March 26, 2018

Stories to Tell – Winter Clues

By Eric D'Aleo

Each trip outside to check the trail cameras is an adventure because I don’t know what I will find. Most of the time it is routine with the unexpected being the images captured by the cameras, but that is not always the case. Sometimes scat is left behind and the identification mystery begins. Questions run through my mind as I study the scat on the ground. Is the scat in a prominent location, such as a rock, log, or in the middle of a trail? How large is it and what is its shape? Are there any food items identifiable in the scat? Scat is found throughout the year, but for tracks, winter is the best time of year to look for them. I see many tracks as I move from one camera location to another. Sometimes they are fresh and easy to identify and other times they may be days or weeks old, making identification more challenging. Again, I run through a series of questions to help me identify the tracks. What’s the size of the track? How many toes are visible? How is the animal moving? Is it walking, bounding, or hopping? Where are the tracks located? Are they in a forest, in a field, or in a wetland? Do the tracks lead to a tree, a brush pile, or a burrow? The answers to these questions may provide a clue as to what animal made the tracks.

Look at the scat and tracks that were found during the past year and see what ones you can identify.

Occasionally, other unusual signs of an animal’s presence are discovered. Look at the photo below. What do you think was found on the snow this January? At the time of discovery, the snow had a hard crust and there were no foot-prints in the area. The location was near a trail camera, but was not in its line of view. When I checked the camera’s memory card I saw no evidence an animal had been in the area since the last time I had been there. The area is a mixture of conifers, mostly hemlock, and hardwood trees, beech, red maple, and oak. The object was not found near any tree. So, what was it?

The tail of a flying squirrel! My next question of course was what happened to the rest of the animal? This question was left unanswered since the hard snow crust offered no additional clues.

A similar experience happened in early March. Again, the body part from an animal was found on a hard snow crust with no animal tracks nearby. However, it was found in the snowbanks of a parking lot. Look at the photo below to identify what animal it came from.

It was the foreleg of a white-tailed deer. How had it died? Did it starve? Was it preyed upon? What animal brought the leg and left it here? Was it left there on purpose, was the amount of meat left on the leg too small to hold on to, or was the leg dropped to flee quickly from the area? More unanswered questions, but ones that keep me coming back for more, like a good mystery. What animal stories are waiting to be discovered where you live? Find out.

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