Northland Nature: 'Coyote Crossing' active in January
Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him via Katie Rohman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With a snowpack of about a foot, most of my winter trekking has been on the road or trails. The walking is much easier along such routes and though occasional traffic can take away from critter watching, I can still see what is going on in nature on these winter days; there is daily news.
January has given us both the bitter cold and several mild days (January thaw) and the local wildlife respond. At the feeders, more birds seem to make use of available food in the cold, often staying away on mild days.
Conversely, reading the daily tracks along my routes tells me that many of the forest wildlife that winter with us react in another way — more active in the warmer times and taking shelter, less moving, during very cold.
My routes go through woods, but also past swamps, ponds, lakes and fields — good sites that reveal various activities. Many of the tracks that I find are from wandering wildlife that frequently cross these routes. They leave word of their movements past and present (plenty of daily tracks, but I usually do not see the track makers).
Deer and squirrels are the most common tracks that I find. The large deer walk on hoofs while the small squirrels have a hopping gait. Local canines are also active and I regularly find tracks of fox, coyote and maybe even a wolf.
In recent light snow cover, I noted where cottontail rabbits and their cousin, the snowshoe hare, had come by. Small deer mice go hopping over the snow surface while the tiny shrews are typically beneath; leaving trails of where they crossed the path where I now go.
Members of the weasel family continue their energetic lives in winter and at several sites, I find the hopping styles of weasels (ermine) and their larger cousin, the fisher, as they cross and recross the road and trails in their pursuit of prey.
Near the swamp that I go by, I see where an otter (maybe more than one) has made its sliding trail from the swamp to the lake. During a mild day, I found where a waking skunk had wandered about. The three-toed footprints of birds are often seen, too.
Turkeys, wintering in the woods, come out in search of food and the smaller grouse tracks reveal their activity. The ever-present crows and ravens gather on the roadsides as well.
Besides telling me who is present, tracks also tell of happenings. Squirrels have been visiting caches made last fall while turkeys and deer dig under for acorns.
At one site, I see where a barred owl swooped down to catch a deer mouse that hopped over the snow. The owl left telltale wing and tail marks.
But besides the feeding, late January, with nine and a half hours of daylight, growing more rapidly, is a time of breeding among the canines. I have noticed this mostly along the road that I walk daily; especially with coyotes. Ranging through their territories, they regularly cross the road.
I have named one site as “Coyote Crossing.” With a field on one side and a pond on the other, the local coyotes pass through a small wooded area between. Their world is very active now with the breeding season happening; territorial routes need to get maintained with regular travels and scent markings.
With a gestation of about two months, the pups are born in spring. Despite the snowpack and the cold, coyotes remain very active, especially at this designated “Coyote Crossing,” and we’ll see more as we go into next month.