Winter Walk

OH, People - get out there!  It may be cold (about 4*F), but the sun is out, the sky is blue, and at 8:30 this morning it was a GLORIOUS time to be out walking the trails here at Severson Dells!  Yesterday's snow, with its giant dry flat flakes, is only about 2-3 inches deep, and it is PERFECT for finding tracks, for decorating last year's dried flowers, and transforming the ground into a sparkling sheet of rainbows.  SO beautiful. 

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It's too cold?  Heck - bundle up!  Truly, there is no good excuse to not go out on a morning like this.  Today I had on my boots, two pairs of wool socks, a pair of thinnish longjohns under my usual nylon pants, a turtleneck shirt, a sweatshirt, a wool coat, woolly mittens, alpaca scarf and a wool hat.  That's it.  Nothing fancy.  And I was plenty warm (well, until the end of my walk, when my legs were starting to get a bit chilly).

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And what did I see?  Amazing things.  I was anticipating photographing snow on stuff (last year's flowers, old bird nests, branches and twigs), but I was blessed with so much more.

Did these coyotes find something to eat here, or was it a territorial marker?

Did these coyotes find something to eat here, or was it a territorial marker?

Coyote tracks.  Coyote tracks galore.  I haven't seen such coyote tracks since I was living in the Adirondacks.  I found scent sites, possible capture sites (vole?  mouse?), sites where snouts were thrust into the snow.  There were interesting spots where a coyote walked a circle... why?  No idea, but interesting.  

Classic otter slides and 2x2 bound.

Classic otter slides and 2x2 bound.

And then there were the otter tracks.  OTTERS!  I'm still so excited about them that I am nearly vibrating!  There was a slide down a hill, slides into and out of the open water (and the stream is only a very few inches deep), and very distinct footprints.

Mouse tracks on the frozen creek.

Mouse tracks on the frozen creek.

Oh, sure, there were deer, squirrel and mouse tracks, too, but it was the coyote and otter tracks that made my morning.  

In fact, we are going to head back out in a little while, my coworkers and I, so I can show them what I found.

If you go out for an explore on a wintery morning like this, here are my tips:

  1. Be sure you are dressed for the weather (see above).  Nothing will ruin a winter morning more than being cold.
  2. Keep your eyes (and ears) open!  You never know what you are going to find.
  3. If/when you find tracks, don't walk on them!  Walk around, to the side, or step over.  Leave the integrity of the tracks intact so others can enjoy them as well.
  4. Try to figure out the story the tracks tell.  Was it one animal or more?  Which way was it going?  Was it looking for something, or "commuting" - yes, with practice you can tell the difference.  

Winter walks are great, because we now see all the stuff that is going on that other times of the year we are oblivious to simply because we do not see the evidence of the animals' passing.