, perhaps with the animal’s tracks across the surface before disappearing below the snow again.
Deer beds or roosts of sharp-tail grouse are also observed occasionally. And ruffed grouse are known to fly into the snow to roost. I was abruptly reminded of that on an earlier outing when a ruffed grouse exploded into flight from the snow near my feet. For a second I thought I was a goner.
Those are just a few of the signs of animal activity during the winter in North Dakota. And there is no shortage of other signs. But to see them, one must go out and look for them. So make a point of getting outdoors to do some nature study this winter. There really is much to see, and it will help you better understand and appreciate what is going on out there.