Hidden Pond Nature Center

Fairfax County, Virginia

CONTACT INFORMATION: The Nature Center is open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed on Tuesdays) and from noon to 5 p.m. on weekends.

703-451-9588
TTY 711

8511 Greeley Blvd.
Springfield, Virginia

Mike McCaffrey,
Manager

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Hidden Pond Almanac

Natural events, happenings, and fearless predictions based upon 40 years of observations at Hidden Pond.  Your observations may vary. Hidden Pond is not responsible for errors, erratic behavior or other whims of nature.

--In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks. John Muir

DECEMBER

First Week

Wind whistling through bare treetops sounds different than in summer; it sounds cold. Rising in the east after sunset is the great constellation of Orion the Hunter. His bright orange upper-left star is Betelgeuse, a giant star 700 times larger than our own sun, and the bright white lower-right star is Rigel. Orion’s belt points down to the left to Sirius, the brightest star in the sky. Planet Venus is very bright low in the west after sunset. Leafless trees and shrubs reveal the bird nests of the past summer. Barred owls hoot at each other in courtship; though she is larger than he, his voice is lower. Carolina chickadees, nuthatches, brown creepers, wrens, and other birds carefully inspect the bark of trees, under which hide dormant spiders, insects, and their eggs.

Second Week 

Amphibians and reptiles hibernate under rocks and logs or in mud at the bottom of a pond. They have glucose antifreeze in their blood that prevents tissue damage even if they are frozen solid. Spring flowering trees and shrubs have their buds ready for next spring, so now is not the time to prune them. Notice the green clumps of mistletoe in the tops of some maples and oaks. A semi-parasite, mistletoe carries on photosynthesis to make food but obtains water and nutrients through the bark of the host tree. Maybe we will have snow this winter. If you find squirrel tracks that appear to start from nowhere, they may be those of a flying squirrel, which are not uncommon.

Third Week

December 21 is winter solstice, “the darkest evening of the year,” just 9 hours and 27 minutes of sun for us at this latitude. On this day, the sun rises in the southeast, climbs to only 28° above the southern horizon at noon (therefore it always seems to be shining into our eyes during the day), and sets in the southwest. Observers at the South Pole see the sun circle them staying 23½ degrees above the horizon. Now the days will once again begin to get longer; a time to celebrate! Here, the oblique rays of the sun illuminate the woods from a low angle, and late on warmish clear afternoons we may see shiny spider silk threads and other small floating and flying things catching the sun’s slanted beams. Full moon December 18. The moon passes very high overhead due to the plane of its orbit and the tilt of the earth’s axis.

Fourth Week

Most wildlife must now rely almost exclusively on stored fat and the seeds, berries, nuts, and dormant insects found in natural habitats. Keep bird baths clean and full. The birds need water year-round. A blanket of snow is welcomed by the mice and voles of the forest floor, insulating their burrows and them from predators and the cold air. The snow makes things tougher for foxes and owls who must now hunt solely by listening for animal activity. The coming days will be colder, but the sun’s time in our sky begins to increase, reminding us that spring will surely come.

Fairfax Virtual Assistant