Hunkering down indoors on snowy winter days with hot soup and a book or movie is fun for a while. But then adventurous folks get restless. Cold air and snow crunching under boots are cures for cabin fever. Trails at Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) wildlife areas offer wildlife watching and interesting winter landscapes along with fresh air.
Bring along your binoculars and camera. Wildlife watching is a tad easier in winter with foliage off the trees and white snow as a backdrop. The snow also makes foraging for food a bit harder for wildlife, so deer, turkeys, songbirds, rabbits and squirrels may be more active in open areas for longer periods during daylight hours.
MDC conservation areas often have hiking trails or farm roads that make good routes to explore. Making the first tracks in fresh, powdery snow can make you feel like a pioneer. Do make sure friends and family know where you’re headed, or take them along. Plus stash some water and snacks pack or pocket, and don’t attempt a major trek unless you’re a veteran winter hiker. Walking in deep snow requires more energy and effort than on dry land, so be careful. But short winter hikes are refreshing and rewarding.
Speaking of tracks, fresh snow offers the opportunity to follow the trails made by wildlife. Perhaps rabbit tracks lead to a brush pile serving as a cottontail’s winter home, or maybe white-tail deer tracks lead to spotting deer moving through the woods.
Even with snow on the ground, in March, many critters are getting ready for spring. You might see a tom turkey in full strut atop the snow, which is a strange sight for those accustomed to watching turkeys in the greening of early spring. A gobbler visiting outdoor feeders at the Burr Oak Woods Nature Center in Blue Springs was recently spotted practicing his mating season exhibition.
Cross-country skiers should keep MDC areas in mind, too. Western Missouri experienced two major snow storms in recent weeks and a steady powdering of flakes fell on March 1. Many conservation areas have trails usable by skiers. Please do check area regulations in advance and remember that some urban areas have special hours.
To find an MDC conservation area or nature center near you: go to http://mdc.mo.gov and click on “Conservation Areas.” Then bundle up, head outdoors and crunch some snow.
SNOW BIRDS – These wild turkeys, including a strutting tom, often cross the trails at the Burr Oak Woods Nature Center in Blue Springs as they wander in the timber or visit outdoor bird feeders. They were photographed on Feb. 22 after a major snow storm the previous day. Photos by Bill Graham, Missouri Department of Conservation