The Recent TracksPosted on February 15th, 2010 4 comments Add a comment >>
Henry David Thoreau put it best in his essay titled A Winter Walk where he says,
“The recent tracks of the fox or otter, in the yard, remind us that each hour of the night is crowded with events, and the primeval nature is still working and making tracks in the snow.”
That certainly was the case this morning as I skied the well-designed trails of The Paul Smiths Visitor Interpretive Center. Not 50 yards from the start of the trail I came across this very clear, and continuous set of prints left behind by a pine marten. It was bounding along the Barnum Brook Trail…
The tracks may look like a snowshoe hare hopping but it’s lacking the smaller front feet of a hare. A marten or fisher has a bounding gate(track pattern) where the hind feet come up and land in the same tracks left by the front feet. This is called a “direct-register” track pattern.
Farther along the trail I see white-tailed deer tracks all over the place. A scattering of red squirrel tracks lead from tree trunk to tree trunk. Then this unusual track scene crosses the ski trail…
Here I find a deep trough(3″-4″ depth) with an alternating, or wattling, foot pattern. So, what made this track was something large bodied but small enough to fit under the branch in the upper part of picture. This was made by a porcupine.
We may still be in winters grip but a few warmer days most likely brought out the porcupine to feed and stretch its legs. They’re not true hibernators and so they’ll come out to feed after laying low during a cold spell or severe winter weather.
I found this next set of tracks interesting because the body of this animal was so light that it did not break through the snow. It recently hopped along the top of the snow and shows the characteristic gallop of hind feet landing just ahead of the front feet.
Although I’m not certain, I would guess that these are the tracks of a mouse(deer or white-footed).
The larger image to the left show the drag marks of a tail. This helps narrow down the options because voles, moles, and shrews tend not leave a tail mark, and they will borrow through snow more often than mice.
The Visitor Center is a great spot to go animal tracking and it’s a whole new slate of tracks each morning. So take the time to look at all those tracks that you might quickly ski or snowshoe over and see if you can figure out what animal made it!
All photos by Brian McAllister
I agree with Sandy. That furrow in the snow does look like an otter track. But yes, they do bound–they bound and slide, bound and slide. We see their tracks often at the Visitor Interpretive Center at Paul Smiths, especially when skiing on the frozen ponds among the marshes, and especially around Barnum Brook and Shingle Mills Falls.
My first guess on the deep trough would have been an otter, but they have a bounding track like the pine marten, don’t they?
Brian, thanks for posting those photos. I often see tiny tracks in the snow and wonder what made them. Next time I’ll know to look closer to see if there are tail marks.
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