Signs in the Snow

Wednesday night we finally got some fresh snow, and since I was miraculously free yesterday afternoon I took advantage of the chance to tramp around in the quiet woods for a couple hours. (And I do mean quiet. Even birds were few and far between, though I flushed several grouse toward the end of my walk. I could hear every gust of wind approaching from far away as the sighing of the trees got closer and closer.) When the sun started peeking out I tried in vain to capture how beautiful the light illuminating the treetops was.

I was also on the lookout for animal tracks. Most of what I saw were from the ubiquitous red squirrels, but crisscrossing the trails in several places were what looked like small tunnels through the snow, about an inch across.

At one point the tunnel-maker had emerged to hop across the surface, leaving tiny tracks.

My field guide to animal tracks was frustratingly unhelpful, but I would guess these are the work of the tiny shrews I spotted occasionally on the forest floor early in the fall. (If anyone has any different insights, please share in the comments!) I’m hoping that if I get out in the snow regularly this winter I’ll be able to find more interesting prints – bobcats, bears, wolves, who knows!

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Oh the Weather Outside Is Delightful

I was all set to write a post today defending the use of social media for environmental education. But this is more fun. :)

Breaking Weather News!

Ummmm, it’s 5:10PM on October 25 and THE RAIN JUST TURNED INTO FREAKING SNOW.

IT’S SNOWING.

The teenage boys I live with are running around like maniacs. I just heard one of them yell “Snowball fight!” It is, in fact, sticking to the grass, so if the precipitation keeps up over night when the temperature drops we could actually have an inch on the ground by morning.

“God Hates Woodcocks.”

“God hates Woodcocks.”  That was the pronouncement of the director of the Raptor Center yesterday morning.

I think I noticed when I woke up that there was something off about the quality of the light filtering into my room through the curtained windows, but it wasn’t until I’d been up for a few minutes, groggily getting ready for my last day of work before spring break, that I actually happened to glance outside.  This is what I saw.

WHAT?!?!  My reaction – I was so shocked that I exclaimed out loud despite being alone in my room – is not something I can repeat here and keep this blog G-rated.  When I got home from work the previous day it had been raining, hard, with temperatures in the forties.  I had no idea it was going to turn into snow overnight, and neither, it seems, did anyone else.

So yes, God apparently hates Woodcocks, birds who nest early (they’ll already have eggs by now) and nest on the ground.  He must also hate salamanders, who will also have laid their eggs by now, all of which are now probably dead after being frozen overnight.  Argh.  I know this sort of thing happens just about every spring and the critters always bounce back, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating, and I am not pleased about having to break out my winter coat again.

The good news for me, at least, is that I’m leaving this afternoon to spend a week in southern Arizona.  Eighty degrees and sunny, here I come!

Critter Tracks

February and March are such teases in Ohio.  Right now we seem to be having a bit of a mini-thaw and the sound of dripping water is everywhere, but I know there are more snow showers in our forecast for later this week.  I’m certainly guilty of complaining about the knee-deep layer of snow that’s been on the ground for the past several weeks, but I’m gaining a whole new appreciation of that fluffy white snow now that it’s being replaced by slush and mud.  What’s worst is when you step into what looks like a drift of nice snow but turns out to be a thin layer of snow on top of a lot of slush and liquid.  Instant soaking foot.  Eeeeew.

When you live in the woods, one of the nice perks of having a thick coat of snow on the ground is seeing all the animal tracks.  During the day the only mammals we see a lot of are the gray squirrels, but the tracks in the snow reveal what a busy place our woods are at night.  I’m a novice at identifying tracks but you’d be amazed what you can learn from a little Googling.

Note the five toes.  These were definitely too big for a squirrel, and I know raccoon prints are more hand-like – wouldn’t they have longer “fingers,” and a distinct “thumb”?  After comparing with some picture online, my guess is skunk.  But who knows.

These are a little easier.

Five toes in front, four in back: teh internetz inform me that this is a trait of mice and squirrels.  And since the track ends abruptly at the base of a tree trunk, I think it’s a safe bet that these are indeed from my old buddy the gray squirrel.

Too bad none of the tracks in my woods are quite as interesting as these…

(from xkcd)