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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Snake Tracks

Down in the dunes…

…the sign of a snake.

The plates in my copy of the Peterson field guide to animal tracks suggest that the wide loops mean the snake in question was moving quickly.  Apparently a more leisurely-crawling snake leaves a straighter trail.  (Incidentally, the Peterson animal track guide is a delightfully idiosyncratic field guide, with as much anecdote- and sidetrack-filled narration as actual hard information on identifying tracks.  I kind of love it.)

The snake stopped to investigate a ghost crab burrow, as well.

The next time a kid asks me if the the burrows in the sand are “snake holes,” perhaps I’ll think twice before saying no.

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)