Larry Weber: What the tracks tell us
The mild weather earlier this month had quite an impact. The temperatures that stayed consistently above freezing for several days lowered the snowpack by half. We saw sights that we hadn't seen for a while. Puddles, mud and even bare ground show...
The mild weather earlier this month had quite an impact. The temperatures that stayed consistently above freezing for several days lowered the snowpack by half. We saw sights that we hadn't seen for a while. Puddles, mud and even bare ground showed up at the warmer places. More so, we received record-setting rainfall Feb. 10.
And then the temperatures returned to normal -- February acted like February again.
Our lessened snow cover has become crusted and frozen; in such a state, it now holds up any animals moving out and about. At many locations, the crust may even be strong enough to hold us up.
It is a great time to walk on the snow and go many places that we could not venture into for much of the winter. I find that during the crusty-snow time, cross country skiing is truly cross country: We do not need to stay on the groomed trails.
To add even more to the scene, we received a couple of light snows at mid-month. February snows are rarely of great amount and, like the rest of the month, the snows that do fall are very dry. I stepped out on the morning of Feb. 13 to a delightful new snow coating on the old crust.
Not more than a half inch thick, but enough to provide a setting that allowed me to read the stories of critters active here. Before my walk was complete, I had found the tracks of a dozen kinds of local wildlife. Since the snow fell the previous evening, all told of recent news.
In the yard, near the feeders, I found the hopping gait of the always-present gray squirrels. Nearby, much smaller trails told of the nocturnal movements of deer mice. More hoppers were in the woods. Here I saw where the red squirrels (lesser cousins of the gray squirrels) scampered among the trees and a fisher quickly passed by. Deer and porcupines showed their walking gaits in the forest as well.
As I walked on the road, I noticed that I was not the first to be there. A fox had come by (as I expected), but its tracks were joined by those of a skunk and a raccoon. These last two slept in the deep cold of January but woke in the February thaw. Going through a field, I found that the coyotes are very active on these nights. At the edge, a ruffed grouse searched for a meal.
But the one that I was most glad to see was in a spruce-tamarack bog. Here, snowshoe hare tracks and trails told of much nighttime activity. Back in January, they were sitting still much of the time, but, with the longer warmer days of this month, their tracks spoke of increased activity. Besides seeking food at this time, they are beginning their courtship and mating -- and their large hind feet allow these white critters to move with ease over the present snowpack. I expect to continue to find hare abundantly in coming weeks.
Once again, I am reminded of the value of seeing tracks in new snow. Of the 12 kinds found, I saw only four of the track makers -- gray squirrel, red squirrel, deer and porcupine -- but the others were just as present.
It is easy to look out on the crusty snow cover of late February and, with a mind of winter fatigue, think that there is nothing going on. But take a walk on this hard surface and you can see much more happening.
Retired teacher Larry Weber is author of several books that are available now. Contact him with questions or comments c/o firstname.lastname@example.org .