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In one of the last posts I sort of apologized for doing so many bird posts and mentioned that I did see mammals as well as birds at this time of year. This time of year is winter here in the northern hemisphere and though it is nothing like when I was a boy, winter is still colder, snowier, and more blustery than spring, summer or fall. A great percentage of our birds migrate south as winter approaches and there are many fewer birds from the far north that arrive to replace them. It is a bit more stark that usual. There are no leaves on the deciduous trees and there is no insect fluttering or bird song to catch your eye or to entertain your ear. But nonetheless, there are birds that didn’t migrate and mammals that didn’t hibernate.
On the land, and in the trees, we may see Gray Squirrels regularly and Red Squirrels less so. There are not many diurnal mammals, so most of them might be best seen at night – if we could see at night that is. (our night-time squirrel is the small grayish Flying Squirrel). The smaller mammals are hiding under snow or dead grasses and the larger mammals are bedding down throughout the day and saving energy. Thus we see fewer mammals at this time of year.
But here is this posts real story. — This is mid-winter and it is the time for an annual bird census program called the Christmas Bird Count. The CBC has been in place now for well over 100 years. It consists of birders, feeder watchers, and others out looking at birds within a specific circle. The circle is created by establishing a spot and then scribing a circle around that has a 7.5 mile radius (15 mile diameter). The circle is then assigned to as many birders as you can gather and the birds are counted – as many as possible for the 24 hours of the count day. I will post a few blogs on the activities and sightings from this year but there is a mammalian story that starts off the season.
The first of several all-day, tiring, counts that I do is one that connects Cape Cod to the main land. My section is on Cape Cod but I am looking west toward the continent. This year we had a bit of a snow cover that fell just before counting day. So this was to be a bit of a slog but no where near as bad as it would have been a couple days earlier. One of the places we go when there is no snow, and as we are creatures of Christmas Count habit, a place that we go each year whether it is cold, warm, snowy, or sun dappled. This place is a small field, maybe four acres. This year we pulled in and we were about to make a plan for the next hour or so as we were preparing to count in this locale. It was a bit of a surprise to all of sudden see that we had parked, in the snow, about thirty feet (10 meters) from a large Eastern Coyote in rich winter pelage. It was just laying belly-down in the snow looking past us the way that animals do when they are in their worlds not ours. The next few images will tell the story.