Saturday, February 12, 2022

Finding fun after winter storm by snowshoeing, skiing, and analyzing animal tracks

The cold temperatures are back after a short day when they got above freezing just before the massive storm that crossed the country and hit us. Freezing rain and rain were predicted, but all I had here was twelve inches of snow which the snowblower ate for about three hours in order to clear the 950 feet of driveway. I cleared the bird feeders with the scoop first to get them something to eat and they flocked right in as the temperatures were dropping.

My feeding flock of birds hasn’t changed much in the last couple of weeks. I put some bands on a few of them, mostly blue jays caught in the potter trap. The most I’ve counted has been 14 to 16 jays at one time. However, I’ve banded over twenty of them in the last couple of weeks so some new ones may have moved into the feeders. I had a high count of 32 purple finches and 22 slate-colored juncos. I believe all the juncos are wearing bands, but only about ten of the purple finches have bands.

I know the birds went through forty pounds of sunflower seeds in less than two weeks. While much of that has been stored by the jays and the chickadees, the finches and juncos eat every seed they are able to get a hold of. The pair of tufted titmice have been regulars but only one of them is banded. Only a couple of American goldfinches have been hanging around and one common redpoll has been battling for places on the platform with the finches and jays. The sharp-shinned hawk came through early this morning and nailed another junco for a snack. In answer to someone who commented on my last column asking if I caught the hawk and banded it. I didn’t catch it, as I would have had to have the net up in order to catch this bird as it flies through.

As I was blowing snow, I made a path to the garden which took a couple of times to get it cleared since it hadn’t been done the last time. When I turned around the second time, I saw this little black critter trying to burrow through the snow that was left in the path. It was a shrew that I had gone over, and it was trying to get out of the path before I went back up. I got over him, so he didn’t fly out through the shoot. I saw his tracks this morning as he had been up and down that path burrowing under the snow looking for something to eat. I’m sure he gets into garden waste that I throw out there about once a week.

There was a jumping mouse working that same area as well. Some of the little crab apples have fallen in the snow so I’m sure he is finding those. The beech trees in that area also had a good crop of nuts. I don’t think the deer got them all and they are hiding underneath all of the snow. More than half of the apples are still hanging on the tree and the mouse may even climb up and get them. In the fall the mice and chipmunks were climbing the birch trees in order to harvest the little seeds. The critters didn’t get them all as these seeds have blanketed the white snow many times. If all those seeds happen to grow into trees, you won’t be able to see the forest through all of the new growth.

A snapshot of snowshoe hare tracks taken by Gary Lee.

I skied a couple of times, and it was fast on a broken trail. It certainly was work on an unbroken trail, and I did fall down once rather than tackle a tree. I also snowshoed in a couple places, breaking trail all the way. All in all, it wasn’t too bad, but it was tough on the uphills. I went down to Ferd’s Bog Trail and crossed a variety of animal tracks including deer, pine marten, fisher, coyote, and snowshoe hare tracks along that short trail. The hare and marten tracks were only sinking in a couple of inches into the snow, while the other tracks were going right to the bottom. Last night one hare went right across the backyard. It was sinking in about four inches but it was making jumps of more than five feet each time as it made a tour down by the pond and into the evergreens.

With all this snow on the ice on the lakes, there will be wet spots to look out for. The weight of the snow will push water up on top and cause slush. This is not fun for those who are skiing or snowshoeing. If you get into one of these spots, it will almost instantly freeze on your skies or snowshoes making them feel heavy, like lead weights on your feet. When these places are deep under the snow, it can even catch a snowmobiler. I hope everyone takes caution and is aware of these conditions. A slice of the moon is in the western skies nightly before it grows again, but that’s another story. See ya.

Photo at top: Purple finches, slate-colored juncos and an American goldfinch on a platform feeder. Photo credit: Gary Lee. 

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Gary lives with his wife, Karen, at Eight Acre Wood in Inlet where he was the Forest Ranger for 35 years, working in the Moose River Wild Forest Recreation Area and West Canada Lakes Wilderness Area. Now retired, Gary works summers for the Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation, observing, catching and banding loons. The author of a column Daybreak to Twilight in local papers from 1986 to 2019, he now writes his Outdoor Adventures a weekly blog. In 2008, Gary coauthored a book with John M.C. “Mike” Peterson, "Adirondack Birding- 60 Great Places to Find Birds."

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