Winter Fun in the Garden

by Ann Londrigan

 

Springfield, with its yearly average of 18 inches of snow, is not a snow sports paradise. Our neighbor to the north, Chicago, averages 38.5 inches. Head 2,000 miles west for the snowiest place in the United States, Paradise Ranger Station at Mount Rainer National Park, Washington, averaging 643 inches of the white stuff.

Still, when we do get that occasional snow dump—like the 8.4-inches that fell on January 12, 2019—the Garden is this area’s ideal place to cross-country ski or snowshoe. No skis? Put on warm boots with some good traction and go exploring.

It’s a breathtakingly beautiful sight to behold: the Garden covered in freshly fallen snow. Bare trees reveal distant views of the lake. Animal tracks give clues to hideouts and food sources.

With little action on the lake, and birds and animals less active, a peaceful quiet fills the air.

“Even when there’s no snow, in the winter you get to see a lot that you don’t normally see,” says Audra Walters, Environmental Educator for the Garden. “Without the leaves you can see animal homes, bird nests along the lower limbs, and tons of those round, messy squirrel nests called dreys often built up high in the forks of trees or inside tree cavities.”

“Winter is also a good time to spot animals that are still here,” says Audra. “Deer, squirrels, chipmunks. And birds that do not migrate including the cardinal, tufted titmouse and ring-billed gull along the lakeshore.”

In February and March, depending on the weather, thousands of snow geese migrate through with a stop on Lake Springfield. The sound is loud, and the sight is truly awesome as they fly up and around in unison.

Audra leads the Garden’s Junior Naturalist program, which she hopes can resume safely next year. For now, here’s an observation skills game that naturalists of all ages can play on your next visit to the Garden in winter.

I Spy: Winter Edition

Put an X by what you see

  • Squirrel nest
  • Bird nest
  • Animal tracks in the snow
  • Cardinal
  • Tufted titmouse
  • Ring-billed gull
  • Snow goose
  • Downy woodpecker
  • Deer
  • Red fox
  • Icicle
  • Snowflake
  • Leucistic (mostly white) squirrel
  • Red squirrel

(HINT: You may find many of the birds on this list at the Nature Center bird feeders, so be sure to stop by.)

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