February 11 Hike at Baird Creek

            This is the first of what will be weekly reports of my ambles at Baird Creek.  This has been a beautiful winter for walks at Baird Creek, but the trail conditions have been challenging more often than not.  The warmer winter in the Green Bay area has resulted in melting conditions during the day, freezing at night, which creates glare ice conditions.

If you are going to hike safely on the trails when they are icy you will need to purchase traction/ice cleats.  The best known brand for these cleats is Yaktrax.  I go through at least two pair every winter.  I have tried the cheaper ones and the more expensive ones and they seem to wear out at about the same pace.  The most important thing is to find a pair that you can get on your boots fairly easily, and will stay on.  I have modified the toe attachment with an S hook on the pair I am currently using to keep them on.  Fleet Farm carries a wide variety of them.

Every hike at Baird Creek is beautiful, but yesterday’s hike on February 10th was the most beautiful of the winter.  We had 8-10 inches of snow the day before, and with the blue skies it was spectacular.  The snow was shining like diamonds, and the birds seemed as excited about the beauty as I was.  I heard cardinals, chickadees, nuthatches, bluejays, and red bellied, downy and hairy woodpeckers calling.

In the days after a snowstorm the wildlife tracks are very interesting.  My favorites are the voles.  Look for a set of hopping tracks ending in a small hole.  Because pretty much every predator likes to eat voles they spend as little time as possible on top of the snow.  You’ll usually be able to find the hole at both ends of their tracks.  They spend most of the winter in what is called the subnivean zone, the layer between the snow and the frozen ground.  This zone is not only warmer because of the insulation of the snow, but they are also safer from sight feeders.  However, many predators can still locate them by smell or sound.

Gray squirrels probably lay down the most tracks, usually from tree to tree, and you can see where they have excavated the nuts they buried in the fall.  If you see a large area that looks like the snow has been raked away, that is the work of either deer or turkeys.  They scratch the snow away to find acorns.  If you are interested in learning to identify animal tracks I recommend the field guide Animal Tracks of the Great Lakes by Ian Sheldon.

Today, February 11, I saw my first winter wren.  The winter wren is a tiny sprite of a bird, the house wren looks downright robust by comparison.  The winter wren is darker, and carries its tail more erect than the house wren.  This one was along the tributary that flows into the South Branch of Baird Creek, just a few yards upstream of the junction of the South and North Branches.  I almost always see winter wrens within a few yards of open water.  Another good place to see them is in the cattail marsh beside the boardwalk of the paved trail.  The white cedars on the other side of the boardwalk are also an excellent place to see robins during the winter.

If you have observations you would like to include in this weekly report email me at chkafrisk@yahoo.com