December is a Busy Time for Many Animals

December, it has been said, is the “evening” of the year, when the landscape settles down to rest and the nights grow long and cold.

Countless creatures and plants enter into deep slumbers to wait out the winter. Turtles and frogs snooze in the mud of their ponds and streams. Snakes and salamanders hole up under rocks, dead logs and other havens from the cold. Untold numbers of insect eggs, bulbs and seeds already are hidden away, sleeping undisturbed in the ground or rotting logs, biding their time until warm weather returns.

Nevertheless, there is much astir to keep a Georgia nature lover happy in December, such as:

—The first round of more than 25 Christmas Bird Counts begins across Georgia in two weeks and continues into early January. For a complete lineup, visit the Georgia Ornithological Society at www.gos.org.

—Great horned owls and barred owls begin courting. Listen for their distinctive hoots in the woods and perhaps from your backyards. The barred owl’s call goes something like: “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?” The great horned’s call is a deep “hoo-hoo hoooooo hoo-hoo.”

—Bald eagles have started nesting; some may have eaglets by Christmas Day.

—Endangered right whales, Georgia’s official marine mammals, are showing up in their calving grounds in the state’s coastal waters. Several (it is hoped) will give birth to calves over the next several weeks.

—December and January are the best times for watching waterfowl on Georgia’s lakes, rivers, marshes and swamps. Several waterfowl species — loons, grebes and more than 20 duck species — migrate from up north to Georgia for the winter. In metro Atlanta, the treatment ponds at the E.L. Huie Land Application Treatment Facility in Clayton County are great places to see a variety of ducks.

—From now until March is “evergreen time.” The dominant colors of the woods now are the varied green hues of those trees, vines, shrubs and ferns that do not lose their leaves or needles.

—Opossums start to breed this month and will continue to do so through midsummer. In a couple of weeks, gray foxes, bobcats and raccoons will begin their breeding seasons.

—Winter hummingbirds — including rufous, calliope and black-chinned hummingbirds — are showing up at some feeders in the state.

IN THE SKY: The moon will be last quarter on Thursday, said David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer. Mercury is low in the east just before sunrise. Venus rises out of the east about two hours before sunrise. Mars is low in the southwest just after dark and sets in the west a few hours later. Jupiter rises out of the east about midnight. Saturn rises out of the east about three hours before dawn.

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