“Want to go back to Becky’s?” was the message I received last night.
My instant reply, “Yes!”
And so we did, Pamela M. and I.
We chose Moose Alley as the first trail to follow, though traveling in a counterclockwise pattern to change things up a bit. If you joined us for our journey there a few weeks ago, you’ll recall that we found lots of moose sign and even a few beds. Oh, I know, this is indeed a sign, but . . . it wasn’t exactly what we hoped to discover.
Within seconds of beginning today’s journey, tracks of a snowshoe hare pretending to imitate a snow lobster made themselves known.
We soon began to realize that the hare crossed the trail . . . frequently. One hare? Two? Or even more. One thing we did notice was that there was a least one of a slightly smaller size than the rest and now I regret that we didn’t measure the print and snap a photo. Oh well, maybe the next time. There’s always time for another trip to Becky’s.
There were some domestic dog tracks and we had to remind ourselves not to be confused by those, but we did spy coyote and possibly fisher along the way as well. More certain we were, however, when we occasionally spotted prints on the diagonal of a bounder. We quickly nailed down the identification to either ermine or long-tailed weasel by the size and track pattern.
After a bit, we found another moose sign. But still no moose prints.
So, we decided to explore the land around and beside the bog to see if the moose was just off trail. In our search, we found an old vireo nest tucked away in a beech sapling. On first thought it seemed the bird had built it rather close to the ground, but a second thought was the realization that the ground was probably two feet below our feet for such is the depth of the snow all of a sudden.
We also found a small cottony egg sac on red maple bark and wondered if it was deposited by a moth.
And an intact sawfly cocoon. Quite often we encounter these with perfectly cut lids meaning the adult fly had previously emerged–as in six months previous at least.
But, just as we know we should follow a track for a ways to make a correct identification, or walk all the way around a tree to study its bark, we were also reminded to look at the backside of the cocoon. Had a bird tried to dine? Or perhaps a wasp parasitized the sawfly? We’ve been spending a lot of time lately focused on bug forms in winter, but thankfully still have so much more to learn.
The bog, itself, was beautiful and we followed the edge of it for a wee bit, until that is, we saw water and thought better of our intention to locate the moose for which it was named.
Back on Moose Alley, we made our way downhill and then a depression about fifteen feet off trail stopped us. And, of course, we had to tromp through the snow to check it out. Though we made quite a disturbance with our snowshoes, there was only one possible track about ten feet behind us and five feet off trail. Then we noticed a ball of scat.
Being the mighty investigators that we are, once we realized the sawdusty scat was from a moose, we got down on all fours to investigate the broken depression. When we started digging we discovered more moose scat frozen inside. But still, we pondered. There were no other tracks. The depression was several feet across, but not large enough for a moose. We hadn’t seen any deer tracks. And it seemed odd that it the crusty chunks were not smoothed out by the body heat of an ungulate. Still, we did consider a small flying moose. How else would it have gotten to that spot?
Walking back to the “prints” that were closer to the trail, we examined them again. And noted a bit of tunneling. Maybe they weren’t prints after all.
And then we spied a bird track a few feet beyond. Turn on the light bulb please. Could it be that the ruffed grouse, who burrows into deep, soft snow to hide from predators, and scares the daylight out of us when it explodes out of its hiding spot, had blasted through the crusty layer of snow to spend the night. Was it surprised to find moose scat in its chosen spot?
Once we began spying the grouse tracks, we realized they were everywhere. Just like the snowshoe hare. The question remains: which came first?
While the grouse was searching for birch seeds upon which to dine, the hare made its meals of the woody foliage stems. Like a moose’s winter scat, the hare’s is also quite sawdusty in texture given its food source.
Did I say the grouse’s tracks became quite ubiquitous? And we began to find more holes like that made by the flying moose, I mean grouse.
The thing that really struck us was the thickness of the crusty layer and the energy the grouse had to use in order to blast into and out of it. Some call them fool’s hens, but they struck us as being rather smart about penetrating solid slabs.
Eventually, our own need for nourishment and energy renewal brought us to a halt in a sunny spot at Moose Alley’s intersection with Loop Trail. We each found a stump upon which to dine and while we sat quietly, chickadees entertained us with their quick seed gathering foray and calls to each other.
To take it all in, Pam struck a pose the reminded me of a certain famous person; she just needed wool mittens 😉
Eventually we stood and moved along, pausing briefly beside mullein in its winter form–hoping against hope that a spider or another insect might make itself known. No such luck, though we did admire the size and structure.
More domestic dog tracks shouted their names by their behavior, but we soon discovered prints of a strict carnivore who had recently moved through the forest with intention.
By the four toes, no visible nails, and shape of the ridge and heel pad, we knew it to be one who says, “Meow.” Well, maybe not exactly like a domestic cat, but still a feline, in this case a bobcat.
Our final find of the day was the track of a red fox. Oh, we’d seen squirrel and mouse as well. And maybe a few others I’m forgetting to mention. But moose?
Just as Marta and Kristoff wanted nothing to do with us, we suspect the moose was the same. That means only one thing.
We must return to Notch View Farm on Route 113 in Evans Notch again . . . and again . . . and maybe again.
As for today, with powder upon the crusty layer of snow, it was a Top Notch Tracking day.
P.S. Thank you, Becky and Jim.