By Sara Poggi
Have you ever heard of the Albany Pine Bush Preserve? Better yet, have you ever visited it? Walked on the trails? Attended an educational program?
If you have never heard of the Pine Bush, I hope to help you come to know a bit more about it through this column. If you have visited before, I hope to point out something new to you, as I share what’s currently happening in the Albany Pine Bush Preserve.
As I write this, it has yet to be seen what kind of winter we will have here in the Capital Region. Will we have a relatively snowless winter similar to the last one or will the snow continue to pile up as time passes? What is your prediction?
In any case, we can sense the change in seasons. As I write this, it is cold and snow blankets the sand dunes. Yet there is still life in the Albany Pine Bush in the wintertime.
In fact, winter is the best time of year to hear owls calling. It is during the winter months that owls call to find mates and set down territories.
If you are outside in the evening hours, you might hear the barred owl calling, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all”?
Owls aren’t the only ones making noise on winter nights in the Pine Bush. You might hear coyotes calling out as well.
If going outside in the evening doesn’t appeal to you, keep your eyes peeled during the day for signs of some of these animals that are active at night. Winter is a great time to look for tracks and scat (that is, animal droppings) in the fresh snow. You might see signs of fox, coyote, or even fisher.
Daytime can also be full of life if you look and listen. Though some birds leave for the winter, migrating to warmer climates in search of food, there are many birds that stick around. You may see a flash of red as a cardinal flies past or see chickadees darting back and forth along the trail.
If you look very closely at branches along the trail, you might even see the chew marks of a deer having a snack.
When we actually get a nice big layer of snow, you might be surprised at the amount of life that can be found underneath it. The area between the top layer of snow and the surface of the ground is known as the subnivean zone. Once this layer reaches at least six inches deep, it can serve as an insulating blanket keeping the subnivean zone at a steady temperature around 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
Mice, voles, and other small mammals use this zone as a snowy home. Even some birds and insects seek shelter in the subnivean zone. The snow offers protection not only from the elements but also from predators.
Animals tunneling through the snow can find food like grasses, seeds, fungus, and bacteria on the surface of the ground. Here in the Pine Bush, a deep layer of snow protects the eggs of the endangered Karner blue butterfly from harsh fluctuations in temperature so that they will be ready to hatch in the spring.
There is a lot to explore even in winter. Don’t let the colder temperatures keep you inside.
If there is snow on the ground, strap on some snowshoes or cross-country skis. Be sure to dress appropriately for the weather and wear good sturdy footwear and then come on out and discover the Pine Bush in winter.
If you want more information about the Albany Pine Bush Preserve or the programs we are offering this winter, feel free to check the website: www.AlbanyPineBush.org, give the Commission a call at 456-0655, or stop into the Discovery Center at 195 New Karner Road in Albany.