As you can see from this picture, snow doesn't keep hardy hikers inside. A group of friends headed out into the woods off property that belongs to Bates College to do some tracking. We had a knowledgeable leader, seen here in the red jacket and beaver fur hat. He had played some owl calls, and lots of small birds gathered to see who was in their midst. Red Breasted Nuthatches, Downy Woodpeckers and Chickadees came in response. Earlier, we had found the tracks of grouse in snow showing that not all birds spend their time in trees.

Our first interesting tracks were those of Snowshoe Hare. These tracks are distinctive, always reminding me of a lobster! The front paws land first as they are hopping, with the large hind paws landing in front. So in this set of tracks, the hare is hopping toward and beyond the tree.We could see where these active rodents would make a clean cut on shrubs with their sharp incisors, then move on for more tasty vegetation. These hares are sought by other animals....anything from a large predatory bird to canines, such as fox. We did see some fox tracks that generally go in a straight line. They are not the meandering type! We pressed on as the snow continued to descend, and caught sight of a Red Squirrel and a deer in the distance. Deer tracks were everywhere, and we detected a few places where deer had laid down for a rest.

Our tracking leader shared a wealth of information along our trek. I brought some pictures of the ice holes and scat droppings I have found on recent outings to the Sprague Pond wetlands. He confirms that they are made by a River Otter. In several instances, I saw where an animal made a hole in the ice and emerged. There, it deposited rather liquid droppings that may have been a combination of scat and scent markings. In all cases, the animal did not take off away from these holes, but instead seemed to roll in the snow before going back under the ice. One hole near the edge of the wetland may be where the animal had bored a hole into the solid shoreline for a den. In the picture to the left, you can see one of these holes and the activity and excretions around it. Otter are rather playful animals, and are known to climb hills and slide down in repetitive fashion. They also run in snow and slide between paw marks. Here is what these animals look like, but as you can tell, the picture was not taken recently. They like to eat fish, and often fish scales in their scat is a good indicator of their presence. All of these observations would not be possible without the ample snow cover we have here in Maine. The cold has frozen most all ponds and wetlands, so it is a great time to explore while "walking on water"!

The snow turned to rain in our last bout of precipitation. Now we have to contend with dropping through an icy crust in our hikes. It is no fun, believe me. Not only that, but animals can move about in obscurity on the smooth surface. I wish you could see the piles of snow in nearby towns. The piles just get higher and higher.

I had a bit of exciting news this week. Several of my swimming friends are going to be at the campground starting July 25th. We want to plan some swimming events.....just friendly competition. So if you are interested, join us the last week in July and we'll have some wet fun!
2/3/09 Ronnie, otterly excited.