Well, I live in a temperate zone where we seldom have deep frost and, only very rarely, snow. So, in riparian areas, it is pretty common to see salamanders in wet areas or newts floating in still ponds. Winter rains bring them out more and by late winter/early spring, you may see them on the move, looking for their breeding spot.
Ambystomatid salamanders. Most species breed in the winter and are virtually impossible to find most other times of the year. They can be found in the hundreds when their breeding migrations happen. Here in the eastern US I’ve found species such as spotted, Jefferson, and tiger salamanders. In the northwest there are long-toed and northwestern salamanders.
I can’t say I have any specific organisms that I prefer to focus on during the winter, but I am especially interested in winter botany as a whole, as many people who are adept at identifying plants by their leaves can’t even identify two common trees by their bark, buds, or form during the winter, let alone identify the stubble of herbaceous plants. Though it isn’t my main pursuit during the winter months, I especially enjoy trying to identify various tall herbaceous plants simply by their dead stems, though if there is no snow, winter is a great time to identify evergreen ferns. Also, winter is a good time to become familiar with woody plant features other than leaves and flowers. Who ever said winter is bleak and lifeless?
You can come down into Southern California, at least the low elevation parts, where many organisms love winter because we’re in a Mediterranean climate zone. (Okay maybe travel’s not great during this pandemic…) I can’t really pick a favorite, but a lot of people are happy about the toyon berries turing red now.
Here in Winnipeg, it regularly gets to -20 C or below in midwinter. So, by now, most of the migrants are gone, although there are still some waterfowl on the Red River. It usually freezes about half a meter deep, so they will leave! So we are left with the ‘usual suspects’ - black capped chickadees, nuthatches, crows, blue jays and downy/hairy woodpeckers. Foxes and deer too, but they are more elusive. My favourite of them would have to be the Black Capped Chickadee. So small, always flitting around, calling - they add something to a midwinter walk. I’ve taken pictures of them at -30 C, and it’s rather cold on the hands. I really don’t know how those small birds make it through!
The options are somewhat limited when the temps stay below -15 for extended periods of time, there’s a foot of snow on the ground, and every water body is frozen solid. The winter birds, mostly various finches that we don’t get to see in the summer, make for a nice change.
Lichens on rocks and trees are interesting.
Mostly, though, what I get is insects and arachnids in the house. Cellar spiders, sac spiders, running crab spiders, pseudoscorpions are all welcome roommates. Cluster flies, asian lady beetles and leaf-footed bugs are somewhat less welcome. One year I found a firefly larva in a closet. What an amazing beast. Last winter, there were at least 3 Isabella tiger moth cats that would start wandering the porch if the temps got warm enough.
And then winter is also a good time to submit those photos taken in summer that just never got uploaded.
When I still lived in a country with a snowy winter season, I loved to specifically go out when there was snow and look for spiders and insects on ice and snow. It´s amazing how much live one can find out there, if the conditions are right.
I suggest you have a look to this project to see, what can be found: https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/arthropods-on-snow
I live near the Gulf of Mexico so it doesn’t get very cold in the winter here. We get a whole lot of birds from up north spending the winter here. I really like all the different waterfowl and sparrows. And the kinglets! They are so cute. And seeing a massive group of white pelicans, cormorants, robins, or yellow-rumped warblers (aka butter butts ) is always exciting.
The first time I returned to Hong Kong after I left for the USA for grad school was during the winter time. I went to the wetland park and spend a good amount of time watching the migratory and local shore birds (waders, spoonbills, ducks etc.), and that was fun. I’d like to be back to up my species tally. Certainly here in the USA my focus shifts away from insects and more towards animals like birds, and even fungi too, but I do wish I had a better camera than my iphone to record my findings.
Yes, I’ll vote for Boreus. Only one species in UK and most of Europe. Easy to spot on the snow, though I don’t understand why they are on the snow.
You can collect water beetles all winter provided you can stand the cold hands, though I don’t know of any that are only available in winter.
I have been nightlighting down at a local dock and so far, aside from a ton of shrimp, my favourite has been Bolinopsis infundibulum https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/64280868
There was a swarm of probably hundreds that night. Although technically this is still Fall.
Man winter is my favorite time around the Santa Cruz River! I love looking for White-crowned Sparrows specifically, one of my favorite bird species for sure. Other than that, I’m definitely excited to see what the new river water will attract during this winter, really hoping to add some new shorebirds to the checklist!
Definitely waterfowl. They are probably my favorite group of birds and in our area the majority migrate in the summer.
Fungi, lichens, mosses, galls, egg cases/cocoons/nests (empty), trees (wonderful for study of structure & bark when leafless), tracks (in snow or mud), late-winter flora (here…sometimes as early as January the eastern skunk cabbages begin to melt the snow).
I love anything I can see, but of course birds, the winter visitors and the residents. This year the pine siskins have been wonderful! I always love the dark-eyed juncos. Waiting to see brown creeper and some red-breasted nuthatches, but they haven’t shown themselves to me yet. I’m in the Midwest US – central Indiana.
I think flowers gone to seed are beautiful. The goldenrod and ironweed make such lovely seed inflorescences. And don’t get me started on the asters.
In Israel, the winter is the late rainy season. It’s the greenest time of the year, and the blooming time of my favourite plants, Silybum marianum, Anemone coronaria (כלנית), and Cyclamen persicum. I also love to see some Parus major.
Now that I’ve moved back to New Jersey, I’ll have to find new winter favourites.
I’ve found that winter is a great time for looking at things you couldn’t care less about during warmer months. It’s a good time for learning to ID native grasses (which retain most of their features even when dried out in winter). I’ve learned to appreciate liverworts and lichens because they grow in wet protected areas for most of the winter here, and are interesting even if easy to overlook. I’ve also found that bug collection is pretty easy during the winter, albeit a bit different than in summer. I walk around rocky areas with a petri dish in my back pocket, and my son and I turn over rocks to until we find something. We then scoop it up and take photos, which tends to be easy because cold insects don’t move much. You’ll find lots of ground beetles, pillbugs, millipedes and other things like that.
Winter can be challenging for making observations, but it’s doable! Good luck!
Thanks! I’ll do my best, though personally I find lichens and liverworts fascinating year-round (and good luck stopping me from overturning a rock or log I come across)!
I live near Lake Champlain, do you think there could be “intertidal” (a better term hasn’t occured to me) life to be found in the shallows, assuming it’s not frozen over? I was there the other day and found leeches, several types of snails, amphipods, etc, but we’ve only barely had snow so far this season.
Yes! Tidal zones hold some of the coolest creatures to discover. I’ve spent a lot of time in Upstate NY, and it’s a treasure trove of natural beauty. You should have a great time poking around Lake Champlain’s littoral (tidal) zone. Get yourself a couple small, cheap dig nets and poke around. You’ll be surprised at the number of things living around the edges of a body of water.
That does bring back memories. I had to leave the Pacific Northwest because the dark winters with only a few hours of (what passes for) daylight were just too depressing. But there were quite a few plants that I knew in winter, one of which was snowberry – the white berries stay on the bare twigs through much of the winter. What fascinates me about winter is the few insects that remain active – again in the Pacific Northwest, there is a type of stonefly that is only seen in winter, and springtails gather in the hundreds on winter rain puddles.
Maybe the Caribbean Islands don’t count as having winter, but I enjoy being down there and seeing the migratory birds on their wintering grounds – in the shade-grown cacao plantations, I see American redstarts, parula warblers, and black-and-white warblers; along the river will be the Louisiana waterthrush; and then in the mangrove forest, the northern waterthrush. As soon as spring comes to the lands up north, they all disappear from the Islands.