Welcome, winter!

Winter officially arrived yesterday, astronomically speaking. Winter solstice: the shortest amount of daylight here in the Northern Hemisphere. Where I live, the temperature reached about 20 degrees and offered a light covering of snow. Pre-solstice, I took a walk to check out nature sights.

One thing I love about the cold season is visibility in the woods. Without foliage, the hardwoods reveal things that are otherwise hidden, like birds’ nests, burls, dreys, and witches’ brooms. Nests are obvious during wintertime; I’m always amazed at the amount of them nestled in branches. One nest I saw on my walk was round and filled with snow. Nobody home! In the past, I’ve also seen oriole nests, woven, and hanging high in branches. While the oriole won’t reuse an old nest, it will use parts of it to build a new one in the spring. Good recyclers, those orioles.

Most small birds don’t reuse nests. In fact, robins can have multiple broods each season and make new nests each time. Other, bigger birds – eagles, for example – do come back to the same nest and make annual improvements. The Bald Eagle builds a nest that weighs over a ton. I can see why they don’t start from scratch each year. That would be a lot of work!

I’ve harvested a few nests in the past, including an oriole nest. It wasn’t easy to get it considering its treetop location, but it was worth the effort. It has made a nice addition to my collection. I’d never try to take an eagle nest. For one thing, I’d be robbing something of its home. Also, I’m not that strong!

Another thing I noticed on my end-of-autumn walk was a nice sized burl. It was protruding from the trunk of a maple. A burl is a deformation that result from sickness in a tree, like a virus or fungus. But they are a treasure when it comes to woodworking! I’ve seen some beautiful bowls made from burls. They have unique, twisted grain in the wood and make beautiful works of art. Someday, I’m going to get a burl and have a bowl made for myself.

Dreys are another winter sight in the trees. When I said there are a lot of bird nests, the number shrinks in comparison to the messy looking squirrel nests. Dreys are misshapen forms of leaves, twigs, and other readily available materials woven together. They often rest high in a crotch of a tree and are surprisingly sturdy. I read squirrels will often build two and use them for a couple years. While a squirrel may abandon its drey, the form will often stay intact for many years. On my pre-solstice walk, I saw countless dreys. I wondered how many of them housed squirrels.

The last notable thing I saw on my walk was a witches’ broom. They are an abnormality, like burls. The deformation is caused by a pathogen that can cause disease, like a parasite. The cluster of twigs that make up a witches broom give it a balled-up look. I’ve seen several over the years and have never thought they looked like the bristly part of a broom. Unlike burls, they have no interesting use. On the contrary, they are something to be managed so harm doesn’t come to the host tree. Still, I find them interesting to look at.

I’m hoping to get out into the woods a lot during the cold season. In addition to plant formations, animals that are about in the snow are more visible as well. I’m on the lookout for an owl. I’m slated to take a nature hike on New Year’s Eve at Wood Lake Nature Center. In addition to walking a luminated path in the dark (very cool), I might see owls and other critters, like fox and deer.

There is so much to see and do outside during the winter months. With all of winter ahead (and hopefully, lots of snow), I’m looking forward to getting outside and peering through the woods. Who knows what else I’ll see!

Welcome, winter!