It’s been an odd winter to say the least.  One day it’s -10F outside with 20mph winds and the next it’s 51F and sunny.  To follow that, we experienced a ‘snow squall’ this week which lead to some pretty intense ice.  I don’t know about you, but when the weather behaves so unpredictably, it often leaves me feeling a bit uninspired to go outside.  It’s harder to plan outdoor adventures and leaves me in a bit of a nature slump.

It happens!  These slumps provide a great opportunity to reset and start daydreaming about what’s around the corner.  While I probably stayed inside more this month than any other month in the last year, I did manage to sneak away on a few nice days to spend some quality time outside.  So with that, let’s see what’s happening out there!

The fish are still biting!

When it’s the middle of winter and there’s a nice sunny day without a lot of wind in the forecast, I like to try and get out on a frozen lake.  This time of year, many of the lakes are still frozen over, but always be cautious while out on the ice and look up ice reports before going out.

Recently, I went out ice fishing with my family and caught some of the smallest bluegill I have ever seen in my life.  While they were tiny, they were plentiful, and that makes for a great evening on the ice. My son likes to kiss the bluegill he catches on the lips before returning them to the water.  It’s something he’s always done and it cracks me up every time.

Any ideas?

While out at Patrick Marsh, I came across some very tiny tracks in the snow (pictured above).  It appeared that whatever made the tracks were jumping like a kangaroo with both feet planted before leaping.  You can also see a very thin line in the snow behind these footprints.  That thin line is the critter’s tail hitting the snow as it lands.

If you haven’t guessed it yet, the tracks definitely belong to some sort of rodent.  Wisconsin has a few rodents that leave similar tracks so it’s very hard to identify them down to a species (at least for me).  My guess is that it’s likely a meadow vole.  I’ve seen loads of meadow voles out at Patrick Marsh and have even caught a couple while doing restoration work in the summer.

Ice crystals around a hole in the snow.

I ended up following the tracks to a tiny hole in the snow (pictured above).  It was about the size of a quarter and I noticed that there were little ice crystals around the edge.  These ice crystals are referred to as ‘hoarfrost’.  This is a type of frost created by air that is brought to its frost point by cooling.

So why was it around this hole in the snow with animal tracks leading to it?  Animals that live under the snow in winter stay warm because the snow actually insulates them.  As they breathe, the air rises and starts exiting the hole.  Once the warm air hits the freezing temperatures outside, it makes this beautiful frost pattern around the entrance.  This is an easy way to tell that a critter is actively using their home under the snow!

Hmm.. I’ve never seen this kind of bird before.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with this photo that I pulled from the trail camera in my backyard.  My wife Carolyn let our dog out late one night about a week ago and noticed movement from our bird feeder out of the corner of her eye.  I immediately reached for my trail camera to see what it was and the next morning we discovered that we have flying squirrels that visit our yard!  In case you’re wondering, their late night snack was sunflower seeds.

Well, I hope you enjoyed my virtual tour of nature as it’s happening.  However you experience the outdoors or nature, be it physical, virtual, spiritual, or anything in between, I encourage you to do it!

See you next month!