As I walked through the woods across from Pinkham Notch, awed by the beautiful colors surrounding me, I saw a chipmunk scamper past. Its cheeks puffed out with nuts and berries, creating a cache for the approaching winter season. Rodents, like beavers, chipmunks, squirrels, will stash food close to their winter homes so that they will not have to travel far to eat. It dawned on me that every living thing in the White Mountains is preparing for the changing seasons. When I really think about the processes that nature is undergoing right now, it comes down to conserving energy.
(Sugar Maple Leaf Photo Credit: Meg Miles/ AMC File)
The trees have stopped producing chlorophyll, so their leaves will eventually fall off, and the tree will not have to expend nutrients to keep them living. Many birds have begun to migrate and animals are fattening up in order to hibernate or be dormant through winter, because it would take too much energy for them to be active during those months.
For those animals that will stay active during winter, they are preparing in a different way, but still mindful of conserving energy through the cold, winter months. Most animals, even domesticated ones, grow a thicker coat of fur to help them stay insulated. The fox will use its bushy tail to keep its nose warm when curled up sleeping.
(Red Fox Photo Credit: AMC File)
The lynx already has big paws that act like snowshoes to aid in hunting, but its fur will become denser on its paws to keep them warm while traveling on snow.
And then there is New Hampshire's largest mammal, the moose. Since spring, bull moose have been growing antlers. The healthier the moose, the more energy he will expend to create
(Moose Antler Shed Photo Credit: Meg Miles/ AMC file)
a big rack, so he appears a better mate to the female moose. The antlers are covered in soft velvet, which are blood vessels that carry blood to the antlers and deposit calcium. When fall approaches, moose start to prepare for the energy needed to survive the winter, they no longer grow antlers and the velvet dries up and begins to itch. You can see moose scratching their antlers on trees trying to free them of the velvet. They will loose their antlers from December to March. Older moose, needing to conserve energy more, will often drop their antlers first. If you are walking in the woods and happen upon some antlers, however tempting it is to take them home, please leave them where they lay. The calcium that they are made from is quickly devoured by the rodents living in the forests, keeping them energized through winter.
Upon my return from the woods, I am filled with wonder at how nature is preparing while the seasons are changing. There are many things occurring in the woods to signal that summer is over. Plants and animals are planning ahead, realizing that their stores of energy are precious and must be conserved through the winter if they are to survive. Stop by the Pinkham Notch visitor Center on Route 16 to take a Nature Walk or Guided Hike and observe for yourself how nature is harnessing energy in the White Mountains.