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Don’t hibernate this winter

By Caroline Schultz

Durham Region.com

December 24, 2013

This winter, resist your impulse to hibernate and get outdoors instead! Whether for a few hours on snowshoes or a few days in a heated canvas tent -- discover the natural wonders of winter. You won’t be disappointed.

Winter offers nature lovers the chance to experience nature in an unhurried and quiet way.

Animals have their own ways of dealing with the harsh winter climate. Most birds head south, some travel to the farthest reaches of South America, while others venture just a few hundred kilometres to find food and shelter. But a hardy 10 per cent of our birds remain in the same habitat year-round.

Some of our mammals, including black bears, groundhogs and chipmunks, hibernate in dens and emerge only when temperatures begin to rise in early spring. All of our reptiles and amphibians disappear during the winter months. Frogs and salamanders overwinter at the bottom of ponds and lakes -- with some actually freezing solid. Snakes head for underground chambers called hibernacula that shelter them from the cold.

While many of us humans like to remain in the comfort of our homes and let winter pass us by, we do not hibernate. If we did, we would miss a fascinating season for observing and revelling in nature -- from snowshoe hares clad in their winter white to tiny “snow fleas” (also known as springtails) -- hopping madly on patches of melting snow.

Many of the owls we chance to see or hear in winter months are visitors from more northern locales. When rodent numbers are low in the northern boreal and tundra habitat of snowy and great grey owls, they head south in search of food, giving southern Ontario residents a rare opportunity to view these majestic birds. Ontario Nature is a network of 150 nature-focused groups that coordinate winter outings such as owl prowls, snowshoe hikes and a Christmas Bird Count. The Nature Network calendar of events can be found here: http://ontarionature.org/discover/member_groups/NN_calendar.

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