I love tracking in the winter. Tracks tell stories. They tell stories of life and death, journeys and nightly rounds. The precise linear tracks of a fox tell such a different story than the wandering, swirling tracks of a dog, while their toes are so similar.
Some of my favorite track stories are mysteries. I love the mysteries of holes in the snow. Tracks are so often identified by their patterns. Animals walk with long strides or short, hop along or leave a tail drag between the left paws imprints and right. But sometimes we find holes in the snow, holes with few clues or no replications to form a pattern. Who doesn’t love a good mystery?
Some holes are big enough across to stick your thumb into. The snow along the insides of the hole may be disturbed. There may be a few tracks leading into or out of the hole, but there may not be. Some of the snow just around the edge of the hole will be disturbed.
I was just waiting for a whiskered nose to peek up out of this hole in the snow.
These holes are made by small mammals that are busy at life under the snow. The deep snow provides insulation from the cold as well as protection from predators above. Mice, moles, voles and shrews follow tunnels and use rooms under the snow. They make holes that I like to call spy holes where they peek out to look at the world or hop out to search for food and let air down into their tunnels. The small size of these holes as well as some disturbance of the snow around the edges gives them away as small mammal spy holes. They are a sign of the busyness of the lives of small mammals
Sometimes I find holes very similar to these in the snow, although with no disturbance or tracks around at all. They are about an inch to an inch and a half across and are perfectly formed with some ice around the inside. These are little ventilation holes or chimneys leading down to the tunnels or sleeping chambers of mammals. The body heat and the warmth from the breath of animals rises up through the snow and melts exits to form these tidy holes. They are perfectly formed and undisturbed. I like to envision a sleeping chipmunk or family of mice breathing in and out slowly and the heat slowly rising up to the surface. What a treat of a find!
Many holes come up from underneath the snow, but others are made from above. A simpler mystery is revealed to us through randomly placed and shaped depressions in the snow.
A curious plop in the snow with no pattern leading to or away from it.
These are depressions made from snow and ice falling off the limbs of trees in the wind. A mystery that is simple to solve once you’ve seen them.
I hope that you will be enticed to explore the mysteries and stories shared through animal tracks. Whether you are hiking the hills of Cleveland Metroparks or exploring your own yard, clues are just under your gaze!
I couldn't resist sharing with you this series of pefect mouse imprints in the snow. Look carefully and you can even see the marks left by its tail!