Nature Notes

Vol. XI November 1933 No. 9

Preparations for Winter

William Cullen Bryant called them the "melancholy days" but even though such a designation be correct - and it is doubtful is such a term could be applied to "the mountain" at this colorful time of the year - this season is an exceedingly busy one. Man and beast is rushing final preparation for the winter. Buildings in the high regions of the park, such as Paradise and Yakima Parks, are boarded up so as to protect the windows from the snow. Cabins and buildings of lighter construction have been braced from within; wood is piled high in woodsheds; snow equipment has been overhauled, checked and made ready for use -- everything is being put in readiness. Like wise the birds and mammals of Mt. Rainier Nat'l Park are making or have made preparations. Many of the birds have, some time ago, gone south. Others are flocking together in anticipation of their journey to more favorable regions. A large flock of Waxwings was seen in Yakima Park, resting for a moment upon the branches of a number of fire killed trees, late in September. While measuring the recession of Paradise Glacier a band of Pipits was noted on the glacier feeding upon the insects that had been blown upon the surface of the snow. They were quite unafraid and we were able to approach very close to them without exciting any alarm among them. Some of the birds remain with us throughout the winter and this small band is a hardy one. Nutcrackers may be seen at Paradise throughout the winter and on one occasion, while on a winter patrol with some of the rangers, we encountered several Camp Robbers in Sunset Park on the west side of "the mountain". These birds were the only sign of life that we saw for three days - in startling contrast to the silent, snowy woods and alpine meadows that we traversed.

bird in flight

Bear make the most of the abundant huckleberries that ripen during the late summer and early fall and then they generally take to picking up a few morsels from the garbage cans around habitations previous to their period of hibernation which generally starts here about early December. The Marmot, whose shrill whistle adds so much interest to a hike in the hudsonian region on "the mountain" has already turned in for the winter. He had eaten himself fat to a point that made it hard for him to waddle about over the rocky nature of his abode. At that time it is not uncommon to find predatory hawks in the vicinity of talus slopes frequented by marmots. No doubt they manage to pick off a young animal, sluggish with fat, that has not as yet had the experience of protecting himself from such raids at this season. Cony have spent the summer cutting, gathering and drying herbacious vegetation. Now they are busy completing their activity of storing the results of their labors beneath the talus slopes in some easily accessible nook. The cony does not hibernate. Neither does the Douglas Squirrel and a hike along the wooded trails at this season will oftentimes startle one as numerous heavy cones of the Amabalis and Noble Firs come plunking to the earth from the top branches of these tall trees. To be hit upon the head with one of these would be anything but a pleasant sensation. The Douglas Squirrel stores these away for winter use.

Nature has provided some of our animals with a change of coat. The Snowshoe Rabbit or Varying Hare, brown in summer, will soon be in the process of changing color and later will be as white as the snow over which he will travel so advantageously on his natural "snow shoes" - large hairy pads on his hind feet. The Ptarmigan, most interesting bird of the high country, has already begun to change from its summer plumage to that of winter. It, too, will be white and in that manner will be protected from many of its enemies for against a background of snow it is almost invisible to anything but the most observing animal. Some animals exhibit little fear of winter and we find the Mountain Goat complacently enjoying their high mountain retreat at this time - unmindful of the sharp winds and early snow flurries. They will remain there until driven to lower elevations by drifts through which they find it almost impossible to penetrate. Then they generally seek out equally hazardous situations on rocky cliffs where scant vegetation is not snow covered due to high winds and precipitous slopes.

And so these are busy days here - days of hurried preparation for winter or of calm resignation in the face of what has to be.

evergreen cone and needles

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