March is my favorite month, the warm days hint of spring but the nights are still cold enough to hold the snow cover just a bit longer. The crust is softening up a bit revealing the restless movement of the wild creatures, anxious for spring. So this week, I headed out to explore the woods and see what I could find for tracks. One of my recent haunts has been an abandoned log yard where tree-length logs were once stored for later use.
Here evergreens grow in close clumps and when I step into the darkness of their dense boughs, it feels like I’m walking through a children’s fairy tale. The tops, 30 feet overhead are so close that the sun’s rays cannot reach the forest floor. Here a movement makes me wonder if it was real or just an imaginative gnome playing hide and seek in the shadows. I walk hunched over, my head bent so as not to take the lower dead limbs smack in the face. I press on not exactly sure which direction I am heading or have been. But looking down has its advantages if its tracks in the log yard I’m looking for.
This is a place of cover, where the snowshoe hare roam like kings and queens of the forest floor. Since all must eat, where there is prey, there are predators. Sounds more like a proverb than a fairy tale, but on an earlier excursion I had seen what I thought to be a lynx track, so I decided to take another look and sure enough, this is what I found.
Distinctive tracks are difficult to find because the underside of the foot of the lynx is covered in fur. Look for an overall round patten to the track without any claw marks.
In the picture gallery, I have included the evidence of a red squirrel living beneath the trees. One curious observation was a hole next to a hardwood sapling where the squirrel was coming and going from beneath the snowcover. There were scattered remnants of spruce cones and I wondered, was the squirrel going under the snowpack to scavenge for cones dropped during the fall? Or was this the hiding hole where it made its winter home?
The squirrel is the only creature here in Maine that has a similar track pattern to that of the snowshoe hare and cottontail rabbit. Size and shape of the foot are the indicators of which creature made the track. The photo is of a red squirrel. For comparison, click here for the link to the snowshoe hare.
Paul Cyr captured photos of a red squirrel and a barred owl looking at each other in the same tree! Open the picture gallery to see the outcome of that story.
To wrap up my fairy tale walk, as I left the conifer patch and headed up an old skidder path now grown with hardwood saplings, I noticed the tracks of a giant that had meandered about here and there. A closer look and sure enough it was a moose. The snow is about 1 1/2 feet deep and in the photo you can see where its hoof dragged in the snow. I followed its trail and could hear it breaking branches as it walked through the woods. I never have a need to be too close to wildlife and mindful of the afternoon rays sinking behind the treetops I decided it best to head out lest my adventure include the tale of a dark cold night sleeping out.
Enjoy! And if you can, take a child out with you, make up stories of creatures that live in the woods, nothing is more delightful than exploring with an innocent imagination.