Gateway Gazette

Get out and Enjoy Canada’s Winter Wonderland

For many Canadians, scarves, mitts, boots and gloves have become fashion must-haves as the last leaves of autumn were followed by the first snow over the past week. For many of us, the thought of dealing with slush and ice on top of fighting a cold sounds pretty depressing. But before begging for summer’s return, there are ways that can ease your wintertime blues. Here are three activities to help you and your family discover the wonder in this land of ice and snow this season.

Spot and hear the birds

Believe it or not, winter is as good a season as any for bird watching. “Every so often nature surprises you with sightings of bird species that seem to have missed the memo about migration,” says Kristyn Ferguson, an avid birder and program director with the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

The best introduction for beginner birders is to set up a feeder in the backyard. By staying indoors and out of sight, you can watch the feeder transform into a vibrant social hub. Besides the birds’ plumage, you can observe the hierarchy, competition between different species and cooperation with ground critters.

Annual events like Christmas Bird Counts (held across North America) are loads of fun and a way to provide important information about the distribution and numbers of bird species to determine trends and inform conservation initiatives. If your goal, like Kristyn’s, is to spot the infamous snowy owl, the good news is there are plenty of “hot tips” and time stamped sightings online. Websites such as eBird Canada and Cornell Lab of Ornithology can help improve your sighting success.

Decipher animal tracks

Sometimes, you may see the traces left by an animal long before catching a glimpse of one. Tracks are best seen as soon as fresh snow falls. More than mere footprints, much of an animal’s movement and habits can be deciphered from reading their snowy impressions. For example, a set of three footprints — two larger and one smaller one in the middle — could indicate a rabbit on the run.

“Animals in winter tend not to travel very far and stay within their territory. They also have to stake out points like caches of food,” says Mike Dembeck, professional wildlife photographer. “In late winter, soft, muddy areas become a natural canvas with animal tracks of all kinds. Taking a snapshot of these tracks, close up and far away, helps with identification and learning the animal’s behaviour.”

“Every so often nature surprises you with sightings of bird species that seem to have missed the memo about migration”

Discover your snowy shutterbug

As you make time for nature, photography is a great way to share these.

Doug van Hemessen, Nova Scotia stewardship coordinator for the Nature Conservancy of Canada and professional photographer, shares insight from his years of experience: “Three key ingredients for taking stunning shots are composition, light and timing.” His top tips are to keep shots uncluttered, apply the rule of thirds — placing the subject off-centre for a natural look — and avoid harsh lighting by shooting early or late in the day or during times of transition. Doug finds this pastime a great motivator to get out on skis and snowshoes to some natural areas that would otherwise be less accessible in other times of the year. If wildlife is your intended subject, be sure to always have your camera ready. Above all, it is the enjoyment and connecting with the natural world that matters most in any wintertime activity.

This winter, the Nature Conservancy of Canada is offering an opportunity for Canadians to help protect Canada’s natural heritage through the Gifts of Canadian Nature program. These symbolic gifts help conserve species and habitats at risk so we and our future generations can enjoy them for years to come, no matter what the season.

To find out how you can purchase a gift of nature, visit www.giftsofnature.ca or call toll-free 1-800-465-8005.

(Nature Conservancy of Canada)

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