It’s a new year which means new adventures await.  For many of us, winter isn’t just a time of hibernating and planning for the spring, it’s a time to get outside and enjoy nature.  Whether it’s cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, birdwatching, or having evening bonfires, there’s plenty to do this winter!

One of my favorite things to do is search for signs of wildlife in fresh snow.  If I’m lucky, I can even snap a picture of the animal tracks before my son stomps through them or makes a snow angel on top of them (he apparently thinks this is hilarious).  So with that, let’s get outside and see what we can identify in the snow!

Whose toes are these?

I don’t know about you, but whenever I find tracks in the snow that I cannot immediately recognize, I always jump to the rarest creature.  For example, I recently found the tracks pictured above and while I felt like I had seen them before, I just couldn’t place them.  Naturally, I figured they simply had to be the tracks of a wolverine, fisher, porcupine, or even baby Sasquatch.

There’s something exciting about not being able to identify a set a tracks because they could have come from anything!  Well, not quite but it’s still exciting.  So I went home and pulled out my animal tracks and sign book and sure enough, the elusive and rare creature that made the tracks was from an opossum.  I confirmed this by posting on the Wisconsin Naturalists Facebook page.  This is a great resource that I encourage you to check out if you have nature questions.

Delicate tracks in the snow

When I found the tracks pictured above, what struck me most of all was how jealous I was that whoever made the tracks didn’t sink into the snow like I was.  These tracks just looked effortless, like the creature was simply gliding across the snow.  Meanwhile, I was huffing and puffing through the snow while sinking in around mid-shin.

Having a dog of my own, I’m pretty familiar with canid tracks.  These tracks were a lot smaller than Tucker’s (my black lab), but they have a similar classic dog-like shape.  I narrowed it down to fox or coyote and snapped a picture so I could identify it later.  I followed the tracks which led me to taking the picture below.

These look a little different than the tracks above…

Note how the tracks are no longer gliding across the snow.  They actually go quite deep and lead to some sort of hole.  If you haven’t guessed it yet, these are the tracks of a hunting coyote.  Coyotes have incredible ears and can hear rodents like mice and voles beneath the snow.  They tiptoe across the snow with ears pointed down and once they’ve narrowed down the approximate location of the critter below, they pounce!  Watch a video HERE of a coyote hunting.

In the photo above, you can see the four feet in the snow (bottom half of the photo) with the two at the very bottom being the coyote’s back feet.  Note how much deeper they are than the front feet.  These deep impressions are created from the jumping motion and the hole at the top of the photo was where the coyote landed.  So cool!

Well, I hope you enjoyed my virtual tour of nature as it’s happening.  However you experience the outdoors or nature, be it physical, virtual, spiritual, or anything in between, I encourage you to do it!

See you next month!