Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Dusting of Snow Reveals All

It doesn't take much snow to make a tracker happy. In fact, a dusting of snow is usually better than a foot of snow, for the tracks are laid out in perfect detail, whereas with a foot or more of snow all you are likely to see is a hole where the animal's foot sank into the white powder.

So, here we have this morning's find on the back deck at work. In this first photo, you see the classic pattern of this animal: the hind foot placed next to the front foot.

Can you count the toes? Five on the front, five on the back. The hind foot is larger than the front (which indicates that the nether region of this animal is heavier than the front), and the tracks look uncannily like human handprints. Have you guessed it yet?

This animal is a good climber and agile on the railing:

Here we see that this animal made the rounds on the deck, leaving full sets of great prints. If you look closely, you'll see the smaller tracks of a second mammal, the giant tracks of a third mammal, and the small paired tracks of a fourth animal, the latter non-mammalian. Can you name them all?

Here are the answers (don't cheat and look ahead):

I had high hopes of getting out on the trails today. As you can see the sun is out, and with just a trace of snow, I was anticipating all sorts of potential tracks and such. But, one co-worker called in sick, and the other had a plumbing emergency. Translation, I'm stuck inside. Ah, the travails of having a small staff. I guess I will have to settle for reading my new books: Lichens of the North Woods, and The North American Porcupine.


  1. Loved this post! In the summer I see Racoon tracks along the rail road tracks. They are very good at walking those rails and not falling off.

    I have Lichens of the Northwest and it seems to be a good reference. Do you have The Macrolichens in West Virginia by Don Flenniken? It looks like a good book but I haven't had time to persue my interest in lichens, perhaps this winter. Also Macrolichens of Ohio by David Warren, have you seen that one? I only saw it mentioned online but was curious what you thought if you have it. There are just so many interesting things to learn about.

    Haven't read "The North American Porcupine" is it good?

    Enjoyed your post.

  2. Hey, Squirrel - I've just gotten the lichen book (yesterday), but read through it in a couple hours. I have another one on order: Lichens of North America, but I don't recall the author off the top of my head. It's not a field guide (not for $80), but apparently quite comprehensive and with loads of good photos. The only other lichen book I have is pretty general: Lichens by Wm. Purvis. Lots of pictures, not so good for ID.

    The porcupine book is also a new acquisition. I'm still only on chapter one, but so far it's a pretty good read. Some is rather technical, and having a background in science is good, but even the lay person is likely to enjoy much of it, if that person really wants to know all there is to know about porkies. The author is Uldis Roze, who is considered a porkie expert; the second edition just came out.

  3. I have the Lichens of the Northwest too. It's pretty good for a little book. Lichens of North America seems to be the definitive book on the subject, but the price has put me off so far. I'll look forward to hearing what it's like.

    We used to have lots of raccoons around our house. They love cookies and juice, especially fig newtons. Not many here though, just as well.

    Opossums have lovely tracks, like little stars. Their paws look like they are wearing those gloves without fingers on them.

  4. Thanks for the information. I plan on testing some lichens with chemicals this winter and learning a bit about that. It seems simple enough. I find some of them difficult to tell apart and I thought this might be a good winter activity. That and learning mosses.

    I always enjoy reading your blog, thanks.

  5. Did you see this web page:
    It has some very nice photos of lichens.

  6. Snow!!! I can't wait! It makes a walk so much more interesting when you can follow the animals' adventures by their tracks. By the way, Vince Walsh is leading a tracking workshop at Wilton Wildlife Preserve on January 9. Want to go? (Let's pray for snow. So far, not a trace in Saratoga County.)