Thursday, February 5, 2009

Another Backyard Hike

Our weather service is predicting daily highs above the freezing mark for the next 7 days, so I took advantage of one of our last cold days yesterday to take a hike in the backyard and photograph some tracks in the snow before they disappear with the melting snow.

Do any of you have crows visiting your backyard feeders? The crows in our backyard spend quite a bit of time just walking around looking for tasty morsels on the ground. I think their footprints are really neat.

Here are some nice cottontail footprints. Usually I never see their back toes spread out like this.

Here are the footprints from a cat that's been hanging around our yard all winter. I am not happy about this and have found some evidence of birds this cat has killed.

On Tuesday night, when I went to put Sophie out around 11 PM, I turned on the backyard light and got to see a fox eating birdseed from the ground feeder tray. Unfortunately, both of the spotlights needed to be recharged, so I couldn't get a really good look at it, but I did find a whole bunch of fox footprints in the backyard. Here are just a couple.

The deer were back one of those warm nights last weekend too. That was the first time they had been here since the weather got really cold. Mr. Johnson saw quite a few deer tracks up the street where the woods provide more shelter for the deer. (I think one of the neighbors up there feeds them too.) Even if you didn't recognize the deer hoofprints, the "scatological" evidence gives them away!

I found something else interesting in an area of the yard I don't often visit in winter. Last fall I raked up some leaves and put them in bags for use on my gardens in the spring. I put the bags down along the edge of my aspen grove and figured they could just get covered with snow and then in the spring the leaves would be mostly decomposed and I could just dump them on the garden. After finding this yesterday, I realized that won't be working out for me this spring.
Here's where several of the leaf bags were buried. You can see that almost all of the bags have been torn open and there are leaves all over the place. It looks like the fox was there and dug down into the snow--one of the bags was actually dug completely out of the snow and the other one (by the fox tracks) was apparently torn open by the fox digging into it. I suppose mice and voles have no problem chewing through the plastic bags and finding nice warm leaf insulation to burrow into. I can't figure out what else it would be, but needless to say, I don't think I'm going to have much leaf compost to put on the garden this spring.

Here's where a bunch of bunny trails converge and head over into the neighbor's backyard. The bunnies love hiding under these nice, thick evergreen trees. Just to the left of the trees in this picture, the neighbor also has a small utility shed and I think the possum is living underneath there (along with all sorts of other critters -- judging by the number of tracks leading to that shed).

Sophie accompanied me on this backyard hike. There are so many good smells for a dog out in the backyard. In this picture, it looks like Sophie is "pointing." I think I just caught her in mid-stride, but you can certainly see the intensity and concentration as she's tracking through the snow. This is the acre of backyard that I've discontinued mowing, so I'm sure there are all sorts of wild scents here.

Here's another picture of Sophie--whatever she scented here was extremely interesting. I find it fascinating that dogs have such an amazing sense of smell. It's really fun to watch a scent hound at work.

Well, I hope you all enjoyed this little backyard hike from the warm comfort of your home and I'm glad you were able to come along with Sophie and me.


Anonymous said...

All those trails and so little time to follow them all. Enjoyed all the pics of the trails, tracks and the well you know the other stuff...... It is nice to have nice clean white snow to look for things going on in your yard.


Lisa at Greenbow said...

I am so glad you took us along with you and Sophie. All of those tracks are interesting. I can hardly ever tell what something is unless I see it make the track.

nina said...

I love following tracks. I have not found our fox this year, but many coyotes, instead.
It makes me wonder.

Sorry about your bags of leaves--those little mousey rascals!

KGMom said...

Lotsa critters outside your place.
A fox! Cool.
And Sophie looks as though she is in absolute doggy heaven.

Lynne said...

This was a fun winter back yard tour. You sure do know your tracks.

mon@rch said...

It is always wonderful finding animal tracks! Thanks for sharing!

Shellmo said...

I love seeing your animal track photos - you have such a great variety! And I always enjoy seeing your puppy!

Jaime said...

