About two weeks ago a friend and I exchanged e-mails about mammal tracks we’d spotted that day. His big find was plenty of bobcat tracks at Bald Pate Preserve, while mine was mink tracks by Sucker Brook in Lovell. And that’s when he commented, “We need to get a life.” 😉
Yup. So today I did just that. With a friend in tow, I revisited the Red Tail Trail off Hurricane Mountain Road in North Conway. Our mission was to move slowly through the landscape in search of signs of nature in winter.
Oh my. Such a boring task. What could there possibly be to see? Everything is brown and gray and ever so drab.
From the start, mouse tracks show the suicide mission these little guys make each night as they scramble this way and that in search of food . . . and cover. Mice are nocturnal bounders who travel above ground for long distances–risky behavior since they are tasty treats for most predators. White-footed and deer mice have similar-sized feet and bodies, so their prints are difficult to distinguish from each other. Their print pattern reminds me of that made by squirrels, only in miniature and their long tails often leave drag marks in the center.
Here’s another favorite meal for many predators–evidence that a vole lives nearby. We were in an old logging area when we found this. While a vole is similar in size to the white-footed and deer mice, its tail doesn’t show in the track. Plus, two other things stood out to us. The tunnel in the first photo is typical vole behavior. While we received 6 inches of snow in western Maine on Tuesday, North Conway only has about two inches on top of ice. Voles are shy of sky space, so tunneling is one of their behaviors. With ice below the snow, this tunnel was exposed and reminded us of spring when vole tunnels become visible in melting snow. The other behavior of this little brown thing (LBT) that is different from its cousins, the other LBTs like mice and shrews, is the zig zag or alternating pattern when it walks. Voles vary their walking pattern, but they don’t bound like the others. The pattern is visible for a few steps above the ruler.
And who might those predators be? We found the diagonal pattern typical to the weasel family. We thought that this one was a mink, but now that I’m in my cozy den, I’m questioning our ID. It may have been a short or long-tailed weasel. (1/15/16: Changed my mind back to mink. My ruler kept sliding, but the measurements we took, and we took several, clearly indicated mink, so that’s my story and I’m sticking with it.)
Further up the trail, we were more certain that this one was a weasel, though, again, short or long-tailed is the question. Suffice it to say–weasel.
And still another family member–only a bit larger in size. Notice the tear-drop shaped toes. And the loping pattern. A fisher had recently crossed the trail. We followed its tracks for a bit and then bushwhacked back. On our return we came across a second set of fisher tracks. And then, as we backtracked beside our own snowshoe prints, we realized they’d traveled together and then split apart–perhaps hoping to find some good chow.
As we moved beside and away from the river, we also saw deer, snowshoe hare, coyote and fox tracks.
Winding our way up through the switchbacks, one other critter left a calling card.
Based on the behavior, I want to say it’s a ruffed grouse. I must admit that we didn’t follow the tracks, but grouse are also tunnelers and there’s a bit of a tunnel here. Usually I find their scat. By now, you are probably thinking that I really do need to get a life.
We laughed about how we used to not even notice everything on the ground–dismissing it as tree litter. Ah, litter it is. But more specifically, we were in the land of hemlocks and birch trees. Hemlock cones, cone scales and winged seeds (samaras) are part of the array. And the yellow birch catkins have released their fleurs-de-lis scales and seeds as well.
One of the things we weren’t thrilled to discover–the white, wooly and waxy coating that the beech scale insects secrete to cover themselves. Oy vey. This beech tree doesn’t stand a chance.
So back to happier thoughts, including the polypody that let us know it was time to head home and curl up by a warm fire–the temp was in the low teens.
Even the river rocks wore several layers.
Just before we arrived at my truck, we stopped to admire this mighty fine artist conk. It will still be there on Saturday–join me and the wonderful folks from the Upper Saco Valley Land Trust for a walk on the trail–weather permitting. I’m not so sure it will actually happen this week given the forecast.
No matter. These were only a few of our finds. There’s so much to see and wonder about and every time I visit, I’m in awe of this special place. And thankful for the life I’ve got.