Tag Archives: snow

The Cure for Cabin Fever at Fort River

Winter fun for everyone!

Winter is here, and so are cold temperatures and snow. During the winter months in the Northeast, many people find themselves feeling restless with “cabin fever”. Thankfully, the National Wildlife Refuge System provides fun winter activities at the Fort River division of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge in Hadley, Massachusetts throughout the winter! Whether it be snowshoeing the trails of the refuge, tracking wildlife through tracks and signs in the snow, wildlife viewing and photography, learning about the subnivean zone, hunting, or visiting the Connecticut River exhibit and watershed demonstration table at the Springfield Science Museum, the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge provides winter fun for everyone!

Snowshoeing at the Fort River Division trail allows you to continue your outdoor adventures all year long, and get a first hand look at wildlife in the winter. Snowshoeing is a great way to access and explore areas that would otherwise not be accessible during the snow-covered winter months in New England.

Who goes there? Winter is a great time to find out! While exploring the trail of Fort River, keep an eye out for animal tracks and sign in the snow to discover the wildlife present and their behavior. Tracking may reveal an animal’s size, gate, diet, and habits, and is a source of wonder and imagination. A 2 page animal track identification guide will be available for viewing in the main kiosk at the start of the trail – use this visual to help you identify the wildlife tracks left in the snow.

Evidence of an owl hunting prey under the snow.

Raccoon tracks.

When planning a visit to the Fort River Division of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge, don’t forget to pack your binoculars and camera! The Fort River trail offers picturesque views of birds and other wildlife, providing us with the opportunity to see the natural world differently through a camera lens. Allow yourself to be still, silent, and humbled at the multiple overlooks along the trail, where you’ll have the perfect vantage point for wildlife viewing and photography. A bird identification guide is in the main kiosk at the start of the trail – use this visual as a guide for identifying the birds you see from the trail.

Male and female northern cardinals.

For the winter months, the story book kiosks along the Fort River trail will feature “Over and Under the Snow” by Kate Messner, a children’s book that explores the secret kingdom under the snow where animals live throughout the winter – the subnivean zone. Be sure to check the Friends of Fort River Facebook page to keep updated on books featured in the story book trail kiosks!

An illustration of animals living in the subnivean zone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hunting is a fun activity that offers a sense of freedom and self-reliance that cannot be matched.” The Silvio O. Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge offers regulated hunting opportunities at Fort River and other divisions of the refuge, including the Nulhegan Division in northern Vermont and the Pondicherry Division in New Hampshire. It is essential that all hunters understand and comply with both refuge-specific and state hunting seasons and regulations. Wondering how regulated hunting contributes to conservation and the mission of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service? Check out A Non-hunter’s Guide to Hunting to learn more!

A mother and calf moose at the Nulhegan Division of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge.

On days where you’d prefer an indoor expedition, check out the Connecticut River Exhibit at the Springfield Science Museum in Springfield, Massachusetts! The exhibit features 5 interactive educational kiosks, including a salmon game, a grip strength comparison between your hand and the talon of an American Eagle, and fun facts about the Connecticut River Watershed. Don’t miss the Conte Refuge’s watershed demonstration table, where you can learn what defines a watershed, how watersheds are formed, what ecological services watersheds provide, and how you can do your part in ensuring watersheds stay healthy and clean for wildlife and people alike.

Part of the Connecticut River Exhibit at the Springfield Science Museum.

 

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

Winter has arrived in the Northeast and snow is in the forecast. While we are piling on the cozy layers and feasting on soup and hot chocolate, outside temperatures are dropping and food for wildlife is getting scarce. Animals across the region are tackling the season head-on and have some impressive strategies to cope with winter conditions.

In the winter, snowshoe hares completely transform, their fur changing from brown to white for better camouflage in the snow. They spend their time eating and hiding which helps to conserve energy for their encounters with predators, such as the lynx. Further south, the New England cottontail uses its brown coat to blend into thick underbrush, and uses snow as a ladder to reach higher shoots, seedlings and twigs.

Have you ever wondered where amphibians and reptiles go in the winter? Most frogs, turtles, and snakes dramatically decrease their activity and enter a state of brumation, or dormancy, where their temperature drops and the heart rate slows down dramatically. Many turtles will bury themselves in mud at the bottom of a pond and absorb oxygen through their skin from the surrounding water. Wood frogs are even capable of freezing solid under leaves in forested areas. They are able to do this by filling their cells with a sugary substance that acts like antifreeze. The frog’s heartbeat stops and stays dormant all winter until they thaw again in spring!

