A bird’s nest perched at the top of a leafless deciduous tree is revealed to all in winter, giving us a chance to enjoy a secret hidden the rest of the year.
I love examining barren trees. Not only can you see old birds and squirrel nests, you can readily see birds. Nuthatches, titmice and juncos are easy to spot as they scale a trunk or flit among branches.
Barren trees also reveal hornet nests and small holes drilled by sapsuckers or larger holes where woodpeckers or owls have made homes.
Leafless trees are impressive. You can appreciate the intricate branches near the crown, the muscular nature of the trunk and the color and texture of bark.
Sycamores and birch shine white, while beech trees sport light gray. Mulberry and catalpa trees display deep cuts in their thick skins.
A few leaves hang on throughout the winter, refusing to let go until they are pushed off in the spring. There’s a word for this: marcescence. It is most obvious in oaks, beech and hornbeam, though I’ve seen some maples hang on to leaves all winter.
In winter you can also see trees that have already prepared for new life, setting buds that will flower or leaf out when the sun signals them to.
And if you see cherry trees blooming, don’t be alarmed. Autumnalis is a species designed to set delicate blossoms in the late fall and early winter, as well as more profuse blossoms in spring.
Careful observers will find freeloading plants high in trees, including the spherical clumps of mistletoe that blend in among summer green.
A parasitic plant, mistletoe was once considered a pest, but it is a keystone species, important to a variety of birds for food.
Trees covered in ivy, however, are at risk. These creeping invaders steal water and nutrients from the tree and can hold moisture next to the bark, allowing rot to set in.
If you have a tree overgrown with ivy, carefully cut it at the base and gently dig out the roots if you can. Do not rip vines from a tree. That will peel off the bark, making the tree more vulnerable to rot and insects.
Sadly, “naked” trees also reveal mistreatment. Trees that have been topped, that is whacked off across the crown, look all the more pitiful. The numerous tiny sprouting branches are weak and break easily. Topping shortens the life of trees. Winter makes clear where this has occurred.
While the deciduous trees are dormant, we have the chance to appreciate evergreens more: the silvery green of white pines, the blue green of spruce and the waxy green of magnolia and holly.
What’s more beautiful than cedars and firs covered in snow with a cardinal perched on a branch for good measure?
Winter hiking provides a special treat, allowing you to glimpse views from trails that are otherwise green tunnels.
Take time to enjoy the beauty of trees, even in the middle of winter.