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Seven things that bone collectors can do over winter


I was reading Julia's bone collecting blog about a month ago when she wrote about how winter makes it difficult for bone collectors to find bones. Where I live the winters can quite be bad. When it does snow the snow covers up the bones, its difficult to drive up to the hills, and stalking animals at close range is harder because of the crunch of the snow. Dad and I were exploring a new wood earlier in the week and even in the middle of the day it almost pitch black in the wood. Small patches of snow had fallen through here and there making it look like bones, and we both fell in a stream we couldn't see because of a snowdrift.

That started me thinking about what things bone collectors can do over the winter months. Here are my seven ideas.....

1. Visit a museum

Museums sound boring. They are really not. I have never been to a bad museum, and some museums, like the Kelvingrove Art Gallery (in the picture above) that I went to just after Christmas I have been to loads of times and keep noticing new things.

Museums are especially good if you have problems working out how bones articulate or how animals stand and there is always something pretty amazing to look at. Pretty much every museum I have been to in Scotland has the Irish elk skeleton (the black one in the middle) and I think it must be the law that they have to have one.

The one thing I really, really wanted to look at in Kelvingrove was a dog or fox skeleton to check a detail on the radius and ulna, but when I found it the sign had fallen over the skeleton !

 2. Rearticulate a skeleton

This has been my Big Project over Christmas. I started putting Vulpy my fox skeleton back together on the 22nd December and I am about three quarters of the way through. It is difficult but fun. You learn a lot about the tiny details on bones, and how they all connect, but it is very slow work because I have to do it when my baby brothers are in bed so they don't interfere. Ben Garrod of Ben's Bones has given me tons of help - thanks Ben !

3. Feed the birds in the garden

Birds need food all year round, but especially in winter when I can see species that I don't normally see come to feed at the bird table. In the 2010/2011 winter I blogged about seeing yellowhammers,  bramblings, tree sparrows and dunnocks, and this winter I've seen a load of long-tailed tits (in the picture above) and the goldfinches (below) visit daily now I put out nyger seed. 

I put out normal seed, peanuts (in a wire feeder so birds don't choke), fat balls, nyger seed, sometimes suet pellets, and warm drinking water when it is icy.

4. Explore different woods

When it gets snowy, we can't drive to the seven or eight woods I explore mostly, so I have to find new places lower down which are sheltered and below the snow line. This one in the picture was a great find. It was a quarry where old millstones were made hundreds of years ago. It has great cliffs, some of the trees on tops of the cliffs grow out weirdly and horizontally, and there are other good unexplored woods nearby.

5. Set up a hide

Last year I started carrying a basic hide which I can pop up  if I want to, and it's quite well camouflaged. I tried it out before Christmas and it works well and only takes five minutes to setup if you have trees and a couple of fallen branches nearby. It's useful if you want to stay hidden for a while, although deer may still be able to smell you. Dad spotted the goldcrest below when he was hidden while he took a break on a walk near the Secret Lake.

6. Track animals

Snow makes it easy to see what animals live in the woods. Normally it's almost impossible to tell if a deer or a fox has passed by previously unless you spot droppings or slots in mud, but with snow you can see where they were, whether they were running and whether they had youngsters with them. The paw mark above is a fox (you can tell because the front two toes aren't next to the main pad at the back, unlike a dog) and I wrote a guide to tracking footprints in snow this time last year.

The markings below are easy to miss but they show deer rubbing away snow to find food or to sit down. This shows that roe deer lived in this wood, even though I didn't see any that day.

7. Look for seasonal visitors

In winter in Scotland we lose our ospreys (who go to Africa) and hedgehogs (who hibernate) but we get beautiful waxwings (above) coming through from Scandinavia and the pink-footed geese I wrote about in September which come from Iceland. It is a great chance to see different birds from other countries.

Winter might be cold and dark, but there is a lot to do before spring when you can go out to look for bodies of animals that died over the winter !

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Julia said...

Hey Jake- thanks so much for all the ideas! I do love going to museums! I live near Chicago which has a lot of museums, especially the field museum with A LOT of bones :) I am working on putting skeletons together, and just examining the bones as well.

Jake McGowan-Lowe said...

Hi Julia ! What are you putting together at the moment ?

Julia said...

Well there is a medium sized bird that hit my window and died in September and right now he/shes doing well in the ground! At school my friend and I are giving a presentation on bones so I'm getting that ready :) That fox skeleton that you put together is very very good!

Jake said...

Thanks ! How did the presentation go ?

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