Due to some temperature ups and downs, when I went for my walk Saturday afternoon there was only a light coating of snow on the ground. (This is no longer the case, thanks to a snowstorm Sunday night.) Animal tracks show up beautifully clear and sharp in half an inch of snow, and even the tracks of common species can be fun to find, photograph, and follow.
Based on the size and shape, I’m pretty sure these are raccoon tracks. Skunk tracks look similar but are smaller, and I don’t think the pattern is right for a fisher. You can see the five long toes on both the front and hind feet (the tracks with the bigger, longer pads are the hind feet) and the dots left by the claws.
On the same walk I found the tracks of deer, red squirrels, gray squirrels, mice, a small weasel of some sort (we have long-tailed, short-tailed, and least all here), and something that I think was probably a fox. The woods are full of life, and if you play detective you can always find clues, even if you rarely see the animals themselves.
Often visiting school groups here will have campfires for their kids after dark, and last night it was my job to make sure the fire was really, truly, completely out before I went to bed. (They have a nasty habit of re-igniting during the night if the wind comes up.) By nine-thirty, the students were back in the dorm packing and getting ready for bed, but several parent chaperons were still socializing around the fire. Fine with me; I watched TV in the staff lounge and poked my head out the door during commercials to see if they were done yet, in no hurry as long as I had a new episode of Bones to keep me entertained.
The third or fourth time I peeked outside, though, I spotted a pair of raccoons raiding the garbage cans in the pavilion. I hate raccoons, at least when they’ve become habituated to humans and raid garbage cans and make messes, so I stomped across the deck toward them yelling “Go away! Go away!” and waving my arms until the two mangy vermin finally fled toward the bushes. I watched them disappear and then turned toward the fire circle.
The parents had heard my shouting and stomping and were now watching me with alarm. “We’re – we’re sorry,” the said. “We’re going now. We swear. See, look, we’re pouring the water on the fire and everything.”
I did my best to convince them I’d been talking to the raccoons, not them. They believed me… mostly.