Saturday, January 10, 2009

A Perfect Winter Day

Anybody reading this in the south or on the west coast is going to think I'm insane, but it's a perfectly gorgeous winter day here in Minnesota. OK, so our temps are only in the low teens, but the sun is shining brightly and there's very little wind, so we don't have a windchill to contend with. It's so nice I didn't even have to wear a hat or zip up my coat today! So nice that I was even able to hang laundry outside -- see the steam (it was 14 degrees when I hung these jeans on the line). The weather service is predicting a turn for the worse tomorrow and sub-zero temps next week, so that makes today really enjoyable.

We had a couple inches of light fluffy snow yesterday and no wind overnight to blow it around, so I was excited to see these tracks in the backyard this morning when I was filling the birdfeeders (on the weekend I don't have to get up early, so I can wait until it's light to fill my feeders--instead of the usual 4 AM!) Who do you think made these tracks?
Here's another clue--
I'm reasonably certain these tracks are from a Red Fox! Here's what I learned from Stan Tekiela's "Mammals of Minnesota Field Guide." The fox forepaw is 2" long, oval, with hind paw slightly smaller; and it makes a straight line of single tracks with the hind paw falling near or directly onto forepaw prints when walking. The stride when walking is 10-14 inches.

Here's one of Sophie's footprints for comparison.

And she sometimes drags her feet while she's walking

Because it was such a nice morning, I decided to follow these tracks and see where this fox was headed. It walked down the path between my wildflowers and dogwood shrubs. This area is heavily traveled by bunnies, so I'm sure it was quite interesting to the fox.

However, the fox continued further on in the yard--toward the sumac and some other larger evergreens.

The bunnies spend a lot of time under these large evergreens too--I've never trimmed the branches on the bottom, so it's a nice sheltered area for all kinds of critters. The fox tracks even crossed the bunnies in a few spots.

As I continued following, I noticed two sets of fox tracks crossing each other. Is this significant? Hmmmm.....

And then farther up the hill, I found this. I think I had TWO FOXES in my backyard last night!

I found two sets of tracks together--one set coming into the yard and another set going the other direction.

I continued following the tracks hoping to find some more significant evidence (like some fur or even better, poop!) but the only thing I was able to detect was a faint whiff of fox urine--a very distinct aroma that you don't forget once you've ever smelled it. I'll probably never get the chance to see these foxes because of their mainly nocturnal schedule, but I'm excited to know they were here.


Richard said...

Fox tracks work for me but then I can barely identify rabbit

Anonymous said...

At first I thought they were coyote tracks, cuz they were so small. What a thrill to have red foxes in your yard. The only fox I have ever seen was on the vacant farm across from us and I got to see her kits when she was out hunting. It is always so cool to see animals you don't see every day, that's why I'm glad to live where we do.


Mama Pea said...

What a delightful post! I felt like I was out walking with you. We see foxes up here but mostly crossing the roads when we're out driving at night.

When we were out snowshoeing in our woods yesterday, Roy commented that we haven't seen so much as one single rabbit all winter. Nor any droppings in the snow. Does that mean we have an over-abundance of foxes? Or owls this year?

Jayne said...

What a great mystery trail Ruthie! Maybe your night camera might catch them?

Dana and Daisy said...

you might have a litter of fox pups this spring!

Kallen305 said...

Ruthie, we seem like we are in the same weather pattern here. It was 17 degrees in MA today and it seemed downright balmy vs. what we have had recently.

I admire you for being brave enough to hang laundry today. I love to hang out my clothes and the last time I did it in cold weather they were actually ice cubes. I now dry them on the heaters because I only use my dryer for things that absolutely have to go in there.

We too are getting those arctic temps next week and I am dreading it.

Love the tracks pictures. The fox prints are so cute.

Marsha said...

What a fun post. First the freeze dried jeans and then the fox tracks! When I got to the photo of the two sets of tracks crossing, I thought to myself they were playing fox and goose, LOL! Do you remember that game out in the snow from elementary school?

Lisa at Greenbow said...

Those blue skies are dandy Ruthie. I am so glad you had a pretty day to enjoy before that Arctic front comes in. It is to come all the way down here this week. Just think we will be in the deep freeze with you. Ha...