I'm so glad I found your blog. Ahh, nature and knits, a perfect pair. After looking through your older posts, I had to stop and salivate over the boxes of yarn your friend gave you before I could make it to my library homepage to check on LaBastille's Woodswoman. Such a great blog. Thanks for sharing it.

Kallen305 said...

You have such a great variety of wildlife in your yard. The fox tracks are so cute!

Kelly said...

That was cool. It was great to walk your yard with you. Studying animal tracks is fun...perfect snow for it too. Thanks!

Jayne said...

How fun to see so many critter tracks in your yard Ruthie. I would not begin to know what I was seeing tracks for in the snow!

NCmountainwoman said...

I just loved the tracks in the snow and pictures of Sophie. Very nice post.

Mel said...

Hola Ruthie!
It was fun :)
I like the way the snow keeps the 'prints'.

Heather said...

Hi Ruthie, I enjoyed your walk. Tracks are one nature identification thing I have absolutely no experience with. I can't believe all the activity that goes through your yard! That's too bad about the leaf bags getting ripped into. What we do with our leaves is rake them into a big sheet and then dump them into a big moveable compost "bin" that Dave made of wire fencing. That way the elements can readily get to the leaves and do their work a little more quickly. When it's time to use some, you can remove the "bin" and scoop out as needed. The last time we moved it I was pleasantly surprised when some Indian Pipe grew in the remaining patch of rich humus.

cindy said...

Loved the backyard walk with you. I, too love following tracks and trying to figure out who I share my yard with. Great post, Ruthie.

RuthieJ said...

Hi Mom,
I had my big boots on, but there's still a lot of snow drifted in parts of the yard--almost up to my knees in spots.

Hi Lisa,
Bunnies are the easiest ones for me to pick out. Many of the others, I still have to check in books.

Hi Nina,
I don't know how well coyotes and foxes co-exist either. We're really close to the highway, so I'm actually surprised that any of them hang around this area.

Hi Donna,
I'm hoping a fox might help control the rabbit overpopulation around here, but we'll have to wait and see what spring brings.

Thanks Lynne, glad you could come along. I have a couple good books that help me learning animal tracks: The Stokes Guide to Animal Tracking and Behavior, and Stan Tekiela's Mammals of Minnesota. Of course, getting to see the animals in the backyard makes it a whole lot easier too!

Hi Mon@rch, another good use for snow--tracking animals!

Thanks Shelley. Outside is the only place Sophie's not scared of the camera--too many other distractions for her, I guess.

Hi Jaime,
Welcome to my blog and thanks for stopping by. I've got to get a knitting post up again one of these days, so I hope you can visit again for that.

Thanks Kallen. I hope the fox continues to visit. Once it warms up again, I'll get the trail camera out and see if I can get more pictures.

Hi Kelly,
Thanks for coming along on my walk. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Hi Jayne,
You just need to move someplace where there's more snow!!

Thanks Carolyn, I'm glad you enjoyed it and could come along with Sophie and me.

Hi Mel,
Our snow is starting to melt this weekend and rain is predicted for Monday, so all the tracks will be gone by then.

Hi Heather,
Being a curious nature person, I love trying to figure out what critter makes the tracks.
I'll need to re-think my leaf composting process for next year. I saw the fencing bin idea, but couldn't think of a good place to set it up. I will definitely go with that system next year though. I just hope I can salvage some of the leaves from the torn bags. (Fortunately they're biodegradable bags, so maybe I'll just leave everything where it is if it's too much a mess once the snow melts.)

Hi Cindy,
I'm glad you could come along on my walk too.
Hey, have you ever birded Rice Lake State Park over by Claremont? We should try to find a place to go birding this spring that's someplace half-way between Rochester and Waterville where we could meet! Please send me an e-mail sometime if you're interested or know of a good place.

Windyridge said...

This was a lovely armchair hike!

Mary said...

I saw tracks on Wednesday when it snowed - a rabbit, a squirrel, two dogs, and my Saucony shoes :o) They all disappeared in three hours.