Who Goes There?

Many of us have mixed feelings about snow–often our ‘like’ comes with a qualifier–I like snow as long as I don’t have to drive in it; as long as it doesn’t thaw and then freeze and create a hard-pack; as long as the flakes are big, fluffy, and sparkle in the morning sun…etc. This struggle between like and dislike can be especially strong when the calendar still says ‘Fall.’ 

I will now attempt to give you a.) one more reason to like snow, and b.) one more reason to get outside when the hot cocoa, knitting, and movies are calling you couch-potato-it all day.

The mysterious residents of your backwoods, hiking trail, or your front yard can be revealed through the magic of fresh snow. How? Animal tracks. The softness of snow seems to make for one of the better imprint mediums. Sand can be too fluid, mud may be too soft, but snow is soft and compacts but light enough to show the smallest details (nails, tail…). If you search for animal tracks, many of the photos you will find are tracks in snow–not feet of snow, usually a couple inches.

The photo above is an imprint of ruffed grouse wings at take off. Many birds fly from branch to branch, they may land on the ground near your bird feeder, but how often do you find their wing “tracks?” This beautiful bird track may be one of the easier to identify. There are some animals that have similar tracks, though. The coyote, fox, and domestic dog are all related–Family Canidae–and their tracks look quite similar. Track size and the arrangement of the pads will help you identify which animal has been stalking your woods…probably not your dog. Between dog (and family members) and cat tracks–generally cats do not leave nail marks with their tracks since their claws are usually retracted (at least when they are walking).

From a distance, rabbit and squirrel tracks can look similar as the pattern they make is about the same size. Squirrel tracks will  show the long skinny toes as opposed to the paw-like track of rabbits. One article describes squirrel tracks as “blocky” whereas the rabbit’s pattern forms a “tall, thin rectangle,” delicate and adorable, naturally.

Holidays are a wonderful family, food, drink, and travel filled time which can quickly become overwhelming and sometimes stressful. A peaceful walk in the woods may be just what you need to calm your mind and reinvigorate your spirit as you discover the secret lives of your woodland neighbors. Happy Thanksgiving.

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