Favorite winter organisms?

What are your favorite taxa to observe in the winter?

I am relatively new to observing nature; I got interested in bees and started using iNat just this summer. Now that the bees aren’t out much anymore where I am, I’m in withdrawal. I’m definitely going to spend time this winter learning more about bees and giving back to the iNat community by using my new bee knowledge to help with IDs, but I want to keep observing, too. I’d especially love to find something for which, like with bees, there are good beginner ID resources. I know iNat has great filters for sorting by season, but I hope some people might be willing to also share their personal experiences and wax poetic about their favorite taxa.

My own context is the suburban/urban Pacific Northwest coast of the United States, and I have access to a camera with a basic telephoto lens. But I would love to hear anyone anywhere describe what and how they like to observe in the winter.

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Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) - no competition with that one. It is such a festive bird.

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I love observing winter birds, including passerines such as juncos, cardinals, and redpolls, but also waterfowl like ducks.

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Winter birding is a lot of fun. Around here we get an influx of extremely cute sparrows that aren’t around the rest of the year, along with sapsuckers, american goldfinches, warblers and waxwings.

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I am also a new I-nat user, but to repeat what was said above, putting up bird feeders in the winter has been very rewarding. I also love trying to find what all is still out there in the winter, looking for small bugs and spiders around the house or looking at sheltered places for small plants. Looking for tracks in the snow is very interesting as well.

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Anyone have any good organism recommendations for the Northeast? I’m going to try and maintain my iNaturalist streak, but this is the first winter where I’ll be spending the entirety of the time in the Northeastern US (I usually go back home for the holidays, thanks COVID). For context, I live in a pretty urban area (for Vermont, at least) and my landlady is not thrilled with the idea of me getting a bird feeder (for squirrel reasons).

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I live fairly near Central Park, in NYC, and the freshwater Reservoir in wintertime has a lot of different species of waterbirds that have flown south to our area, because most of the time in winter our water is still liquid, not frozen. There are also a lot of great waterbirds in the various parts of the estuary of the Hudson River.

And I can make several other suggestions. If you can find somewhere where you can roll partially decayed logs in a wild setting, even in winter you will be able to find a lot of interesting creepy-crawlies under those logs: millipedes, centipedes, spiders, woodlice, some small land snails, and so on.

And eebee, since you are apparently on, or near, the coast of the Pacific Northwest, every time there is a winter storm out at sea, all kinds of really great stuff will wash up on the beaches: mollusk shells, other invertebrates, cool seaweeds, and so on. You may find that all very exciting, as you never know what you might see! I can help you ID any shells you might find, and a lot of the other stuff too.

You can also think about searching for evidence of pests and pathogens (yes galls and leafminers and so on) on evergreen trees and bushes. One other advantage is that you can find pests and pathogens in gardens, not solely in the wild.

And quite a number of species of weeds do not die down completely in the winter, but instead overwinter as green rosettes of leaves. And those are fun to find and not hard to ID as the Computer Vision Model knows how to recognize most, if not all, of them.

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Salamanders!

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Where I live in New Mexico at a mile high, the winters are too wintry for my taste. But there are the wintering birds to focus on. I might get more into photoing conifers this year.

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I recommend going anywhere with unfrozen water. Lots of waterfowl will gather at places like these, and sometimes you can find some invertebrates still hanging on.

Try just calling the bird feeder a squirrel feeder. :grinning:

According to iNat observations my favourite organism, in winter and all-year is Hooded Crow. I won’t argue that I like this bird, though it’s not my favourite. Witer bird interactions are always the happiest ones, unless you’re lucky with mammals. I have scarce knowledge of how birds spend their time in USA, but I’d say keep an eye on raptors, they will catch prey on open fields, woodpeckers are easy to hear and stop in winter, passerines are easy to see even when you don’t have feeder - remember where you have trees with fruits or seeds, shrikes should be wintering too. Now your migration should be over, I guess, so you can already feel as in winter. You can cheack eBird and iNat records to see where to go.
This winter I’d be working on completing my year list to have it closer to 200, so I’d happy to see crossbills, esp. white-winged, pine grosbeaks if they will visit us, lots of waterfowl that I missed in the spring because of lockdown (I must see 3 merganser sp., really want to see scaups, will be glad if Moscow river will have geese this year for me), really want to find partridges.
But best advice is to observe everything you can. I spent last winter looking for insects at building walls, plus lichens and mosses.

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Snow scorpionflies in the the northern hemisphere, including the northeast! See: https://bugguide.net/node/view/12104

Also a good time to learn lichens/mosses and mammal tracks in snow (not that I’ve done those yet).

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I echo that nod to salamanders and newts @tiwane especially for the Pacific Northwest. Just looking at a newts makes me feel calm and chill.

Another great PNW nature feature may be the mushrooms. I know they are hard to ID, but still - so many fascinating forms to wonder over.

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Shelf fungi last all winter. Trametes, Stereum, Ganoderma, Fomitopsis, Fomes, etc. And crust fungi, lichens, mosses. Identifying trees/shrubs by their buds, bark, branching. If there’s a warm spell go look for scarlet cups, which grow on partially buried sticks, usually protected by leaves. Velvet foot mushrooms hide beneath loose bark.

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It requires a little bit of an investment, but a trail cam is honestly such a cool way to see mammals living around you. I am lucky enough to live out in the woods, and when I first tried out the cam, I found out that I have a fox living in an old rodent burrow. Besides that, as pretty much everyone else has said, birds are cool.

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For those of us who are old enough to have boxes of slide photos from decades gone by, there is also that tedious but (hopefully) worthwhile winter activity of scanning animal and plant images that we once thought were pretty good but which might not look so great today on the computer screen.

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No one has mentioned winterberry (Ilex verticillata) yet! These shrubs light up wetlands in eastern North America in the winter.

I also appreciate the clubmosses (Lycopodiales) and evergreen ferns like Sceptridium spp. Winter is also the perfect time to find basal leaves of puttyroot (Aplectrum hyemale).

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I have yet to actually find one in the winter, but I’d love to see an ermine in its winter coat. I think its fascinating that their fur can change with the season to aid their camouflage.

What kinds of salamanders are out in the winter (they are cold-blooded after all, so I expect it would be harder to find them)? I know that several species burrow or hibernate in the winter. Are you finding the nests where they sleep? Or do you search around in the water? I know when water nears its its freezing point, the water at the bottom of a pond is actually a few degrees warmer due to the odd temperature dependence the water density displays, which might help aquatic species remain active.

I normally do not notice as many organisms during the winter time, but I do occasionally tend to see a Mediterranean House Gecko here and there. I especially tend to see their tails poking out of sidings. If only they made “tiktiki” sounds like the geckos in Asia.