The hiking trails at Schlitz Audubon allow visitors to experience diverse Wisconsin animal and plant life when you explore winter at the Center. They provide the perfect place to ponder the amazing adaptations and survival techniques our wild neighbors possess during the winter months.
Winter Wildlife at the Center
Ponds such as Turtle Pond, Mystery Lake, or Mink Pond can be a wonderful place to look for signs of life, especially during milder conditions. While turtles and frogs retreat underwater to brumate, mink and muskrats remain mostly active. Mink are members of the weasel family, and we have seen signs of them every winter for years. Mink are fierce predators that help to naturally control small mammal populations, which is important for ecological balance. These mostly nocturnal animals stay active all winter hunting, and we can see their one inch long, five-toed tracks on our boardwalks or near water in the morning.
Viewing Lake Michigan in the wintertime is an incredible experience. Travel down to our shoreline to view ice canos and all the intricate ice formations. You may also wonder about the waterfowl you see in the distance and the adaptations that help them. Many waterfowl survive the frigid water thanks to counter-current blood flow through their legs underneath the water’s surface.
Observing Winter Trees
As you hike through deciduous and coniferous forests, observe how the trees appear in winter. Notice patterns of the bark, if the tree has opposite or alternate branching, which birds are using them, and if any animals are using the holes (called cavities) as a winter retreat. See how different the trees are compared to other seasons.
If you’d like to learn more about winter trees and other seasonal happenings at Schlitz Audubon, visit the Center on Sundays from 12:00pm to 3:00pm. Often a Nature Ambassador will be leading a hike and will answer questions about the natural phenomena that interest you.
Dressing for a Winter Hike
The best way to enjoy all our trails is to dress for the weather. Dressing in layers is important and not only allows you to adjust your comfort based on your activity, but the air between the layers acts as insulation. Experts recommend a minimum of three layers for cold weather: A base, middle, and outer layer. It is important to avoid materials made from cotton, as it absorbs instead of wicking moisture.
On icy days, we recommend using Yaktrax, available in our Nature Store, for traversing the trails and the shores of Lake Michigan. If you’re looking for an exhilarating way to hike our wintery landscape, snowshoes are available in our Visitor Center on a first come, first served basis when there is at least three inches of snow. They are free for members, $10 for non-members.
After your hike, we invite you to warm up in the Great Hall. Watch our bird feeders to see who stops by to refuel, or check the bird chart directly across the bird feeder to see what birds have been sighted on our property. It’s also a good time to visit Emerson, our resident snapping turtle. Visit Schlitz Audubon this season to enjoy the wonders of winter!