Weekly Walk 14

The thermometer read 22°F when we left the house that afternoon, up from 4°F when my spouse biked away to work that morning.

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This hike, two weeks after the winter solstice, was our first hike of 2016, our first hike from the trailhead by the paved parking area (because I’m not interested in getting my VW stuck in the icy unpaved lot), and our first hike over snow since starting our Weekly Walks.

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Last week we got an inch or two of sleety snow followed by freezing rain, so while the conditions weren’t right to inaugurate our snowshoes, it did make for a more wintery hike than we’re used to.

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We loved seeing all of the patterns in the ice on the creek and on the river.

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My son loved breaking the ice on both.

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Our most exciting discovery happened at the river bank. For months we’ve noticed holes in the dirt a few feet back from the water’s edge. My daughter noticed that sometimes they’re filled with water, so we’d pretty much discounted them as critter dwellings. But this week while we were looking through the glassy ice into the clear water of the river, we saw a little furry something swim slinkily from the bank. It was a muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus), and it was swimming toward the middle of the river, churning up a cloud of silt as it went!

I pulled my camera out of the pocket in which I was warming it, but only got the path of the silt cloud, not the muskrat itself. (That cloudy area to the bottom right is near where it emerged from the riverbank.)

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Then we looked to our right and saw another, slightly smaller muskrat that appeared to be digging through the leaf debris at the bottom of the river. I took a photo in her direction. I’m confident she’s in this photo, but mostly you can just see the silt cloud and not much of that (the silt cloud is towards the upper center of the photo and the muskrat is, presumably, just south of the cloud. Sometimes I think I can see her; other times, not so much. Zooming in is no help).

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I’m going to need to get faster if I’m going to catch photos of the wildlife this winter, it seems. I’m also going to have to figure out a solution to keep my camera warm. The battery doesn’t seem to like the cold, and although it was fully charged, it would tolerate only a couple of photos before it started telling me the battery was nearly dead. Then I would slip it back into my coat to warm it up and buy myself a few more photographs.

Is there something special that winter photographers use to keep their cameras happy? Or maybe their much awesomer cameras are more cold tolerant than mine. I’m going to have to do some research because it’s likely to get a fair bit colder than 22°F before the crocuses come up in a few months.

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After the muskrats, we noticed just how low the sun was getting, so we high-tailed it back to the trailhead, warmed by our brush with aquatic mammals and stepping carefully to avoid slipping and sliding on the icy ground.

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