Tracking Animals In The Snow

This time of year we anxiously watch the snow, but with a completely different goal from a couple months ago. We aren't concerned with a good snow pack. We're hoping to see some bare ground, some green sprouts, a little less ice and snow.

This year it is slow to come. To date this spring has produced no 'double-drip' days. Elizabeth Laden, editor of the Island Park News, introduced me to this phrase. As she explained it, a 'double-drip' day is an early spring day with above freezing temperatures not only during the day, but also at night. In other words - snow melt day and night.

To say spring seems slow in coming seems a bit of an understatement this time of year. We have our projects. We're anxious to get started. And, we can't even get to the resort! However, that, too, will change. We're just starting to wonder, when?

On the plus side, and there is always a plus side, we have a wonderful snow pack! In fact, while the snowpack in the nearby Tetons is 117 percent above normal, the water content is 122 percent above normal! That is one very big reason to be thankful!

All this talk about snow reminds me of a new winter pastime. Last winter a good friend gave us a book titled, "Tracking Animals In The Snow". This little guidebook by Louise R. Forrest sparked a new interest.

This winter, whether snowmobiling or cross-country skiing or snowshoeing, I found myself paying attention to indentations left behind by earlier travelers.

Around the lodge it was common to see fox tracks - no surprise as the fox came for several visits. However, bird tracks (usually Sage Grouse), coyote tracks, rabbit tracks, chipmunk tracks, wolf tracks, moose tracks, cougar tracks - these and a few I couldn't identify were seen on our treks, many of them we saw repeatedly.

Not only were the tracks reminders of the various hardy animals and birds who withstood the wind, snow, and bitter cold without the comfort of four walls and a roof, but the tracks, themselves, were often transformed by the wind into unique miniature snow sculptures.

A few times I found fox or coyote tracks the wind had transformed into almost perfect 'inverted' tracks. Other times I found tracks which looked like they were made by an alien creature. Spikes. Elongated grooves. Odd shapes. A simple animal track changed into a alien minature snow-formation.

I'm not sure which I found more fascinating, but today - well, in all honesty - I'd like to find no snow for tracks! I LOVE winter at Elk Lake, but it seems like time!

Maybe it was reading last year's journal. In early April last year we were counting animal and bird sightings as we walked (not skied) and drove (not snowmobiled) around the valley. In fact, last year in less than a month from today, we were taking our first ATV ride into the hills to view and count the returning elk. It ain't happenin' around here this year!

That's good! Last year was dry! But, this girl's got spring fever!

Lady of the Lake

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