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If your not getting out to look at tracks you should be. The sun is high and the days are long. This is a good time to look for tracks and even a better time to study animal gaits- the way they move. In our white fluffy powder, clear tracks rarely show. We are often left with patterns in the snow. If you study how different animals move you can start to learn what critters are making trails in the snow without seeing any tracks at all.
These are obviously bird tracks. Notice how the two inner toes on each foot stick together while the outer toe is by itself. This is characteristic of the Corvids- ravens, crows, jays and magpies. The size of these tracks show that a gray jay left these tracks in a dusting of snow.


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This is classic ptarmigan feeding sign. Lots of small tracks littering the snow around exposed shrub stems. There are a lot of interesting lessons in these tracks. Some break through the snow, some do not. There are an infinite variety of impressions made in the various snow conditions. Look at them all and it will help you to determine tough tracks in the future.

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This is what they are eating. Notice the white spot about one third up the willow stem. That is where a bud was pulled off the stem by a ptarmigan. Soon the tracks will blow away, but the feeding evidence will remain.

Also look for ptarmigan scat and snow roosting sites where you see a lot of ptarmigan activity.


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Here is a great example of a track pattern. The gait is called a 2x2 bound and is used by many members of the weasel family while in deep snow. Each impression in the snow shows two tracks diagonal to each other. There are actually 4 tracks there but the hind feet land exactly where the front feet touched down.
Without a scale it may be difficult to identify this as a marten trail. Always put a scale in a photo if you are using it to document tracks and trails.

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Here is a set of marten tracks in a dusting of snow on top of a soft crust.
You can make out the five toes. This is about as clear as the tracks will get as Marten feet are heavily furred.


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Follow the trails. This area was in a burned forest and it was littered with marten trails. I checked out this spot which was heavily beaten down with tracks. I found a marten tunnel in the snow and along with it some blood and bones. It appeared the marten had been successful on a hunt and spent some time hanging around that area.

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This is a great look at a lynx trail. The lynx is using a direct register walk; placing its hind foot where its front foot landed on each side. Many animals do this in the deep snow because it saves them a lot of energy.
This lynx was breaking through a thin, weak crust but not sinking too deep. The snow is over 4 feet deep.

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Sometimes this is all you get. This is actually a pretty good lynx track in a drift of snow. They have heavily furred feet so the toe and palm pad don't show with a lot of clarity. But, notice the round shape, lots of space between the toe pads and the blob of a heel pad.

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I'll leave with this awesome shot taken on the Iditarod trail by Lisa Beattie. There is no scale but this appears to be the plunge dive of a great gray owl. You can see where it plunged into the snow- feet first- to grab a subnivian vole. Great Gray owls can hear voles under a few feet of snow and they specialize in capturing small rodents.
This one plunged, but not deep. It then lifted itself out of the snow with its wings and took off with a powerful stroke.


 


Comments

kat
03/20/2012 08:05

lisa's last name is spelled: beattie :)

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kat
03/20/2012 08:11

two typos:
in your lynx photo you have, 'many animals do this in deep snow in because...' the in doesn't seem to belong.
and in lisa's shot you have a sentence that says 'in a feet of snow' which maybe should have been a foot of snow?

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kat
03/20/2012 08:11

the new photos look great by the way! very interesting.

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