March 2, 2014

Snow brings out the dewclaws this time of year

The snow in the last few weeks has made tracking in the woods fun and challenging. Tracks can look very different depending on snow depth and the amount of moisture. Dry, frozen ground can make tracks almost imperceptible. Wet ground can register good tracks but then melt them into mud. Dry, fluffy snow fills in tracks and makes them hard to read.

Frozen tracks are great to see because they usually allow the tracker to get a very clear look at the foot morphology of the animal that made the tracks. It’s easy to see if the animal had four toes or five and whether or not both front and hind feet stepped in the same spot. But when animals step in slush the impressions spread out. If the temperature drops and the ground refreezes lots of tracks look supersized compared to the actual foot that made the print. Fox tracks can look the size of coyote tracks, coyote tracks the size of wolf tracks and bobcat tracks the size of mountain lion tracks. 

Last Saturday I went up to the Westport Fish and Game Club where the Mountain Lakes Snowmobile Club was having an open house. I headed up the Pinnacle on my skis and was glad to be on a snowmobile route and not breaking trail in the heavy, wet snow — over a foot deep everywhere but the sunniest sections. Clearly the animals had been having a tough time getting around too but there were still a lot of tracks. I noticed that almost all the deer tracks registered dewclaws — the two extra digits on the back of deer’s feet. Dewclaws help deer balance. They are equivalent to the index finger and pinky on a human hand but arranged higher and behind the two middle “fingers” on a deer’s foot.

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