Your Watershed: A Winter Wonderland, Part 2

Jamilee Hoffman
Feb 15, 2024

Winter

We are reposting our Winter Wonderland series this winter, written by intern Dante Falasco in 2020, to once again highlight the beauty of winter in our watershed! 

Part 2 of our 3 part Winter Wonderland series

By Dante Falasco, TTF Intern

One of the few silver linings of the Covid-19 Pandemic has been the resurgence of the old pastime of going outside and taking a walk. Many families, including my own, took the opportunity the quarantine presented and reintroduced themselves to nature. Nevertheless, even with this resurgence, the cold a winter often deters people from continuing these nature outings.

Here at TTF, we believe this shouldn’t be the case! The Philadelphia region and TTF watershed are filled with an abundance of wildlife and beauty that is unmatched by most metropolitan areas across the country. This winter, we want to encourage the local community to get out and (safely) explore by highlighting some of the areas best wildlife features during these months of the year. 

Here are some useful tips from our friends at the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy on How to Adapt Trail Activities and Gear for Cold and Winter Conditions.

While researching, we once again contacted Navin Sasikumar. However, this time we asked him about what types of wildlife, other than birds, can be seen during the winter. Navin is a software engineer who’s an amateur urban naturalist in his spare time. Initially a strict birder, he now spends most of his weekends in Philadelphia’s parks observing all kinds of new species and recording his findings in iNaturalist

Similarly to the birds of the area, most people assume that the cold temperatures force most animals south or into hibernation. However, this could not be further from the truth, as the insect, mammal and reptile classes are alive and well during the winter months!

While not the most appealing, arthropods (invertebrate animals that have exoskeletons) can be seen if you look close enough. A large portion of the spider population does indeed hibernate but there are some, like the Hacklemesh Weavers, that are active. These mahogany brown spiders are very unique because the males die after mating in the fall, which means that only females survive into the winter. They seek out damp areas, such as under leaves, but can often be found in moist basements. Other insects like millipedes and centipedes can also be found in similar moist, leaf-covered areas.

The Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis) by AMelck on Flickr

Of all the insects that can be seen, perhaps the most surprising are the butterflies. Yet again, most people assume that they migrate south along with the birds. While some certainly do, that is not the case for the Eastern Comma, Question Mark and Mourning CloakThese species overwinter as adults in the area, meaning they hibernate in nooks and crannies when the temperatures drop. However, when the sun decides to emerge, so do these butterflies. On those rare occasions they can be spotted near trees with sap and (rather disgustingly), animal dung.

Similar to the butterflies, Eastern Garter Snakes also hibernate during the winter, but emerge from their dens when the temperature occasionally rises. If you do happen across one of their dens, you may be able to spot multiple snakes, as they tend to burrow in large groups.

There are a fair number of mammals and reptiles that tough out the cold as well. This includes the unofficial Pennsylvania state animal, the White-Tailed Deer.

It is estimated that there are over 1.5 million deer in the state, which is about 30 deer per square mile. Knowing this, a lot of the time you don’t even have to look for them, they will just be there! However, if you do have trouble spotting one, wooded areas are always the best place to start.

All of these animals can be seen in most of our local parks including Wissahickon Creek, Tacony Creek Park, along the Tookany and Jenkintown Creeks, Pennypack Park and John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge.

During these winter months, we want you to see these parks and animals for yourself!

So from us at TTF, get out and (safely) explore the TTF Watershed and your local parks this Holiday season! Please post and tag us on social media…and post and view your sightings in iNaturalist, and of course in our TTF TTF Watershed Wildlife Project if you’re in the TTF.

Thank you, Navin!!!

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