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Start the new year off right by resolving to spend more time in nature. Winter is a great time to be outside with unique opportunities for bird watching, stargazing, ice fishing, identifying wildlife tracks in snow, and more.
Spending time outdoors can reduce stress, boost mood, and even bolster the immune system. There’s no need to wait for springtime to enjoy these benefits and to experience natural landscapes and native wildlife here in Massachusetts. Sure the days are short and cold, but with some preparation winter can be a great time to explore the outdoors. Use this list of winter activities and cold-weather tips to enjoy the outdoors in the early months of the new year.
With a little planning, you can stay comfortable even on the coldest days. Dress in layers of fleece or wool, wear warm boots, and ensure your outer layer blocks the wind. Don’t forget a scarf or face mask. Sunglasses (or clear safety glasses if it’s overcast) can provide wind protection for your eyes. Traction for your feet, such as Microspikes, will help keep you stay upright even in icy conditions. Chemical warmer pads can help keep your hands and toes warm.
You don’t need to hike for hours to experience the physical and mental benefits of getting outdoors. Even a short walk can reconnect you with the natural world, lift your mood, and renew your sense of wonder. Start small and extend your outing if you’re warm and still having fun. Pack a few snacks and water along with coffee or hot chocolate to keep you going strong.
Some animals migrate or hibernate, but many remain active throughout the winter here in Massachusetts. Tracks left in the snow or mud can reveal where birds or small mammals have been. Click here to learn to identify common animal tracks. (Note: Snow that has melted will distort the size and shape of an animal track, so look for tracks in fresh snow or in mud.) You may also consider setting up a game camera in the area where you see interesting tracks. Less foliage means more images of wildlife and fewer pictures of leaves blowing in the wind!
For beginners, winter can be a great time to become familiar with the sights and sounds of common resident birds such as chickadees, blue jays, crows, woodpeckers, red tailed hawks, and even bald eagles. With fewer leaves, it’s easier to spot the silhouette of a hawk perched on a branch or the darting movement of smaller birds in a thicket.
Winter is also a good time to look for unusual birds. Seabirds that spend most of the year as far north as the Arctic seek out the Massachusetts coast for milder temperatures. Bird watchers in coastal areas can watch for flocks of colorful harlequin ducks, striking black-and-white patterned eiders, golden-eyes, scoters, and long-tailed ducks, aerobatic gannets, diving dovekies, guillemots! If you’re watching for waterfowl, get help with identification with the publication Ducks at a Distance by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Early sunsets in winter mean longer periods of darkness for stargazing. Bundle up an head to nearby fields and hills or even your backyard to watch the stars without having to stay up past your bedtime. The cold air holds less moisture which makes the stars appear bigger and brighter.
Ice fishing is a fun way to spend time outdoors with friends and family. Make a day of it by packing food, folding chairs, plenty of hot drinks, and even some sleds or ice skates for the kids or the young at heart. If you’ve never been ice fishing before, join MassWildlife for a learn-to-ice-fish clinic this winter. If you just need a quick refresher on ice fishing gear and techniques, visit our ice fishing page.
Be sure to review ice safety information and don’t forget your freshwater fishing license!
Find a new area to explore in the new year! MassWildlife manages nearly 230,000 acres of Wildlife Management Areas that provide habitat for wildlife and give people a place to explore natural landscapes (there are no maintained trails). WMAs are open to the public for hunting, fishing, wildlife watching, hiking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing. Use MassWildlife’s Lands Viewer to find a property near you.
Who we are
The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife) is the state agency responsible for the conservation of all freshwater fish and wildlife in the Commonwealth, including endangered species. MassWildlife restores, protects, and manages land for wildlife to thrive and for people to enjoy.