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December 23, 2009
Winter at the Nature Park

December 21 was the shortest day of the year, which makes today the first day of winter.  Winter has just begun but life in the park is poised and waiting for spring to arrive.  Winter is a great time to explore the park and look for the ways that plants and animals are adapted to this season.  You may also find early signs of spring.
 
Many of the plants in the park are dormant in winter. There isn’t enough sunlight each day to sustain leaves so they drop them in the fall. The leaves will decay and be recycled as nutrients in the soil.  While there is little activity in these deciduous trees they’re just waiting for spring to arrive.  Buds, for the New Year, have already formed on the ends of the branches and just need enough sun to open and grow.

Evergreen trees, like the pines and hemlocks in the park have specialized leaves called needles.  The thick resinous needles don’t freeze and can keep working to produce energy for the trees even during the short days of winter.   Look at the rings of a tree that has been cut down and you will see the fat rings of summer growth and the narrow rings of the restricted winter growth.  A really fat summer rings represents a year with good growing conditions.
 
Animals have a variety of winter adaptations. Some avoid winter entirely by migrating or hibernating.  Hummingbirds didn’t wait for winter to arrive – they left for sunnier climes in August.  Many spiders and insects can hibernate and will awaken in the spring, while others lay eggs in the fall and then die.  The eggs or larvae survive the cold and emerge when the weather warms up.

Many animals stay active in winter and survive thanks to physical and behavioural adaptations.  A thick layer of fur or feathers enables squirrels and chickadees to remain active.   Both species worked diligently through the fall to find and store food to see them through the lean season. During extremely cold weather they may huddle in groups for warmth and wait until the worst is over before heading out to look for something to eat.

A good place to look for animals in the Nature Park is at the bird feeding station behind the Nature House. You’ll be able to see many small birds like chickadees, towhees, sparrows and finches. Woodpeckers also frequent the feeding station and most commonly seen in cold weather when insects are dormant and difficult to locate. Squirrels are very fond of bird feeders too and you should see both our little native Douglas Squirrel and the larger introduced Eastern Gray Squirrel.  Be prepared for surprises – sometimes hawks come by in search of a tasty little bird for their dinner.  If you visit at dusk, you may also see owls, raccoons and skunks.

The Richmond Nature Park is open daily during the holidays so we hope you will come for a visit. Please note that the Nature House will be closed December 25, 26 and January 1 but is open 9-5 on all other days.

From the staff of the Richmond Nature Park and the members of the Richmond Nature Park Society: Best Wishes for Happy Holidays.

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Posted by Kristine Bauder
Nature Park Coordinator


December 16, 2009
Signs of winter at the Nature Park

Winter officially begins on December 21 – the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. The winter solstice is the day that the north pole tilts as far away from the sun as it will get on earth’s annual journey round our star. On December 22 the pole starts to tilt towards the sun and we’ll gain 2 to 3 minutes of additional light each day until we reach the summer solstice in June.

Technically it’s still autumn, but it feels like winter arrived with the first dust of snow this week. A skiff of new snow is a blank page in the Nature Park journal where animals record their activities. Footprints, wingprints or the remains of a meal show who passed by and what they were up to.

squirrel_tracks.jpg
(Squirrel tracks)

Wingprints from an owl that overlap the tracks of a mouse record a close call for the mouse. Is that a drop of blood? Maybe the mouse didn’t get away after all.

A scattered tuft of feathers record the final moments of a small bird that was surprised by a hungry hawk. Or maybe it was a near miss and the bird escaped without its tail.

Coyotes and raccoons are comfortable around people and their winding trail of footprints often come to the door of the Nature House–just to check for an edible tidbit that might have fallen from someone’s pocket.

raccoon_tracks2.jpg
(Raccoon tracks)

The smallest animals record their presence on a new snowfall, too. Tiny insects and spiders that overwinter in the forest canopy may be blown down by the wind or winkled out of their hiding place by the prying beak of a sharp-eyed bird.

Plants leave a record in the snow, too. Seeds that fall from trees and shrubs can be identified by their unique shapes and structures, like wings that aid their dispersal. Only a few seeds will ever germinate and grow into a new plant–the vast majority provide a nutritious meal for the myriad of small animals that remain awake in winter. Watch for signs of a Douglas squirrels’ dinner–they specialize in getting the seeds out of pine cones and will leave little piles of scales and cone “cobs” wherever they have dined.

The Nature Park is open every day and in all weather. We invite you to dress warmly and explore the park in winter.

Posted by Kristine Bauder
Nature Park Coordinator




Archives
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February 7,2012

I visited the park today with my wife and 3 young kids. We're very impressed and will be returning. I've featured the park on my blog - www.chrisronald.com Thanks, Chris
Chris Young
October 31,2010
Vancouver

Hi You had a busy summer, I see! Very interesting to read about the parklife. You did hard work...! Through the volonteering in the Richmond Nature Park my eyes are opened wide in my country too.... Please say hallo to all we know. Yours Lea
Lea Hafner
September 26,2008
Switzerland

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