A group of Cascadia Wild trackers at lower Twin Lake on Sunday walked through actively falling snow, snowshoes sinking deep in drifts that had fallen since the Sunday before.
When they stopped for lunch, they saw the best track of the day: This beautiful impression of a raven taking off from the snow, the tips of its wings brushing the powdery surface. By the time they finished their sandwiches, it had been completely obscured by fresh snowflakes.
Out in the snowy woods each weekend, with sharp eyes and baited cameras, we’re looking for signs and images of wildlife roaming the landscape when we’re not around. When we succeed, we get to look through a window in time back to when the critter left a track or was caught on camera.
When the snow is falling fast and piling up, we can’t see very far back in time by tracking -- the window in time it gives us is pretty small. (And it shrinks most for animals that leave the lightest impressions – the raven’s wing tracks were covered in an hour, but snowshoe tracks are there much longer, even in heavy snow.) At the same time, the precision with which we can see back in time grows: any tracks found in such conditions are definitively fresh. And since we cover a lot of ground on our snowshoes, we can see a relatively large window in space, documenting the wildlife activity in a broad area.
Motion-activated, temptingly-baited wildlife cameras provide a much bigger window back in time, catching everything that walks in front of them. They provide an extremely limited window in space, though, since they catch only what walks in front of them.
When we know what windows in time and space we’re looking through, we can make sense of what we see. A trip in fresh snow that finds only a few hare tracks provides very different data point than a trip in four-day-old, trackable snow that finds the same thing. A camera up for two weeks that is visited three times by a coyote is different from a trip in active snowfall that finds three coyote trails.
What we saw
Our teams had a well-documented great time in fluffy powder this weekend, in addition to documenting fresh tracks. The trackers at Twin Lakes found a few squirrel tracks, had a great time in the heavy snow, and saw some interesting wildlife sign most of the way up a cedar– some critter had peeled bark from high up on a cedar, perhaps to warm its winter nest. On Saturday, another tracking team tromped through snowdrifts on the flats along Clark Creek and scoured the area for wildlife sign, documenting fresh squirrel tracks and hearing rumors of local snow angels.
Two and a half miles due East of Clark Creek, Cascadia Wild volunteers have been keeping a few of our wildlife cameras up and running in the Pocket Creek area. The team at the office has been busily sorting through photos from the cameras to separate good wildlife shots from motion-activated photos of branches blowing in the wind, and they’ve found some excellent pictures from the end of November of bobcats and coyotes checking out our bait.