Posts Tagged ‘winter’

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D.C.’s Wintering Birds Are Right Outside Your Door

A snowy owl perched on the Washington Post building last week, causing a 15th street commotion as locals and bird-enthusiasts scrambled for a sighting. The bird sighting, though unexpected, wasn’t all that rare this year. Snowy owls have been spotted across many southern states, and scientists aren’t totally sure why — but Harry Potter fans are delighted at the influx of Hedwig look-alikes.

But if you missed the snowy owl, have no fear! Even in winter, D.C. is rich with bird species — adorable snowy owl aside. Some of the city’s most exquisite ones might even be perched on the lamppost right above you.

Next time you take a stroll through Rock Creek Park, keep an eye out for some of D.C.’s loveliest winter birds:

Tufted Titmouse 

A  little gray bird with an even littler mohawk, the Tufted Titmouse is a has big black eyes, a small rounded bill, and an echoing voice.

If you miss the mohawk (also known as a bushy crest), you’ll be able to recognize it by its black patch right above the bill, surrounded by a silvery-gray back and a white front. They like to hang around chickadees and woodpeckers, and when it comes to birdfeeders, they dominate the smaller birds.  Titmice flutter when they fly, and can be found in backyards and parks.

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

It’s probably easy to guess the defining characteristic of the yellow-rumped warbler: a stark patch of gold, smack dab on the tushie. The rest of the bird’s colors are subdued throughout winter, mostly a pale brown except for the rump. But in springtime, their molt brings an infusion of bright yellow, grey, and white to their feathers.

These warblers are larger than the songbirds mentioned above. They have a large head and a long, narrow tail. They like open woods and shrubby habitats, especially in parks and residential areas, and they whistle a sweet, even-pitched trill.

Golden Crowned Kinglet

The king of the songbirds (or perhaps, the kinglet), the Golden Crowned Kinglet is another tiny bird with a big voice. They have relatively large heads with very short, small bills, and skinny tails. You’ll spot them by their distinctive feather pattern: a bright lemon-yellow crest outlined bluntly in black, a pale olive body encasing a black-and-white striped face, and black and white wings edged in yellow.

The kinglet often keeps very high in the trees so it can be hard to find right away with the naked eye — better to listen for their thin, high-pitched song.

Hermit Thrush

The Hermit Thrush is a soft brown bird that sings a melancholy song.

You’ll be able to recognize it by its throat — with brown smudged spots that give way to soft white feathers — its chestnut head and back, and its warm reddish tail. The thrush is similar in stature to the American Robin, but slightly smaller. Its tail is fairly long, its head upright.

Hermit Thrushes hang around understories, so you don’t have to crick your neck to see it on your next bird-watching outing!

Downy Woodpecker

On the smaller side for a woodpecker, the Downy Woodpecker is the most common of its subspecies in urban areas. A black-and-white striped forager, you’ll be able to spot a male by red patch on the back of its head. Males and females alike have black wings barred in white, giving a checkered impression, and a bold white stripe down its back.

The trick here is to determine betwen the Downy Woodpecker and its larger cousin, the Hairy Woodpecker. They look extremely similar (apart from their size), but the Downy likely has more white stripes on its wings, and a thicker white band on its neck. You’ll find these small woodpeckers on tiny branches or deciduous trees, or shrubby edges in city parks, backyards and vacant lots.

White Breasted Nuthatch

The White-Breasted Nuthatch has a black or gray cap framing its white face — it kind looks like it’s wearing a hoodie. You can spot this nuthatch by its black, gray, and white streakings on its wings and back, over a stark white underbelly. It has a very short tail and a long, narrow, slightly upturned beak. While foraging, they sometimes lurk sideways, or even upside down!

This nuthatch likes deciduous trees like maple, hickory or oak, and often hangs out (sorry) in similar areas as the Titmouse: near a feeder, or in a park.

Northern Cardinal

Some say the Northern Cardinal is the most responsible for getting people to open up a field guide for the first time — a gateway bird, of sorts, as the “perfect combination of familiarity, conspicuousness, and style: a shade of red you can’t take your eyes off.” There’s no doubt about it, the cardinal is an iconic winter bird.

The male cardinal’s red makes for a beautiful contrast to the white snow, and the females also have an elegant color palette: brown accented with red. Both male’s and female’s plumage stays the same year-round, making cardinals perhaps the easiest to spot on a winter walk.


The starling is a quite possibly my favorite bird. From a distance, it looks like a plain black bird —  boring,  uneventful… and there are just so MANY of them. But with a closer look you may find that this is one of the most colorful birds in the city; in summer, streaks of iridescent purple and green scatter their plumage. In the midst of winter, their brown feathers are covered in stunning white spots.

The best part? A group of starlings is called a “murmuration,” and together, their coordinated flight patterns can make for a dazzling experience — if you’re lucky enough to catch it! (Watch this video and be blown away).


Next time you take a lunch break, or a hike in the woods, make sure to look up and see the plethora of bird life around you. Think you can spot them all? Let us know in the comments!

posted by | on , , , , , | Comments Off on Brave The Cold And Camp In Style!

