The Bug Geek

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Winter Treasure Hunt (Part 2: stories in the snow)

(Continued from Part 1: critter feet!) 

The lonely road provided this wanderer with a wonderful range of habitats; old fields, dense cedar stands, deep swaths of maturing hardwood forest…and every so often the trees would part and I was reminded that civilization was not so very far away: 

Clearing: a corn field

Frozen streams lined the roadside.  I came upon two small holes in the ice that had recently been used by a mammal… 

Swimming Hole

Did it come for a drink?  Go for a dip?   The slide marks in the snow seem to indicate the latter.   The size of the tracks and the undulating line between the ones at the left of the photo tell me it was likely a mink fresh from a successful hunt.  It must have entered the water elsewhere (there were no tracks leading to the hole), emerged, and probably dove several times in search of a tasty morsel before finally walking back to a den to enjoy its snack (possibly a hibernating frog). 

Further down the path, I found this treasure…do you see it? (Look where the tracks coming in from the right seem to end.) 

The End

There is the distinct impression of two broad wings.  Here’s a closeup of the left one: 

Closeup of Left Wing

Methinks this is a murder scene.  A small mammal, the one coming in from the right, met its end in the talons of a bird of prey.  The bird left imprints of its wings and body (the large indentation between wings) when it descended upon its victim.  The wing prints were not terribly large; I would guess this was a small owl.   

Hmmm…a perfectly round hole (about 3″ in diameter) at the base of an old fence post…to whom might this belong?   

Red Squirrel Hole

Here’s the culprit:  Red Squirrel, in the flesh.  He was the only animal I actually saw on my walk.  He dashed between the fence post and the tree, then back again, stopping only to see if the Geek with the camera was still in hot pursuit (she was).   He flipped his tail.  He eyed me suspiciously.  He yelled at me a little bit.   Finally he relaxed long enough to be pretty for me *pose*, then darted down the post and into the little nook in the previous picture.  

Red Squirrel (much displeased)

This one I almost missed.  In fact, I didn’t notice it until I had begun my homeward trek back the way I walked in.  What caught my eye?  The stark pallor of a branch whose bark was recently removed. 

Stripped Branch

It was pale and “fresh”.   A quick glance at my surroundings and its position with respect to the road said it was very unlikely to be the result of human or mechanical damage.  I went in for a closer look, looking for teeth marks, thinking at first that maybe browsing deer were responsible.  But, a) this branch was quite high and b) there were plenty of much smaller, more tender shoots available closer to the ground – where white-tailed deer tend to browse.   A second naked branch was broken off and lying near the base of the tree: 

Stripped Branch

Yes, there’s a turkey track there, but it wasn’t the bark-chewer.   There were no other tracks visible around the tree.  Hmmmm. 

Then I looked up: 

Bark Sloughed Off Tree by Climber

Notice the darker, reddish patches of bark?  Those are places where bark was recently chipped off by clawed feet climbing the tree; a large critter making its way to a cavity hidden in the fork of the larger branches.  I’ve seen similar bark damage I knew to be created by raccoons, but in this case, my bet is a porcupine.  I only recently learned that they do not hibernate.  Although they hunker down in their tree-dens during rotten weather, they’ll emerge to feed on pine shoots and tree bark all winter long. 

Do you have different interpretations of these Stories in the Snow?  I’d love to hear your theories! 

Stay tuned…more to come!  Part 3: the fungus amungus!

Winter Treasure Hunt (Part 1: critter feet!)

Like the paleontologist who delights in discoveries of trace fossils – information-rich footprints, trackways, skin imprints and coprolites – I am rewarded with historical records of the comings and goings of local critters as I search for signs of wildlife during these cold, dark days of winter. 

I finally revisited the lonely road I discovered last week.  The promise of a sunny, clear morning was enough to get me bundled up against the windchill (-25°C) and out the door with camera and binoculars in hand.

A fresh layer of soft snow and blue skies provided the perfect backdrop for my winter treasure hunt.   It was perfectly quiet except for the faint laughter of water running beneath frozen streams and the occasional gutteral “caw” of a crow.    The road stretched out before me:

The Lonely Road

The lonely road had been a busy place that morning, as evidenced by the myriad tracks crisscrossing their way over the snow, like those of this rabbit:

Rabbit tracks

I came upon a wide clearing; it seemed to be a very popular white-tailed deer hangout:

Deer Party

There seemed to be one big guy hanging around the deer party too…the bouncer, perhaps?  (That’s my mitt on the ground for reference).

Moose Tracks

A coyote loped between the trees:

Coyote tracks

Teeney-weenie tracks were EVERYwhere.  We tend to forget that there’s an entire community living, eating and travelling under the snow…and occasionally on top of it, but less commonly because it’s pretty dangerous to be roaming about the surface when you look like tasty noms to, oh, pretty much every predator out there.  The track on the right was about the size of a quarter.  I think it’s a red squirrel, but I’m not sure.

Small mammal tracks

This paw print appears to have been left by a different animal:

One paw

A pair of twin tunnellers left their marks:

Twin Tunnellers

As did this tail-dragging deer mouse:

Deer mouse tracks

Mammals were not the only creatures roaming the woods today…there was also a FEROCIOUS PACK OF RAVENOUS RAPTORS!!!!

Well, sort of.  These three-toed wild turkey tracks (very likely left by the same group I met the other day) just SCREAM “therapod” to me (oh, wait, that’s ’cause they are).  I just love them!

Therapods!  Um, I mean Turkeys.

Therapods! I mean, Wild Turkeys!

Stay tuned for more winter wanderings!  Tomorrow – Part 2:  stories in the snow.

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