How lucky to have foxes in your garden. Have a good one...

KGMom said...

Ruthie hot on the trail! How cool.
Maybe you should photograph them with your motion camera!

Mary said...

I'd follow those tracks, too, Ruthie! How cool. We used to have foxes in Maryland. Our Chloe used to follow their tracks after the snow. What fun!

I do understand about the 17 degrees. No wind child, sun means you can work up a sweat.


troutbirder said...

I need to get that book! As I'm always wondering what the heck those tracks are. I do stay away from scat issues though :@)

RuthieJ said...

Well, Richard, that can be your next assignment while there's still snow on the ground--finding & identifying animal tracks! ;-)

Hi Mom,
Haven't heard coyotes in the neighborhood for a long time, but I've seen foxes up the street in the wooded areas. I'm going with fox because of the distance between the prints, both length-wise and sideways.

Hi Mama Pea,
No rabbits at all? That's really unusual. We have oodles of them and it's not unusual to look out at night and see 5 or 6 in and around the ground feeder trays. I'm guessing any of the predators you mentioned have taken advantage of the bunnies in your neck of the woods.

Hi Jayne,
The trail camera would work but this time of year, the batteries freeze. If I start seeing the tracks regularly, the camera will go out as soon as spring gets here for sure.

Oh Dana, that would be very cool! I've only seen fox pups in the wild a couple times but they're so fun to watch.

Hi Kim,
Yes, today's going to be our last decent day for the next week or so. Plenty of wood stacked in the garage, the birdseed bins are filled and I even ordered some new wool long underwear. I hope you guys stay warm too.

Hi Marsha,
We did play fox and goose in school--that was fun. Remember how cold it was in those days and yet we were always ready to go out and play at recess time!

Hi Lisa,
I saw on the nightly news last night that Chicago and points east were getting hammered by the same snowstorm that only left us a couple inches. I'll be thinking of you--keep Luna close and she'll help keep you warm!

Hi Donna,
I'm definitely going to get that trail camera out once warmer weather arrives. I might be surprised by all the nocturnal critters traveling through my backyard!

Hi Mary,
Surprisingly enough, Sophie wasn't even interested in following those tracks. She'll post by the evergreens if there's a bunny underneath, but I usually see the bunny run out the other side of the tree and Sophie never notices. She wanted to spend lots of time outside chasing the frisbee on such a nice day.

Hi Troutbirder,
You would enjoy Stan's "Mammals of Minnesota" book. It's got the animals grouped by species and then by size from smallest to largest, so it starts out with the Least Shrew at 2 inches and finishes with the American Bison at 12 feet! Plus lots of good information about each animal.

Shellmo said...

Ruthie - please let me know how many days it will take for those pants to dry! Lol! I love your tracking skills - very exciting to have the foxes!!

RuthieJ said...

Hi Shelley,
Amazingly enough they were almost dry by the time I took them down at 4:00. If I would have hung them out a little earlier in the morning, I'm sure they would have been completely dry.

Red said...

I still can't get over hanging clothes out to dry where they freeze! Too funny. But I suppose if it's a sunny day, then it's a dry day.

Great info you shared on the tracks... I would have been so confused on the single tracks wondering where the other side was.

Leedra said...

I have no idea about tracking or tracks, so this was very interesting.

Still too cold to hang out clothes on the line. You will have to break them when you take them in.

I now have 2 blogs hope you will follow my new one along with my old one. I will be posting more often to the new one.

Leedra’s Photos For Fun
Photography By Leedra

Mary C said...

Ruthie - isn't it wonderful when you get a day like that during the winter? It makes you appreciate the sun and warmth that much more. I remember days when I lived in Colorado and I hung out clothes to dry in the winter months. It was exhilarating to say the least. But the greatest thing was that the clothes had such a clean, fresh smell to them. I loved your sleuthing to follow those tracks. Like Red, I would have wondered what could have made a single track like that. That was neat to see the "criss-cross" tracks. Are foxes territorial? Or do you think it could have been male/female mates? Very interesting.

Meggie said...

You just may get an opportunity to photograph those little buggers, Ruthie. Keep your camera handy. I've seen many fox in the daytime but they sure are fast. How about a webcam?