A piping plover and chick by Kaiti Titherington/USFWS

For many birds, the cold is just too much to bear. Like many of us in the winter, migrating birds including the piping plover, leave their homes on the chilly northern coast and take a vacation down south to the warmer shorelines and sandy beaches. Most piping plover are already in their vacation nests by mid-September and come back to work (and mate) by mid-April. Bird migrations vary in length, but some range from hundreds to thousands of miles each year.

An American black bear in a tree. Photo by Courtney Celley/USFWS

If long distance migration isn’t your thing, why not just sleep through winter like the American black bear? Bears aren’t true hibernators, but they can doze for up to 100 days at a time by slowing their metabolism and dropping their core temperature. Bears usually put on fifteen pounds a week during the fall to prepare for their long nap and stretch without food.

As Andrew King took this shot, an Indiana bat flew beneath a large hibernating cluster of Indiana bats on the ceiling of Ray’s Cave, IN (taken pre-white nose syndrome.)

The Indiana bat, a true hibernator, accumulates layers of fat and spends months tucked away in its hibernaculum, like a cave or mine. Throughout winter, bats periodically rouse to move between hibernacula, before their heart rate and body temperature is dramatically lowered to conserve energy. Sadly, white-nose syndrome is plaguing bat hibernacula and causing populations of bats to plummet. Learn more about white-nose syndrome here.

A ruffed grouse in the snow by Head Harbor Lightstation/ Creative Commons

Ruffed grouse are non-migratory birds. They stick out the winters in their usual homes in a protected thicket or burrowed in the snow.  In the late fall, feathers begin to grow on their legs to protect from the cold and help conserve body heat. Pectinations (fleshy comb-like projections along their toes) help them walk on soft snow, roost and burrow. Down feathers allow birds to trap air against their body to stay warm, and many birds will even cuddle together to keep warm.

Swallows cuddle up to keep warm. Photo by Keith Williams/ Creative Commons

We can learn a thing or two from wildlife this winter. Cuddling, sleeping, or vacationing through winter doesn’t sound half bad, especially if you’re not a fan of winter weather!

Track Down Some Fun at Your Local National Wildlife Refuge

Eventually, winter will come to the northeast. Technically, winter begins today, although you would never know it by looking out your window. With temperatures 20 degrees above average, it feels more like the longest autumn ever! However, this can’t last forever… Eventually, winter will come. When it does, keep in mind all of the amazing opportunities to observe wildlife in the snow at your local National Wildlife Refuge, by snowshoe or cross country ski. Always a great way to cure the winter blues!

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Credit: USFWS

Maine:

Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge– Explore several miles of ungroomed trails, keeping on the lookout for white-tailed deer, fox, and migratory waterfowl such as black ducks, common loons, and red-breasted mergansers.

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Credit: Dennis Mudderman

Massachusetts:

Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge– Take your pick from more than 25 miles of ski and snowshoe trails! Wildlife you may encounter include great blue heron, Canada geese, barred owl, or mink.

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Credit: USFWS

New York:

Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge– Depending on your preferred method of transportation, follow 7.5 miles of ungroomed ski trails or 2.5 miles of ungroomed snowshoe trails. If your party uses both skis and snowshoes, take Feeder Road instead, a 3.5 mile trail that is open to both snowshoeing and skiing. Try to spot white-tailed deer, otters, and songbirds along the way.

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Credit: USFWS

Pennsylvania:

Erie National Wildlife Refuge– Explore the two looped trails found on the Refuge’s Sugar Lake Division, the Tsuga Trail (1.5 mile loop) and Deer Run Trail (3 mile loop). Animals that call this refuge home include white-tailed deer, wild turkey, and plenty of songbirds.

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Credit: USFWS

Vermont

Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, Nulhegan Division– Trek along the North Branch Trail, a 4 mile loop along the north branch of the Nulhegan River. This pedestrian-only trail offers beautiful river views and generally flat terrain with a few slight slopes. There is a plowed 3-car parking area adjacent to Route 105 in Ferdinand. Examine tracks in the snow and you may find evidence of resident snowshoe hare, moose, or bobcat!

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Credit: Kent Mason

West Virginia

Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge– Navigate the 31 miles of ungroomed refuge trails on your own, or join a guided tour offered by the neighboring White Grass Ski Touring Center. Tours offer rental equipment, last about an hour, and cover a mile of easy rolling terrain. Check out the website links above for more information.

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Credit: Jennifer Jewett, USFWS