January has found us either huddling for warmth, hot drink in hand, or hatless, coat open, breathing in the brisk air of near freezing. The swings in temperature are bewildering, leaving us to guess how many layers to put on. So how does all this really cold weather affect nature?
For the most part, it doesn't. It is all just part of life. Under the snow the ground is warmer, insulated by the very thing that makes the air feel that much colder. So, all those that live underground don't even notice the coldest temps, unless they stick out a furry snout to see what is happening. or those above the snow, they just eat more calories to keep warm. If they cannot find food, they don't make it and so become food for another critter, just trying to stay alive. Nature plans for the winter losses with the birth of many young who will never grow up to adulthood.
Now we like to hope, here in the frozen tundra, that the cold helps keep some undesirables away. But even the coldest temps have little to no effect on the pests of summer. Mosquitos winter as larvae. In unfrozen water, they just go on with their days. If the water freezes solid, so do they, but many can survive that. So no hope of less pests!
So what does a naturalist do when the weather is that cold? Well, this naturalist still walks twice a day. Many layers, face covered, perhaps not as far, but still out there. Some days it is worth it, for the sight of a hawk, tracks to follow in the snow. Other days it just isn't as much fun. So I have found other ways to keep learning.
All those photos I took last summer give me a trip back in time. As I scroll through them, I remember where I saw that plant, how excited I was to see it. Now is the time to take closer looks at those that escaped identification. Some I did ID at the time, but the name now escapes me. Books of flowers surround the computer, notes scattered. Hours spent in a forest glade, a swamp, along a brook. All rushing back at a glance at my computer screen. It isn't the same as being there, but it helps.