What You Can See in Winter

From “Wild Moments” by Ted Williams, edited by Connie Isbell, Illustrations by John Burgoyne, Storey Publishing, 174 pages. Pungent Prowlers On the first warm evenings of the Hunger Moon, in February, you will start to see or nose male skunks as they ramble through town and country in search of females. Probably they are striped skunks, the most ubiquitous of North America’s four species. Skunks don’t hibernate; they just sleep deeply in communal burrows, plugging the entrance with leaves or grass on cold nights. If you were predisposed to admire skunks from afar, do not waver. Breathe deeply and put away your prejudice. Their musk is the smell of spring, the fragrance of the natural world. “Who's Awake?” A twilight stroll almost anywhere in North America, even a city park, may put you in earshot of our most powerful and aggressive owl, the great horned owl. Now, in the cold of winter, they are mating and very noisy. “Who’s awake? Me too,” is one apt translation of the common vocalization. Great horned owls also whistle, jabber, coo, giggle, and shriek. Courtship involves all these sounds plus beak rubbing, beak snapping, dancing, shuffling, aerial loops, and mutual head preening. Even in late December the female may already be incubating eggs. Sometimes snow will pileup on top of her, covering everything save her ear tufts and a fierce yellow eye; although the temperature may be 30 degrees below zero, she will stay on her eggs. With this early start, the fledglings will have abundant food in the spring, when young animals are active.