Last Saturday at the Crossroads Maintenance Building, volunteers from the Door County Silent Sports Alliance unpacked our new skies and checked the straps on our snowshoes in anticipation of the time when snow is deep enough to groom and we can start offering our Ski For Free program. We are ready for snow. Some of us and really really ready for snow.
Understand that snow can be the death of some creatures. Unable to run in deep drifts, many animals fall prey to faster or flying predators. But some animals take snow in stride…literally.
The aptly named Snowshoe Hare, which lives in the more remote lowland forests of Door County, is born ready for snow. The hind feet of this winter-white member of the rabbit family are disproportionately large, covered with stiff hairs. Its enormous toes can spread to a great width. The advantage of these natural snowshoes is that by spreading body weight, the animal is able to bound over the snow without sinking. The predators which are lucky enough spot a white hare against a background of white snow usually are not fast enough to catch it.
At Crossroads, we often observe a bird called a Ruffed Grouse which is similar in size and shape to a barnyard chicken, and like a chicken, this bird spends most is its summer walking around on the ground. In winter, grouse grow weird, but effective little comb-like bristles on their toes. These little appendages nearly double the surface area of the foot, and much like a snowshoe, keeps the bird from sinking into the snow. The combs fall off in spring.
We counted several grouse during the Sturgeon Bay Christmas Count last year. Grouse usually eat their winter rations of twigs and buds at around sunrise and sunset so when we approached, we suspect they were roosting in trees (which they do most of the day in order to conserve energy). We must have been almost on them when they exploded out of the trees, startling us so thoroughly that we hardly saw them. I’m thinking they similarly confuse and evade most predators by bursting out of their roosts.
On Saturday, December 19, Crossroads will participate in the 2015 Sturgeon Bay Christmas Count….and if we have sufficient snow (like 7or 8 inches –and I certainly wouldn’t count on that)—we probably won’t see grouse. When the snow is fluffy and the weather unpleasant, grouse “snow roost.”They burrow or dive into drifts and just cuddle. Snow is a remarkable insulator, so these birds are quite comfortable and invisible to predators and birders.
A number of folks tell me that they would like to participate in the Annual Christmas Count, but that they don’t have a whole day to devote to an outing or the stamina to spend a whole day hiking in the cold . [At least, it shouldn’t be be bone-chilling this year.] So we invite people to join in a Christmas Count Sampler. Come at 9:00 and count till 10:30 or come at 2:00 and count until dark (which is about 4:15). We’ll do the record keeping and provide hot chocolate and coffee breaks for participants. If it’s really snowy that day (fat chance)—our snowshoes are ready.
This year on Monday, December 21 at 10:49 PM our time, the North Pole will be tilted farther away from the Sun than at any other time of the year. In other words, Monday will have the longest night of the year, but long winter nights are meant for sleeping, so Crossroads will offer the Winter Solstice Hike (or maybe a Snowshoe Hike?)at our Ida Bay Preserve at 10:49 AM to celebrate sunlight and that the hours of daylight will gradually increase from then until June21 . Meet at the Zenith Street Entrance.
Crossroads at Big Creek is a donor-supported preserve welcoming learners of all ages to programs in science, history and the environment. The Collins Learning Center, located at 2041 Michigan in Sturgeon Bay, is open daily 2:00-4:30 and during scheduled activities. Until snow is adequate for grooming, all trails at Crossroads, Big Creek Cove and the Ida Bay Preserve are open for hiking, free of charge.
Friday, December18 2:00 Friday Documentary: Door County History
It’s certainly not a regularly scheduled event, but when nothing else is happening in the Collins Learning Center Lecture on a Friday afternoon, we have been screening documentaries. We’ve covered science and the environmental topics, so this week we will focus on Door County History. The film is free and open to the public.
Saturday, December 19 Christmas Bird Count
9:00 -10:30 Bird Count Sampler
1:30-3:00 Bird Count Sampler
For those who want to see what it is like to conduct a bird census, one and a half hour sessions will be offered. We will keep the records and even provide hot chocolate and coffee for the participants. Free and open to the public. Meet at the Collins Learning Center.
Monday, December 21,
10:4:45 AM–Winter Solstice Hike (or if a miracle happens, Snowshoe Hike) at Ida Bay
At 10:49 PM our time, the North Pole will be tilted farther away from the Sun than at any other time of the year. In other words, Monday will have the longest night of the year, but long winter nights are meant for sleeping, so Crossroads will offer the Winter Solstice Hike at Ida Bay at 10:49 AM to celebrate sunlight and that the hours of daylight will gradually increase from then until June. Meet at the Zenith Street Entrance.