The relatively warm, wet start to winter has provided us with the opportunity to see riverside tracks that might otherwise not be evident. Raccoons are known for their ability to go anywhere and get into anything and the reason for this dexterity is revealed in their tracks. Both front and hind feet have five long toes. Although the “thumb” is not opposable, it is long enough to grasp things. Because of this dexterity, raccoon tracks can vary widely. In mud and snow, they often resemble small human hands. Typically the toes of the front feet are more splayed out than those of the hind feet.
For the first time this winter, there is enough snow for ruffed grouse to find shelter from the cold by flying into it and creating a burrow that keeps them relatively warm and invisible to predators. When not resting in their snow burrows on cold nights, or “budding” on nearby aspen buds at dawn and dusk, ruffed grouse do a considerable amount of walking on top of the snow. Their feet are well equipped for this (see Naturally Curious post for 11/4/11) and leave a chain of two-inch, three-toed imprints, one directly in front of the other. (The grouse that left these tracks was walking toward the bottom of the photograph.)
Can you identify these tracks? They stumped me until the track maker revealed itself. I was in mixed deciduous/coniferous woods, following fisher tracks, when I saw these unusual-looking tracks. It’s hard to believe I’ve never noticed them before today, as the maker of the tracks is quite common. These mystery tracks will be identified tomorrow (1/30/12). Meanwhile, guesses are welcome! (Track pattern is about 5 inches wide.)
It may be possible to tell the difference between white-footed and deer mouse tracks, but I certainly can’t. The only clue that sometimes works is to note the habitat in which you see the tracks– they are somewhat more likely to be those of a deer mouse if they are in a coniferous forest, but not always! White-footed and deer mice often travel on top of the snow. They are bounders, leaving tracks that resemble those of a miniature rabbit, with the larger back feet landing in front of the smaller front feet. There is often a tail mark, but not always, as they can and do hold their tails vertically at times.