Grit Blogs >

Nature and Gardening at the Edge

Tales in the snow

Snow fell on Christmas Eve giving us a white Christmas.
White Christmas is not common here but always possible. Some drive to the
mountains to enjoy the snow when it doesn’t fall on the plains. A running joke
is that celebrating Christmas on Halloween ensures a white “Christmas” as it
seems to snow more often on Halloween than on Christmas.

 This years’ snow fall was only an inch or two but continuing
cold weather kept it on the ground for days. It is always interesting to me to
see what wildlife is about after a snowfall. Deeper snowfalls may keep animals
in for a day or even two but soon they are out foraging for food.

Bare patches in the snow with lots of rabbit, deer or other
animal tracks show that where they have dug down to eat. Larger animals such as
deer may eat tree bark while heavy snow cover is on. If you see a cluster of
their tracks in your orchard, check the trees.

Of course animals are about all during the year but their
trails and eating habits are often nearly invisible to us without snow cover.
On the dry lands, antelope may follow a trail that is all but invisible but
that is consistent. By walking their range after a snow, you can easily see
their trails.

Occasionally animals seem to play in the snow much as humans
do but their tracks usually show the daily activities. Clusters of tracks point
to grazing or eating. Deep widely spaced tracks usually indicate running either
after food or to escape being caught. More leisurely deposited tracks will show
the trails to and from water, food or cover. Look carefully and you may also
find spots where animals have bedded down in the snow.  Deeper holes made by rabbits can sometimes be
found in deeper snow banks.  Amazingly
the rabbits appear to use these for days during heavy snow. During warmer hours
they may sit on the snow bank enjoying the sun ready to pop in if a predator
appears or the temperature drops.

I found a lovely bird print in the snow that didn’t really
tell a clear story. The size of the bird does not seem to indicate a bird of
prey. Perhaps it the bird simply flew down from the overhanging tree and spread
its wings to make the landing.

Today the Christmas snowfall is well tracked up in the lawn
area and ample rabbit droppings are deposited. The story is less interesting
than after the first fall. Subsequent snowfalls on old snow may make tracking
more challenging. Frequently the snow will crust during sunny days. If it
crusts with many tracks making it rough, new snow and new tracks will be more
difficult to trace. Likewise granular snow and very dry drifted snow may Snow on the plains
capture many tracks.

The snow tales are obscured now and sadly the moisture
content was not a big help to plant life or animals. Perhaps we can hope for
another snow with or without a holiday.

Alien species

Minnie Hatz headshot There are many plants and animals in any area that are
non-native. These typically range from desirable introduced species such as
pheasant to those labeled invasive and noxious. It is easy to see how the
desirable species get transplanted. In my area there is a large local goose
population that was started by one person who thought it would be nice to have
a local population.  Where we once had a
migratory population, we now have geese that nest here and spend their entire
lives locally.  

Strangely enough, species that are later labeled invasive,
noxious and so on, are sometimes introduced with similar good intentions.
English sparrows and starlings were brought to this country by someone who
thought it would be nice to have all of the birds mentioned in Shakespeare’s
works living in America.

Other species that become pests are accidently introduced.
Many of the weeds that are now classified as noxious apparently were introduced
in imported hay, bedding and feed as seeds. A current concern is the spread of
various aquatic plants and invertebrates such as snails that are moved from
waterway to waterway on boats, trailers and other equipment. Obviously weed
seeds, snail eggs and tiny organisms are difficult to control and easily spread
in other activities.

According to the USDA, an invasive species is a non-native
or alien species whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or
environmental harm or harm to human health. 
They note that the vigor of invasive plant species combined with a lack
of natural enemies can lead to outbreak populations.

You have probably heard in the news about some of the
species listed as invasive on the USDA web site: Africanized honeybees,
Mediterranean fruit fly, soybean cyst nematode, Burmese python. Once a species
is considered invasive, it is usually opposed with regulations.  Before a species reaches the level requiring
regulation, we can all do our part. Do not release or allow the escape of
animals, particularly exotic pets. When dealing with natural materials that could
contain unwanted seeds, eggs or tiny organisms, be sure that you are working
through legitimate business channels. Even buying plants at nurseries, for
example, may not ensure that you don’t receive some unwanted seeds or organisms
in the soil. More casual sources, such as buying an exotic potted plant at a
flea market, will certainly not ensure unwanted pests.

Nursery catalogues sometimes contain notes that particular
plants cannot be shipped to specific states. These guidelines are sometimes in
places to prevent the sale of nursery stock into areas where it can become
invasive.

I purchased water hyacinth for a decorative pond. By the end
of summer, I was raking it off the pond and allowing it to dry out and die off.
After a winter of freezing weather, I no longer had water hyacinth. In a warm
climate, I can imagine it taking over every square inch of water surface and
living from year to year.  Water hyacinth
may overgrow in our zone 10 but in other areas they can likely can overwinter
and become invasive.