May 23, 2019
Sports Column

Audubon Center notebook

Tracking snow

ORRINGTON – This week’s minor snowfalls were a welcome addition at the nature center. Fresh tracks are a treat that we sometimes lose faith in when old snow, or no snow has been on the ground for a while. Twenty-four hours after a new snowfall is the best time to check out natural areas, to see who has been moving about.

Tracking can be a challenge and interpretation of tracks can be more fully enjoyed when doing it with other people. So on Wednesday several of our Nature in Winter volunteer guides joined forces to hone our skills, explore and see what we could find.

Wing prints

The first track we were intrigued by was a wing print of a bird. Beautiful soft snow had been imprinted with the perfect shape of a bird wing. There was a cluster of paired bird footprints around a stem of grass. To our inquiring minds it looked as though a small sparrow sized bird had been looking for seeds to eat and when it finished in this spot it took off with a powerful wing beat. A print of every wing feather was pressed into the snow!

The next subject of our exploration was that of a red squirrel. This squirrel was exhibiting some entertaining behaviors. Close to the Nature Center building is quite a hole-ridden, stripped down, standing, dead tree. In this “snag” the squirrel would enter one hole, disappear, appear in another hole, climb the outside and enter another hole and so on.

For several minutes we watched the energetic antics of this furry critter, wondering if all of these holes were interconnected inside the snag. It appeared to be quite an “apartment house!” The last interesting thing this squirrel did was to hang upside down and chew off bits of the dead tree and throw them to the ground. Was the squirrel communicating with us, or was it actually trying to accomplish something? We likely will never know for sure.

Coyote bridge

We continued into the forested areas of the property and encountered a trail that we determined to be that of a coyote. We had little trouble following the coyote trail because the coyote seemed to be taking advantage of our cleared hiking path.

For a wild animal a cleared path can actually be quite an advantage. Less energy is required in padding along a straight cleared trail than would be involved in zigzagging, climbing over rocks or fallen trees in the forest. This coyote was so happy with our beautifully cleared path that even when it came to bridges over small streams, it took the bridge rather than climbing down one bank, getting its feet wet and climbing up the other side. Wily coyote indeed!

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