By: Laura Russell
Along the Warner River corridor in the warm weather, we spend a lot of time looking up into the trees to catch glimpses of the birds and small critters who chatter and scold above us. But in the winter, we look down for the silent tracks of coyote, bobcat, fisher, fox, white tailed deer, moose, bear, and even the wing prints of overwintering birds. Although the winter days are short and cold, this is the best time to “see” the animals as they make their way through the snow.
Dinner-plate-sized moose tracks make us think of the lumbering Imperial walkers from Star Wars. Deer tracks occur in groups, and in the deep snow their distinct hoof prints plunge sharply all the way to the bare ground. The toes of bobcat tracks appear pearl-like in their exquisite roundness. Most expressive, however, are fox tracks. They communicate a sense of all business as they come out of the hills and course across our meadow towards the river.
They continue onto the river ice, hugging the bank until it’s time to cross to the other side. The tracks seem to take roughly the same route for each foray, and they seem so purposeful. With luck, we will see the tracks come to a stop to scratch and dig through the snow. Then, the tracks move on, leaving tufts of fur or drops of blood as a result of finding prey. During the first half of winter, the foxes leave no other messages that we can decipher. But in February, we smell the pungent odor that says they are marking their territory, and we start to look for activity at the entrances of the two dens that look out over our road. We know we will soon see kits quizzically peering out of the den, getting ready to make their own tracks, tracks, tracks….