|The 5-toed footprints of a rarely seen fisher - a large weasel|
Activities of wildlife are faithfully recorded in the snow, and each set of their footprints can tell us a great deal of information about their behavior on the land. Many of the creatures that share the environment with us are only rarely seen –many are nocturnal and are rarely seen even by the most patient observers. Typically, the only ways that we know certain creatures are in the area is either by seeing them dead along the road or by seeing their tracks in the snow.
|Highly recognizable track of an Eastern Cottontail Rabbit|
Tracks tell tales. Last week I was out just before dawn, and there was a light snow cover from the night before. Intersecting the trail ahead of me was a narrow path plowed by a White-footed Mouse. I followed the path for just a short distance, to a point where it abruptly ended. At just that spot, there was a deeper depression in the snow. Radiating out from that place were clear impressions of a single pair of bird wings; each wing print showed impressions of feathers fanning out on the snow. Evidently, during the early morning hours, sometime after the snow fell, a small owl –likely a Screech Owl, dove down from its perch on a dead branch above the trail and nabbed the unwary mouse as it trotted along.
|Coyote tracks lead a straight course through the forest|
It’s often difficult to tell which species of the canine family left a particular set of tracks –that is when you just consider each individual foot print; but when you consider the behavior of the animal as laid out by a progression of tracks on the land, you may be able to determine the likely identity of the species. Larger canine tracks could have come from a domestic dog or they could be from a coyote. If the tracks are very "businesslike" –meaning that the tracks suggest a serious purpose in the animal’s actions, then they are probably from a coyote. Coyote tracks, for the most part, go straight from one area to another and they don’t often show signs of frivolousness. Domestic dog tracks more often indicate a playfulness of spirit that you rarely see in the world of adult wildlife. A dog might zig-zag along a trail, gallop off in one direction, only to backtrack and then go off in a completely different direction.
|The Gray Fox's path leads across the top of a log|
|Raccoon prints cross a narrow bridge over a creek|
|Beaver footprints waddle away from the creek|
|Size difference between the beavers back foot print (left) and their front foot print (right)|
|Size comparison between my hand and a print of a beaver's hind foot|