Saturday, December 29, 2012

Winter Tales

The Thursday snowstorm left us with a nice snowpack of six plus inches, enough for some excellent snowshoeing and ideal conditions for seeing animal tracks. Fresh, powdery snow reveals the winter lives of the resident animals -- stories of their travels through the woods and wetlands that would otherwise go unnoticed on bare ground.

Yesterday, Kodi and I snowshoed in College Woods in Durham. I had to break trail, which is always a good workout. The low winter sun, under blue sky, painted long shadows in the woodland understory.
Snow fleas, in the thousands, appeared on top of the snow. Most remained in a thick pile, while others flung themselves up a snowbank against a pine tree. Only if you look close in the next photo can you see the tiny, black specs, each a snow flea.
Gray squirrels and a mink traversed the snowy woodland behind our house. The squirrel galloped between the safety of large trees,
while the mink bounded under low brush along the wetland edge, as revealed by their tracks.
Today the sky is solid gray and the wind is calm. As a few snowflakes began to fall, we strapped on our snowshoes and spent a couple hours on the trails at the Piscassic Greenway in Newfields, just down the road from our house. This area of conserved land covers nearly 400 acres, so wildlife is bountiful in this mix of woods, wetlands, and fields.
We crossed paths with the tracks of deer, coyote or fox or both, red squirrels, fishers, snowshoe hares, a long-tailed weasel, a deer mouse, and a few human tracks. The fishers (we think there were two) criss-crossed the woodland and were particularly interested in the red squirrels and snowshoe hares, as their tracks often intertwined. Here is the fisher on the left and the hare on the right. Both are traveling away from me. My iPhone camera is less than adequate for track pictures on a gray day.
The beaver lodge looked snug in its blanket of white snow. This beaver has a large cache of food that it can reach beneath the ice or from above as conditions allow.
We noted one grisly scene, where predator met prey, and the predator won. I thought for sure we'd see where a fisher took a red squirrel, but this fight was between a snowshoe hare (the prey) and a hawk or owl (the predator). There were no mammal tracks, just tracks of a bird. The hare was likely feeding beneath the relative safety of a small pine, earlier this morning. Perhaps its fur was not yet white, and it made for easy pickings. Here is the remnant of the hare, not much left.
Whether predator or prey, life in winter is harsh for both. If you want to follow their stories, strap on snowshoes after a fresh snow and head outside. The woods and fields are full of wintertime tales.


  1. Hi Ellen,

    Your opening photo is a splendid! It's a perfect depiction of a beautiful day in winter.

    Regarding the snow fleas, I don't recall seeing those little guys here in northern New Hampshire until late winter/early spring. Is it fairly common to spot them in your part of the State at this time of year?


    1. Hi John,

      Thanks for the nice comment on the photo. It is really beautiful here and we just got another 5 inches of powder overnight. Yahoo!

      The snow fleas (more properly called springtails) come out on sunny days when it is a bit warmer. The day I saw them was lightly above freezing and under blue skies. I think we see them more in spring because there are more warmer days.

      Happy snowshoeing.


  2. Snow fleas---that's a new one to me! Reminds me of sand fleas but somehow I think the snow fleas look more ominous!

    1. Hi Misti,

      The snow fleas are more properly called springtails, as they are not a flea, but I like the common name anyway. Here is a good link about them: