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Ghostly Snow Prints

>> Tuesday, January 19, 2010

I've only really begun to develop an appreciation for tracking critters in snow.  It's not that I didn't think it was interesting before, but more that I never stopped to think about just how much one can figure out about what a creature did, and sometimes even thought, just based on the impressions its feet/tail/wings/belly left in the snow.

And if you think you can't figure out what an animal was thinking based on its tracks, try reading this post on squirrel neuroses on one of my very favorite blogs called Naturespeak.  One of the many, many benefits of becoming a blogger is discovering other people's blogs, and y'all have impressed the socks off me with your tracking expertise.


I have an infinitely long way to go before I'm any good at identifying critters and reconstructing their behaviors.  But as I start looking more thoughtfully at tracks in the snow I am starting to think of them almost as rather ghostly impressions an animal's spirit has left behind.  As one begins to unravel the complex patterns in the snow, one can almost sense the passage of time and see the animals walking, digging, pausing, jumping, flying and marking as they passed by.

When else can one so accurately reconstruct an animal's movements, other than when there's snow on the ground?  Unless, I suppose, one is a dog.  I strongly suspect my hounds smell the ghostly scent impressions left behind the way I see the snow prints, only they can do it year round.  If they could talk, they could probably tell me what type of animal it was, what it had for breakfast, when it last mated and how anxious it was when it walked by, among a lot of other things.


My inferior senses leave me to laboriously puzzle out the snow prints instead.

On Saturday at Baltimore Woods I didn't identify any remarkable prints beyond the ones one might usually expect to find - mostly a whole lot of deer and squirrel.  But they, too, do interesting things.  Both had been engaging in a great deal of digging.  Presumably the squirrels were looking for buried treasure they (or their neighbors) had saved up for the winter.



There were tons of these little divots, and while you can't see them in this photo, they were generally surrounded by squirrel prints.

The deer, on the other hand, were rummaging for farm field remnants.  At first glance I noticed the farm field was criss-crossed with deer prints.


At second glance I noticed some odd disturbances in the snow in the middle of some of the trails.


Upon closer inspection I found the field had had corn in it in the fall, and the deer sure knew where to find the corn-cobs that had been missed by the harvesters.


The snow also helps me out by pointing out things I would ordinarily miss, such as this debris:


which made me look up to spot the source:


Suddenly I could envision all sorts of woodpeckers who might have hopped up and down and hammered on that tree.  I have always wondered how on earth they can do that without getting wicked headaches.

In winter, even the plants leave behind ghostly remnants of their former glorious selves, such as this wild cucumber pod.  How cool is this weird spiky thing?  It reminds me of a blowfish:


One can picture the growth of these pods from tiny little nubs to spiky green pods tossed by the breeze. Eventually these skeletal pods will fade away and become part of the soil again, where the new green shoots will emerge in the spring.

So here's to the neverending mystery of the great outdoors, and to joy of discovering just how fun and mysterious the forensic reconstruction of a critter's passage can be.

1 comments:

Ellen Rathbone January 19, 2010 at 1:52 PM  

Wow - you had some great finds! I love the wild cucumbers - we don't get them here, so they are a nice reminder of where I grew up.

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