Week of January 28, 2024 – February 3, 2024
by Anna Stunkel, Environmental Educator
A few days ago, I stepped onto the back deck of the nature center and a huge group of juncos took off twittering towards the woods. I felt bad to have startled them while busily cleaning up stuffed animals and small snow shovels from a fun afternoon of Nature’s Little Explorers class. As I headed back inside to organize supplies and drink hot cocoa, a subtle but beautiful sign of the little birds caught my eye. Among the labyrinth of tiny tracks, wingtip imprints were clearly outlined in the snow. I could almost hear the flutter of wings while noticing them, which is one of my favorite bird sounds. This was a reminder that some signs of winter creatures can be easy to miss unless you are keeping a close eye out, or if you’re lucky to be looking in the right direction.
While the snow has been rather intermittent so far this year, sometimes even a dusting of snow can reveal clear tracks. In fact, it can be easier to see the shapes and patterns of tracks when there is less snow since their outlines don’t get as broken up from trudging through deep drifts. When you come across critter tracks, it’s fun to imagine what the animal was doing as they hopped, ran, walked, or waddled along. Foxes take very direct paths while they trot, with the rear paws landing neatly in the same prints as their front paws. This is known as direct register, and even when looking at their tracks it conveys an air of seriousness, conserving energy and getting straight to the point as they must survive in freezing cold. By contrast, domestic dog tracks are goofy and scrambled in every direction because they can take more time to play.
Next time you’re out in the forest or walking around your neighborhood, see what kinds of stories you can discover in the snow. And if that snow is melted from the ground, you can always look for stories in the mud, too!