Observing Nature In The Dead of Winter

We call it the dead of winter because that’s how it feels. The trees are dormant, a majority of animals are hunkered down until Spring, and the ground is just brown and muddy when the snow disappears. You might be tempted to think that there is nothing worth looking at outside in the winter doldrums besides snow and ice. I used to think this way too. Like the skunk in Bambi, “All us Flowers sleep in the winter.” 

I’ve talked about nature journals before, but here is a quick recap if you haven’t read about this concept yet. Use any blank notebook and the art medium of your choice. Lately, we’ve been enjoying watercolor pencils. As you enjoy a walk, hike, or park time you sketch some of the things you see. It’s also nice to visit the same places regularly to observe the changes over the seasons. 

Observing nature when everything seems dead, dormant, to sleeping first seems like a challenge. But there is plenty to see, sketch or photograph, and enjoy throughout December, January, and February.

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Not all the birds fly south for the winter. January is the lowest month for bird activity, but you’ll find some hardy avians sticking with us through the whole season. You could see juncos, chickadees, nuthatches, finches, blue jays, sparrows, and starlings. Crows and some game birds like ruffed grouse, pheasant, and wild turkeys remain all winter too. 

I’ve seen Northern Blue Birds on our trail. Photo credit: allaboutbirds.com

Birding is a wonderfully relaxing activity that everyone can enjoy. You don’t need to know every bird native to your area and have a stellar set of binoculars to enjoy birding. Stop along the trail to look and listen for our feathered friends every now and then. If you can’t identify a bird, just look it up later. Soon you’ll build a repertoire of species you recognize.


Some animals remain active throughout the cold months even if they are out and about less. Deer, red fox, squirrels, and snowshoe hares are potential furry trail mates in winter. While sittings are few and far between, it’s still fun to look for them, especially for kids. 

Another way to observe wildlife during winter is to look for evidence of them. Finding tracks in the snow and soft, moist ground is just as exciting as seeing the animals. Guessing what animal left the footprints is always a fun game for us. 

Stock photo from WordPress


The deciduous trees have all lost their leaves and gone to sleep for the winter. But that doesn’t mean there is nothing interesting to observe about them. Something I always enjoy is taking in the whole view of the trail at different seasons. In winter we can see further into the forest and get an idea of the topography around us. It’s also easier to spot wildlife without the leaves on the trees. It was in early spring when we could see an eagle on its nest because we had an unobstructed view.

Take time in winter to observe the bark and branch growth patterns of different types of trees. Some types even sport winter Barrie’s. Notice the subtle differences between the different types of evergreens too. In PA, there are eleven different species like cedar, pine, fir, and arborvitae.

Document Your Observations

Like most kids, mine love to draw. Sometimes we like to take photos and make a drawing based on it. Other times, we’ll try to draw what we saw from memory. It’s a fun activity to do over a cup of cocoa after a winter hike. You could also print your photos and keep them in a special album just for your trail memories. We’d love for you to share your memories and tag us on Instagram @trailfamilylife. 

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Categories hobbies, Wildlife, WinterTags , , ,

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