Here in Rye we’re right at the edge of two temperature zones.
By Bill Lawyer
Here in Rye we’re right at the edge of two temperature zones. The relatively warm waters of Long Island Sound tend to keep precipitation as rain rather than snow. But that doesn’t mean we don’t get a fair share of major snowstorms – just think back to last year’s Weather Channel charting of the ever-accumulating snows – over 50 inches for the season.
So, with the cold weather of winter, anyone out walking or working or whatever will tend to notice the relative lack of wildlife in Rye’s various neighborhoods. And yet, that there are a fair number of species getting along fairly well, despite the cold and lack of links on nature’s food chain.
The most obviously visible animals are the birds. One of the reasons we see so many birds is that people in the neighborhood have set up backyard bird feeders. The combination of seeds and suet can attract well over 20 species, everything from cardinals to tufted titmice.
Before the advent of bird feeders, nearly all cardinals migrated south for the winter, but now a great many are staying up north. Even without feeders, however, most of those species have adapted to getting by on what Mother Nature has left from last summer’s plants. Birds are actively eating berries from all sorts of vines, trees and shrubs.
The hairy and downy woodpeckers that over-winter find their food by picking their way along the bark of trees, where insects have laid eggs in the fall. And, on dead trees and branches they excavate even deeper into the wood to find insect larvae.
Nuthatches can also be seen, and heard, tapping their way down or up the tree, sort of like diners at a buffet table.
One of my favorite winter birds is the kingfisher. While kingfishers tend to migrate south in the event of really cold winters, they often do it in stages. If Blind Brook doesn’t freeze over, they can be seen strafing along the water, looking for hapless fish that will serve as their next meal. Kingfishers make an easy-to-identify rattling noise as they flit along. A great viewing spot to see them in action is the footbridge that goes from the Milton cemetery to the Disbrow fields.
Moving up the food chain, there are a number of birds of prey that stick around through the winter to feed on birds – particularly those at the feeders, where they become easy targets. Red tail hawks, Cooper’s hawks, and Kestral falcons are the three species I have seen most regularly.
And then there’s the whole nocturnal side of winter wildlife.
Obviously, it’s not as easy, or comfortable, to be out on a cold winter night looking for wildlife. But you don’t have to go far to see – or hear – some animal action, particularly if you’re walking your terrier dog (as I do every night) around the neighborhood. Terriers are a species with a nose for what’s happening under shrubs and ground cover.
On several occasions, my dog Max has flushed a white-footed mouse or vole from out of a tree in someone’s front yard. One of my earlier dogs actually grabbed a vole and killed it before I knew what was happening — and my dog was on the leash!
Last on our hit parade of winter wildlife come the owls, particularly the great horned owls. On many evenings, if you go outside, you’ll hear them calling to each other back and forth. I actually have a wooden call whistle that makes the owl’s hooting sound when you blow into it.
While people often think most wildlife head south or hibernate in the coldest months, there they are — waterfowl, squirrels, even insects (i.e. mourning cloak butterfly) — right in our backyards.