Wetlands in the winter: cold, frozen, and quiet. Few are willing to brave these conditions, but those that do are highly rewarded when they venture into a local wetland. As Brian Hampson’s photo shows in this Photo of the Month, wetlands in the winter present an exceptional environment to experience. While many of the oft-associated wetland birds – such as ducks and geese – have departed for warmer climates, most of flora and earthbound animals remain.
That raises the interesting question: How do these inhabitants survive the cold winter climate? The answer, surprisingly, is quite simple. Think about your time playing in the snow as a child. Did you ever build and venture into an igloo? Snow is an excellent insulator, capable of retaining heat and providing hospitable homes for animals. The physics are relatively straightforward to understand: snow is comprised of a high percentage of trapped air amongst the snow crystals. Heat transfer is greatly reduced as the air can barely move. The result: the temperature at ground level beneath a couple metres of snow may be close to freezing temperature (0 degrees Celsius) when the air temperature is around -40 degrees Celsius! Factor in the body heat produced by animals, and a burrow in the snow can be quite a cozy home.
Of course, this does not mean you can visit a wetland in the winter and expect to find abundant life everywhere you look. It simply means that they are there, but a curious eye will be needed to spot it. Rodents and small mammals create networks of tunnels beneath the snow; turtles and some amphibians take refuge in the mud beneath the ice. If you are hoping to spot wildlife, look for some key signs: animal tracks and openings of air shafts in the snow are hints that some fauna are close by. Even if you are not fortunate enough to spot the elusive wetland inhabitants in the winter, you can be assured that – at the very least – you will see breathtaking scenery and beautiful vegetation, just as Brian Hampson’s photo shows us.
While you’re outside enjoying nature and wetlands, make sure to submit your photos to our Wetlands of British Columbia Flick group (found here) for the chance to be a 2014 Photo of the Month! We’re also on Twitter (@BCWFWetlands) and Facebook so send us your winter wetlands photos.