Friday, January 8, 2010

Snow Falling on Friday

A gentle snow started falling by late morning; about the time Bella and I set off on our daily walk. We returned to one of our favorite nearby haunts -- an old, closed town road that leads through state-owned conservation lands full of wildlife sign.

We are almost always alone on these weekday walks. Work, weather, wind, or other distractions keep most people away. The solitude allows for introspection and for wandering wherever we please.

Pointy-toed deer tracks crisscross the trail and lead around every Eastern red cedar. The trees misshapen by repeated heavy winter browsing by the deer. Canine tracks, large and small, follow their prey. Bounding snowshoe hare crossed our path well-before we arrived. The hare population appears healthy given the density of tracks beneath the thick white pine and young hardwoods. Bella found many a round brown pellet, where the hare paused to browse some twigs.

We discovered several ruffed grouse roost sites, by seeing the droppings not the bird. The first site was beneath a stand of young quaking aspens, the favorite winter food of grouse. They perch in the tree eating mainly the male flower buds and leaf buds. According to a Maryland Cooperative Extension fact sheet, grouse may leave as many as 75 chalk-colored, cylindrical slightly curved droppings, each about one inch in length, in a pile beneath their roost.

Today we discovered this large pile of grouse droppings,
beneath a thicket of young white pines.

By coincidence, the current email issue of Northern Woodlands arrived in my inbox today, which includes a nice story about ruffed grouse in winter. Read the article to learn about grouse tricks to stay warm and safe in winter.

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