As regular readers may be aware, there is one season of the year that really stands out for me: Winter. I’ll grant you that in New England, Autumn is considered by many to be the most beautiful, if not their favorite season. I agree that the colors and smells of Autumn are fantastic, but the silent beauty of Winter, when there is snow on the ground dampening all sounds and the air is crisp, it’s not to be denied.
The other aspect of Winter that I really enjoy is to go out and explore during a cold day, traversing the solitary landscape and taking in its beauty for moments, such as in this image:
Ecological Reckoning and Activity
Ecological reckoning of winter differs from calendar-based by avoiding the use of fixed dates. It is one of six seasons recognized by most ecologists who customarily use the term hibernal for this period of the year (the other ecological seasons being prevernal, vernal, estival, serotinal, and autumnal). The hibernal season coincides with the main period of biological dormancy each year whose dates vary according to local and regional climates in temperate zones of the Earth. The appearance of flowering plants like the crocus can mark the change from ecological winter to the prevernal season as early as late January in mild temperate climates.
To survive the harshness of winter, many animals have developed different behavioral and morphological adaptations for overwintering:
- Migration is a common effect of winter upon animals, notably birds. However, the majority of birds do not migrate—the cardinal and European robin, for example. Some butterflies also migrate seasonally.
- Hibernation is a state of reduced metabolic activity during the winter. Some animals “sleep” during winter and only come out when the warm weather returns; e.g., gophers, frogs, snakes, and bats.
- Some animals store food for the winter and live on it instead of hibernating completely. This is the case for squirrels, beavers, skunks, badgers, and raccoons.
- Resistance is observed when an animal endures winter but changes in ways such as color and musculature. The color of the fur or plumage changes to white (in order to be confused with snow) and thus retains its cryptic coloration year-round. Examples are the rock ptarmigan, Arctic fox, weasel, white-tailed jackrabbit, and mountain hare.
- Some fur-coated mammals grow a heavier coat during the winter; this improves the heat-retention qualities of the fur. The coat is then shed following the winter season to allow better cooling. The heavier coat in winter made it a favorite season for trappers, who sought more profitable skins.
- Snow also affects the ways animals behave; many take advantage of the insulating properties of snow by burrowing in it. Mice and voles typically live under the snow layer.
Some annual plants never survive the winter. Other annual plants require winter cold to complete their life cycle, this is known as vernalization. As for perennials, many small ones profit from the insulating effects of snow by being buried in it. Larger plants, particularly deciduous trees, usually let their upper part go dormant, but their roots are still protected by the snow layer. Few plants bloom in the winter, one exception being the flowering plum, which flowers in time for Chinese New Year. The process by which plants become acclimated to cold weather is called hardening.
This image was captured with an iPhone 5S using the standard Camera app.