HOLDERNESS — Winter is not fully here, but for the past three months animals in New Hampshire have been getting ready for it by going underground or putting on big, warm coats, says naturalist Margaret Gillespie.
Winter is a great time to be outdoors, and it’s an even better time to watch birds and other animals, said Gillespie, a 34-year staff member at the Squam Lakes Science Center in Holderness.
When the snow eventually covers the entire state, it’ll serve as a storyteller for every creature that treads upon it — the tracks showing where the animals came from and where they’re going, while their droppings provide clues about what they’re eating and drinking, she said.
There are numerous cellphone apps that can help identify animal tracks and bird calls, Gillespie said, and lots of great books, too.
A more personal way to learn about the wildlife world in winter is to take a Wild Winter Walk with a naturalist at the Science Center, which earlier this year was named a Citizens Bank Champion in Action.
The walks begin Saturday, Jan. 2, and will continue through March 20. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the walks are limited to groups of 10 persons.
In addition to tracks or birds seen outside on or near the walking trail, visitors will be able to see how the Science Center’s resident animal ambassadors have adapted to the change in seasons.
For most of those animals — coyote, fox, fishers, bobcats, deer — it means adding a puffy winter coat, said Gillespie, while others, such as the northern river otter, have an under and upper coat between which air becomes trapped and acts as insulation.
“In December, all those things have taken place,” said Gillespie, and the animals, both at the Science Center and outside it, are “ready for if it’s zero.”
“This is an environment where the animals are adapted for snow,” the cold weather, and everything that winter can bring, she said.
Animals might not necessarily be easier to see during the winter — if an animal hears you, it will likely bolt, Gillespie said — but it will leave behind clues about itself that you can follow.
Gillespie advises everyone to keep a safe distance between themselves and any wild animal; to never feed the animals; and to never get between them and where they want or need to go, like a den or to be with their young.
That said, the river otters who call the science center home, “love to see people,” at any time of the year, said Gillespie, noting that the otters are more active during the day in winter and that in the wild their tracks are often found near flowing streams and open water.
In addition to footprints, otters will leave behind long marks where they slide their bodies on the snow. The otters slide to conserve energy, she said, and also because they seemingly enjoy doing so.
Amanda Gillen, marketing manager at the Science Center, said New Hampshire is blessed with a variety of birds and animals, many of which can be enjoyed by just looking out your window or taking a short walk into nearby woods.
If you’re in the Holderness area, however, and might enjoy something a little more organized, then consider a Wild Winter Walk at the Science Center, said Gillen.
“You’re getting a personal guided tour,” she said, from a Science Center naturalist, all of whom have broad knowledge of the state’s flora and fauna.