A walk in the woods

A sunny day for a walk.

I try to reserve a bit of daylight, each day, to get out for a walk. When I’m especially busy, or lazy, I walk up the road and back, keeping an eye peeled for that bald eagle I saw over the river last week. But when I have a bit more time and energy, I don my pack and strike out up the steep hill on the other side of the road. These hills were formed several centuries ago when the Connecticut River was formed by the receding waters of the Pleistocene-era Lake Hitchcock, after the glaciers receded from what is now northern New England. The hillside is steep, but it’s a good chance to get my legs moving, to fill my lungs with fresh air, to follow my whims, and to see what I might find. What did I find out there today? read on.

The recent warm spells, and very limited snowfall, have reduced the deep snow I traversed in these same woods one month earlier to a mere inch or two of crunchy residue, topped by a thin layer of powder from the flurries that fell a few days ago. Although not as fun to walk through, it makes for excellent tracking conditions. Today the deer tracks were prevalent, as always. I crunched my way uphill by following their tracks up an old log-skidding trail, and paused to look up toward the hilltop. There, just barely visible against the browns and grays of the barren saplings and bushes, was a buck who had paused to study me, perhaps 50 yards away. He studied me for a moment, then turned and bounded away, far too soon for me to get a photo.

An area where deer scratch through the snow and leaves in search of acorns.

This is an area I often see littered with deer tracks, and large areas where they’ve scratched through the snow and leaf litter in search of any acorns left over from the fall, as you see above.

Very close to that spot, one other sequence of tracks stood out today. It is hard to photograph tracks in snow in a legible way, but what do you make of this track?

The tracks of a fox, coyote, or bobcat? Click for full-size photo.

This animal was stepping in its own footsteps, as I could see from the sequence of tracks. As a result, only a few of the tracks were crisp and clear, like the one above. It is about 2″ long, judging by my fingers above. It has two back lobes and three (or four) front lobes and some hint of claws at top. The most likely critter would be a red fox (though their tracks tend to be smaller), or a coyote (though they tend to pass through here only rarely); the coolest find would be a bobcat (rare indeed, but I saw did see one in this block of forest last fall).

My guidebook isn’t providing a clear match; all the canids and felines have a single rear lobe. Any tracking experts out there?

Author: dfkotz

David Kotz is an outdoor enthusiast, traveller, husband, and father of three. He is also a Professor of Computer Science at Dartmouth College.

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