Animals have now endured the longest nights of the year as the sun is now beginning its annual transect north. Even with a few additional minutes of sunlight, January is on average the coldest month of the year. Snow is welcomed to many animals as it acts as an insulator for scurrying underneath, while hidden from hunters from above. Snow reveals daily activity of mammals and birds as their tracks are more obvious. The search for food, a successful hunt, a resting place to weather the harshest storm can now be seen.
In the night sky, ancient stories are replayed by the stars each and every night. Orion the Hunter continues his quest to reach the queen, and the three hunters chase down the great bear with their canine companions. With snow squeaking under our feet, January is best taken on the trail with a good pair of boots or a set of cross country skis and is good for both health and spirit.
You may not think of January as a great time for seeking birds, but deep snow, ice, and crisp cold is no match for wintering finches, owls, waterfowl, and songbirds. Nature center’s bird feeding stations are alive with chickadees, cardinals, sparrows, titmice, nuthatches and the infamous "Snowbird" - the dark-eyed junco. American goldfinches and pine siskins may be joined by the rare common redpoll at thistle feeders. Hemlocks, pines and spruces - provide food and shelter for purple and house finches that may be joined by very rare evening grosbeaks or red crossbills. Roving flocks of American robins and cedar waxwings brighten gray skies as they descend upon fruiting trees and shrubs, gobbling up calories for long, cold nights. Red-tailed and red-shouldered hawks hunt fields and forest edges and sleek cooper's hawks are energetically on the hunt for songbirds. Great horned owls are very active in January, searching for a mate, building a nest, or incubating eggs. Listen for their deep, booming "HOO HOO-HOO HOO HOO" calls at night.
Deer begin to “yard” forming social groups as most of the breeding is complete. These groups paw through the snow looking for acorns allowing other seeds and nuts to be available for other animals. This month bucks may begin to shed their antlers, with others keeping them until March. Fox and coyotes spend a great deal of time hunting small mammals in the meadows where their characteristic straight line tracks are a giveaway that they have passed by. Around open waters of streams, ponds and marshes, mink continue to be active searching for fish, frogs and tadpoles. Their classic energetic hoping and jumping produce distinctive tracks revealing their nightly presences and can easily be overlooked.