Our volunteers were out and about this week, too, checking wildlife cameras and looking for tracks of all those critters in the snow.
While checking a Pocket Creek camera, a pair of intrepid volunteers documented a great deal of snowshoe hare tracks in the area and a canine trail – a coyote or possibly a fox.
The trackers found squirrel prints, as well, but no sign of weasels, one of our target species -- we’ve found tracks of only once this year, at Little John. Weasels and squirrels are both small and skinny, and perhaps this is why their trails are sometimes hard to distinguish in the snow.
Aside from approximate size and shape, and a tendency to travel by bounding, though, they don’t have much in common. Weasels are ferocious, tiny carnivores that follow prey into underground burrows; squirrels are anxious, adaptable rodents of the trees that feast on pine and fir cones. Catch them on camera, or get a good look a crystal-clear set of prints, and it’s easy to tell them apart.
When there are fewer details in the tracks, the characteristics of the trail become even more important, and these trails actually have a lot of information to distinguish them just in the pattern of the tracks. Squirrels’ footprints tend to land side by side, while weasels’ are a bit offset. There’s an excellent photo showing the trails side by side on page 249 of Dave Moskowitz’s Animal Tracks of the Pacific Northwest.
Do you have any other favorite tips on distinguishing weasel and squirrel tracks in the snow, further info on pairs of bobcats, or questions about critters in the winter? Post in the comments!