I love cold-weather camping – there are less critters, the campground is less crowded, and nothing beats curling up in a warm sleeping bag after a long hike! But if you aren’t prepared, cold weather camping can be miserable and uncomfortable, and worse… dangerous!

There are tons of tricks and tips to help make winter camping more fun. Here are the 5 basic steps to camp in style, even in cold weather:

1. Insulation.

In cold (and often wet) weather – insulation is key.  You need many layers for both yourself as well as your campsite.

First, dress in a wicking base layer like smart wool or polyester blends – keep that cotton long sleeved shirt at home! You want something that wicks the sweat away from you, and cotton actually captures moisture and keeps it next to your skin. You will still sweat in the cold weather, and when sweat cools your body temperature plummets.

Next, wear a mid-weight middle layer like a wool sweater or a puffy fleece hoodie, and finally wear a waterproof jacket as an outer layer.  And be sure to wear a hat – even when you are sleeping.  Much of your body heat escapes through your head – so grab a beanie and smoosh it on that noggin!

For your campsite, you will need a tarp or a footprint between your tent and the ground. It keeps the moisture from the ground from getting into your tent, and it adds an extra layer of insulation; the more layers that you have between you and the ground, the better!

You will also want a sleeping pad (or two) that have high “R” values – meaning more insulation in the sleeping pad.  Be sure to grab a sleeping bag that’s insulated – with so many cool sleeping bag options out there, you can find one that’s rated comfy for 0 – 15 degree weather.  I always sleep with a sleeping bag liner – it’s an extra fleece bag that goes inside my sleeping bag, and it makes a world of difference in the winter!

Layers are good for your sleeping clothes as well – I usually go to bed wearing all of my camping clothes and I start shedding layers as my body heat warms up my bag.  And as an extra jolt of warmth on a cold day, I carry multiple packets of hand warmers with me whenever I camp, and I use them liberally. Handwarmers can last up to 8 hours and they help make a cold night more enjoyable!

2.  Hydration.

You might not realize it, but you will need to drink more water in the cold than in warmer weather.  You will still sweat and lose moisture (and heat) throughout the day – and your body uses water to help regulate your internal temperature.  Store your water bottles in the bottom of your sleeping bag while you sleep so that they don’t freeze overnight, and be sure to drink plenty of water.  Hot tea, soup, and coffee also helps keep you warm, but alcohol doesn’t.

3.  Food.

If there was ever a time to eat a candy bar – cold weather camping is it!  Your body will burn more calories keeping you warm, so by eating small meals frequently throughout the day, you will keep your metabolism up and your internal furnace blazing.  Enjoy a couple of cookies and a hot mug of herbal tea or decaf coffee before you go to bed – the extra calories will warm you up and give you energy to keep you heated throughout the night.

4.  Be sure to pack sunscreen and sunglasses.

Though the sun might be low in the sky, you can still get sunburned.   The sunscreen also acts as a barrier between the harsh winter elements and your skin.  The sunglasses will protect your eyes from snow blindness and any strong winter winds.

And finally, the most important tip…

5. Be prepared,  have a plan and tell someone where you are going.

Bring a back up charger for your cell phone.  Take a map of the campground where you are staying.  Bring extra batteries.  Write out directions to your campsite before you head out the door – many GPS systems lose their signal in the mountains and you don’t want to get lost when then sun sets early.  Tell someone where you will be, and even show the campsite to him or her on a map if possible.  Bring a first aid kit, and always have a back-up plan – it’s OK if your plans change because of the elements – sometimes that’s half the fun of roughing it!

Want to know more?  Here are some nifty websites to get you inspired to lace up your hiking boots:

Written by Alison Alford

posted by | on , | Comments Off on Gearing up for Winter!

It seems that in the wake of Hurricane Sandy came winter.  Cold temperatures (except for the weekend’s “heat wave”) and days that get dark quickly (thank you daylight savings time) signal the beginnings of winter to me.  So this weekend, I spent some time preparing for a ‘green’ winter. Here are the winter-y things I’m forward to this season:

1. Winter Veggies.  Eating seasonal foods and veggies mean knowing what is available during the winter.  Veggies like broccoli and cauliflower last into winter, as do potatoes and yams.  I’m especially grateful that sweet potatoes last into winter – nothing says the holidays like candied sweet potatoes!

Check out this listing for more winter veggies!

2. Candles.  Candles are a great way to warm up your house without spending a fortune on heating bills.  Beeswax and vegetable oil candles are the best for the environment.  Plus, when the candle burns down, you can find a million uses for that jar.  Just stick the burnt out candle in the freezer for a day or so, pop out the wax, and wash.

Learn more about eco-friendly candles here.

3. Curling up with a good book.  There’s something about winter that makes me want to curl up under a lamp with a book and a blanket.  So I’m using this season to read up on some of my favorite mystery writers and to learn something new about environmentalism.  You can be sure I’ll be checking out our Book Club features through the winter!

4. Snow fun.  I’m certain that we are in for a snowy winter this year, so I’m preparing for all my favorite snowy activities.  There’s something wonderful about creating a snow angel in front of an apartment building!

Check out this article from the Huffington Post for some other snowy ideas for this winter!

What are some of your favorite winter activities? How do you make them ‘green’?