Sometimes we enjoy the outdoors without actually taking notice of the individual animals and birds that make our surroundings exciting.
While we all love to catch a glimse of wild critters, we aren't always so lucky. However, when the snow falls, it provides a crystal clear window into the world of mother nature through tracks.
Winter white phase Snowshoe Hare
Next time you take a stroll to the bus stop with your child, or you have a few hours to explore outside, take notice of what little creature tracks you cross.
From the smallest shrews and voles, up through squirrels and snowshoe hares (or other bunny types depending on where you live), you are sure to see activity across the snowpack. Sometimes it's fun to think about the smallest creatures living under the snow, and how they make tunnels and walk ways that provide them safe cover throughout the winter.
Sometimes early in the winter, we see quite a few fox and coyote tracks. These furry mammals are common across much of North America, and they are superior small game hunters. Often you will see where they pounced on something or stalked a small creature unsuccessfuly. They're tracks are very similar and difficult to tell apart. Generally coyotes have a longer stride or gait, often walking in pairs or small family groups. Fox are generally solitary and tend to meander.
Often we see other snowy signs that make us think hard about what happened. Small bird tracks are always interesting. If you see meandering 3-toed tracks in and out of small vegetation, you may be looking at grouse or ptarmigan tracks. If you see a lone landing spot, think about all the birds you have seen of that size, and why the bird landed in that spot. Was it a predator landing to pounce on a vole, or maybe it was landing near vegetation with tasty buds to eat?
Identifying winter wildlife tracks is a great family friendly activity that get's kids thinking about what's wandering around out there in the woods, what kind of habitat is important to different animals, and how they find food and cover through the cold dark months of winter.
If you get a chance to get out and look for wildlife tracks early in the winter, it's always fun to go back to that same location later in the year to compare your findings. Often animals will move throughout the year depending on food availability, or sometimes predator/prey relationships can change animal abundance throughout the year.
Good luck and happing tracking!